Are You a 21st Century Distributor?By Michael Wilson | May 6, 2014 << Back to Articles
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No one in the jansan industry needs to be reminded of just how much the world of distribution has changed over the past 15 to 20 years. Today’s distribution channels offer little resemblance to the state of the marketplace during the 1990s.
What’s more, some manufacturers now market their products directly to end-customers, a major change that distributors likely did not anticipate a decade ago. Still, as much as distribution has evolved, there are ways that astute distributors can stay ahead of the game. In order to thrive in the 21st century, some of the key practices facility maintenance distributors will need to do in order to survive include:
- Offer a new level of enhanced customer service
- Become smarter and more efficient
- Provide clients with the information they need to make fact-based product selections that will hold up under the closest scrutiny from decision-makers.
It’s My Pleasure
When staying in a hotel or resort—especially a luxury property—you are likely to hear staff end their conversations with customers by saying, “Certainly, it’s been my pleasure.” The phrase is widely used for the simple reason that it radiates quality customer service.
While your staff may not necessarily need to end every call with this expression, a new level of exemplary customer service is critical to a distributor’s success. For example, some distributors have their sales staff perform routine follow-up calls with customers, especially after selling them new products. As one distributor stated, “Follow-ups are part of the fine art of turning customers in to repeat clients.”
Similarly, today’s distributors must take extra steps to make doing business with them as as easy as possible. This can take many forms, from the routine follow-up call to offering customers online access to product information, pricing, availability, and order tracking. Being easy to do business with is part of making your distributorship a one-stop shop for your customers’ facility maintenance needs.
Listen, Analyze, and Offer Solutions
Selecting products online or purchasing from a big-box retailer may offer some convenience, but it places the customer in trial-and-error mode. They will have to wait and see whether the products they select actually meet their needs. Jansan distributors can help their clients avoid this situation by listening to their challenges, analyzing their problems, and coming up with solid solutions that eliminate guesswork.
Consultative selling, as it is often called, can be a powerful marketing tool. Rather than simply taking their clients’ orders, proactive distributors can serve as product advisors. According to one such distributor using consultative selling, “Our process provides (clients with) comprehensive, easy- to-read reports so they know exactly what products they are selecting and why.”
In addition to fulfilling their customers’ current needs, distributors need to serve as forecasters in some ways, understanding and evaluating their clients’ orders while staying on top of their buying histories and previous facility issues. By doing so, distributors will be able to anticipate with reasonable accuracy what products and solutions are likely to solve their customers’ challenges in the future. Of course, having these products in stock and available offers the distributor a perfect chance to upsell certain items while still addressing their clients’ needs.
Developing pricing strategies that allow their organizations to stay competitive and achieve acceptable profit margins is a key issue for distributors, and will remain so in the future. This can include encouraging customers to purchase products in bulk or suggesting comparable products that may be more cost-effective. Although facility managers may not always seek the least-expensive option, they do want pricing to be fair and competitive.
For example, Ray Quinn, a sales representative with Omaha, NE-based distributor Carpenter Paper Co., employed a consultative approach with a local sports-arena client. By listening to his client and analyzing the facility’s needs, Quinn helped the arena reduce costs and added value to the customer relationship. “It was more than just a cost savings for the client,” says Quinn. “We were able to recommend real solutions…solutions based on the client’s needs.” Establishing effective pricing expectations can help distributors can convert a one-time buyer into a long-term customer.
As these examples show, astute distributors will act as more than just salespeople in the coming years, furthering their relationships to become consultants for their clients. Assisting customers with purchasing selections based on facts is critical as facility managers are under greater scrutiny than ever to ensure that any changes or decisions they make are the right choice for their facilities.
As Brian Peters of Elmira, NY-based Peters Supply puts it, “(Clients) want to make these changes or are under pressure from the C-suite to make changes, but need the facts and figures to support them.”
In one instance, Peters helped the facility manager of a health care center, who was under considerable pressure to make the facility greener and more sustainable, implement a rather simple change that paid dividends. “By switching from 60-pound (trash can) liners to 30-pound liners, as recommended by a computerized dashboard tool, the client was able to promote sustainability and cut costs, both of which were very high on their agenda,” he says.
The 21st century will be more demanding on all of us in the cleaning industry, including our customers. There will be little time or budget for product-selection errors or trial-and-error purchases. The key to meeting your customers’ expectations in this new era will be helping to eliminate these errors—a goal that can best be accomplished by employing the latest technologies, business tools, and best practices.
About the Author.
Michael Wilson is director of marketing for Afflink and its eLev8® division. He may be reached through his company website, www.afflink.com.