Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
September 15, 2016  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow
NAW-What Are Digital Tools: A Guide for Wholesaler-Distributors

Wholesaler-distributors have a very strong awareness of digital tools, but, as of today, relatively low experience, on average. We found that we often needed to provide a simple working definition of the six digital tools that were the subject of our research, and we provide them here for clarity.

E-commerce: buying and selling of products or services conducted over the Internet or other systems. Most often, our conversations focused on websites and went beyond transactions to e-commerce platforms providing a wide range of information through static and interactive means.

Social media: any means of digital interaction for creating and sharing information, often through online communities. For most distributors, social media means consumer and professional platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, as well as blogs, videos, and other digital and interactive media. Videos are emerging as an effective social media tool, recorded by distributors and suppliers for training, sales, and marketing purposes.

Advanced analytics: analysis of large data sets to spot trends, improve customer experience, grow sales, or improve profits. Distributors rejected the term big data as overhyped and trendy, but readily admitted that they fail to leverage the data that already exist in business systems and, more important, that information-based competition is fast becoming essential for profits and survival.

Mobility: enabling salespeople or customers with software applications that run on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. We found that mobility is critical because the value created for customers and suppliers is very often created in the field by mobile employees interacting with mobile customers. As one distributor put it, “We need to put information at the tip of the spear, the point where value is created. If our people in the field do not have access to data and information, they are unarmed and outmatched by our competitors.”

Customer relationship management (CRM): software used to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support for customers and prospects. Distributor experience with CRM is deeper than other digital tools, but many are skeptical or burned by unsuccessful implementations. Still, improving sales force productivity and value-add is a top priority for distributors, and CRM is becoming an essential digital tool.

Multichannel solutions: methods and tools for achieving marketing or sales objectives by coordinating multiple channels for a consistent customer experience and enhanced productivity. Most often, we found that multichannel is a digital strategy, objective, or philosophy, rather than a single or specific tool. Winning requires that all employees in the organization have access to essential information, especially those in customer-facing positions. As one distributor explained, “Multichannel is about the right hand knowing what the left hand has done, before, during, and after customer interactions. No surprises mean no mistakes.”

Adapted from Becoming a Digital Distributor: Strategies and Tools That Create Value

The full study shares data, analyses, tools, recommendations, and more than 250 direct quotes from distributors who provide expert advice for creating a vision and driving your wholesale distribution business forward.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.

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