Even if your distributorship has been in business for decades, it’s time to start putting your customer first and watching the profits follow.
In the first installment of this article series, you learned how easy it is to overlook personalized customer service in the digital age, where email and e-commerce have all but replaced the personal touch that so many independent distributors were built on.
“Selling in the digital age has become more complex than many B2B leaders had anticipated. Buyers are demanding more and different solutions and forms of engagement,” Accenture points out in its recent Make Music, Not Noise report. “They are more fickle, less loyal, and there are more of them.”
The good news is that like anything in life, it’s never too late to right the ship, put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and learn what they really want (and, then, start fulfilling those needs). Here are five ways to do it:
- Acknowledge the fact that your customers have changed. Your customers don’t engage with sales channels like they used to. Sales environments are becoming more digital and less human, Accenture notes, and opportunities to sell are coming from less traditional places. B2B customers are:
- Increasingly self-reliant: Most customers are 57% through the buying process before the first meeting with a company representative.
- Increasingly cautious: More than 90% of decision makers never respond to cold outreach.
- Increasingly social: A full 61% of all B2B transactions now start online, and 58% of B2B buyers use social media as a research channel.
- Increasingly demanding: B2B customers want the same level of hyper-personalized service as they receive in B2C channels.
- Despite the changing environment, they still want to meet you face-to-face. One of the easiest ways to get into your customers’ shoes is by getting out of your office and going to meet them on their own turf. “Arrange to have one of your outside sales reps spend half a day on the job with the customer,” Jim Herst, CEO at Perceptive Selling Initiative, Inc., in Highland Park, Ill., suggests. “Even if nothing is learned, the distributor will have effectively wielded that customer’s allegiance and started forming a foundational bond with him or her.” If an in-person meeting isn’t possible, Herst tells distributors to maximize trade show, conference, and expo floor time to get up close and personal with multiple customers over a period of a few days.
- Show them new tools that will help them do their jobs better. The electrical industry—and the technology that supports it—is advancing at a rapid rate right now, which means there are always new tools, bells, and whistles that could benefit your customer. “A quick walk around the jobsite will reveal all sorts of areas where new tools and parts can be making a difference,” Herst points out, noting that in most cases, those advancements trickle down too slowly from manufacturer to distributor to sales rep to end customer. “Call and ask for an appointment, and make it about them (versus what you want to sell them),” says Herst, who tells distributors to use phrases like, “I have an unusual new product that will help you out in the field and that I’d like to come and show you” to help break the ice and get customers interested.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more business. After a customer order is placed and delivered, make a simple follow-up call and ask this question: “We really appreciate your business. Is there anything else we can do to help you out?” This simple approach can open the doors to new opportunities that you may not have even been aware of, says Lakewood, Col.-based marketing and design expert Tish Gance. In fact, your customer may not have been aware of those opportunities either (until you got him or her thinking and talking about them). Gance says regular calls or emails asking how business is going, what’s new with the company, and whether your customer is having any trouble doing business with your distributorship can also provide good gauges on what’s going on in your customers’ lives. “That personal touch, which has been lost in a lot of industries, can be the difference between your company just being one of ‘many’ vendors,” says Gance, “and becoming the only electrical distributor that they work with.”
- Mind your customers’ business. Pinpoint the three best customers that you’ve worked with over the last 5-10 years and create open dialogue with them. Whether it’s via phone, via email, in person, or at an organized lunch-and-learn type event, ask them how they’re doing, what they’re thinking, how their business is evolving, and the role that your company can play in helping them get there. Don’t forget to ask the tough questions (i.e., what are we doing wrong? What can we do better? Why aren’t you buying Product A from us anymore?), that will help you ferret out areas of improvement and new opportunities. Gance says this is an exercise best handled by an inside or outside sales rep who works frequently with these top-tier customers, and who can sit down and map out the relationship, its strengths, its flaws, and its future potential. “From there, it’s your job to take that information and use it to help your customers perform their jobs better,” says Gance. “That how you add value.”
As you formulate your own distributorship’s plan of action for getting into the modern-day B2B buyer’s shoes, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a solo event. The entire organization has to be on board and involved, or the effort won’t work. “The first step to delighting customers is ensuring the entire organization is committed to doing so. This means all your employees need to understand what you are striving for and take your customer-centric goal to heart,” Ganesh Mukundan writes in The Future of Customer Experience in B2B. “You have to ensure that every stakeholder is aware of their role, and knows that no matter how far removed they are, they still contribute to the client experience.”Tagged with B2B, best practices, customer service