The United States is entering a new phase of crisis management. For the first time in weeks, restrictions are easing instead of intensifying. The economy is reopening. And for distributors, that means the biggest changes are yet to come.

Many distributors have been on pause for the last few weeks. But, as businesses reopen, the competitive landscape will begin changing quickly. Some distributors will recover smoothly. Others will struggle to adapt. Ending up on the winning side is a matter of preparation. Distributors need to create a winning game plan before competition resumes. In this post, I’ll offer four strategies distributors can use to dominate the second half of this crisis.

1. Create Your Intelligent Business Models

Distributors can use advanced modeling tools to create informed business strategies. At Proton, we’ve built a free revenue modeling tool that creates individual Coronavirus simulations for distributors. This tool uses sales data, Coronavirus case information and state regulatory statuses to project how much revenue distributors can expect from each state over time.

This type of information is extremely useful for distributors trying to decide when and how to allocate resources. Without this kind of simulation, distributors will struggle to predict their expected revenue because every vertical and state will experience COVID-19 differently. However, with informed revenue projections, distributors can make the right decisions around furloughing workers, opening or closing facilities or supplying facilities.

2. Combine Your Digital and Personal Sales

Allocating resources, connecting with customers and preparing to sell is not enough. As cash flows weaken, distributors need to generate revenue quickly and efficiently. One of the best ways to start driving sales is with a synergistic approach that combines digital efficiency and human empathy.

Analysts believe that COVID-19 will cause a permanent shift toward digital sales channels. For distributors, this means a shift to e-commerce and inside sales. Many distributors have already made this shift temporarily by pulling outside reps out of the field. However, as businesses reopen, distributors will need to choose whether to send reps back into the field or to pursue digital initiatives.

Instead of choosing between people or technology, distributors should seek tools that combine both. AI-enhanced CRMs can turn outside sales reps into profitable remote employees by prioritizing smart workflows and aggregating customer information. With these tools, distributors can cash in on the speed and efficiency of digital selling, without giving up the personal touch or deep knowledge that veteran reps bring to the table.

3. Enhance Your E-commerce with AI

While well-trained and personable reps are valuable, there is no getting around the fact that e-commerce is king. Over the past year, retailers have seen 146% YOY growth in online orders, and in February online conversion rates increased by a whopping 8.8%. E-commerce was becoming the dominant mode of selling well before COVID-19, but the pandemic has only served to exaggerate this change. As distributors move forward, e-commerce will be key.

There is a big difference between e-commerce and AI-supported e-commerce. Websites that use AI to support chat bots, consumer search and product recommendations sell significantly more than comparable websites without AI. In fact, Gartner estimates that next year companies with AI capabilities will enjoy a 30% increase in e-commerce revenue. In order to maximize online profitability, distributors must enhance e-commerce with AI.

4. Coordinate Your Sales Channels

Distributors face a unique challenge when it comes to coordinating sales channels. Most industries only sell through a few channels, whereas distributors utilize up to six different channels (i.e. inside sales, outside sales, e-commerce, customer service, branches and marketing). And while these channels let customers conveniently buy in many ways, they also create many opportunities for distributors to lose data.

Distributors can use omnichannel AI to make all of their data accessible and useful. Once data has been aggregated and analyzed, distributors can use AI to enhance every customer interaction. So when customers shop online, they get accurate product recommendations based on conversations with reps. Meanwhile, when customers call in to customer service, reps can make smart pitches based on online behavior.

This type of omnichannel AI allows every channel to perform better. Furthermore, it prepares distributors to continue profiting as customer buying patterns evolve; there is no telling exactly how customer behavior will change, but the distributors that use omnichannel AI to create a consistent customer experience across all channels will always be ready for disruption.

The Long Term Outlook

Planning based on proactive modeling, equipping websites and reps with AI sales tools and coordinating channels are all proven ways of increasing revenue. However, implementing all of these solutions takes time. Distributors do not need to do everything at once, but they do need to act fast. Distributors should start with the model. Once they understand how sales will be impacted, they can move on to enhancing human and digital channels, and using omnichannel coordination to boost total revenue.