Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
July 2, 2020  |  ByJ. Michael Marks, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

The pandemic is affecting the ways in which many distributors operate — especially how sales teams sell.

Distributors have an opportunity right now to rethink their sales structures to innovate, despite this being a trying time. To do that, we must be curious about what the new normal looks like, return to a few fundamentals, keep a positive attitude to solve problems, stay relevant and come out ahead.

Start with leadership.

Transparency in leadership is essential for navigating the new normal in the COVID-19 era. Good leaders inform their employees about the state of the company and set reasonable expectations for the team. We know not everyone has all the answers, and yet, employees appreciate having a straightforward and honest view of the situation at hand.

The company’s leaders will also be the ones to help reset the sales structure and goals for the team, which may also be a boon for morale. Hitting goals feels like a victory. See what it feels like to handle your sales team like you would when things are going well, only with a few adjustments.

Rethink sales structure.

Over the past few months, many distributors have had to make changes to how they work with customers and how they maintain those relationships. Field salespeople in particular have had to learn to be responsive and meet customers’ needs without being physically onsite.

Many distributors are having success with creating new, highly structured processes to qualify new targets, update existing accounts and develop a model for competitor accounts. Rethink who you are targeting right now; small and medium-sized accounts may have greater margin potential and require less onsite attention. Small changes now within your sales teams can make a big difference later.

Return to the fundamentals.

We know that selling is changing. In past economic turndowns, the answer was often this: Return to the fundamentals. That remains the case now.

Consider simply going back to basics, in whatever way possible. The economy is going to be whatever the economy is going to be. If your salespeople are making calls and talking to the right people, opportunities for relationship-building are still there. Encourage that. Consider your customer’s needs and how you can help solve their problems, and you’ll be more likely to maintain those relationships over time.

Revisit sales objectives.

One of the challenges we’re facing today is that many sales managers are still challenged to come up with meaningful objectives that add economic value to the business. I get it; it’s hard. But driving that economic value can build up the capital that you need to maintain your sales programs.

When restructuring your sales team and thinking about the future, remember that it’s not the people you’re selling to, it’s the people that they’re selling to that drive the decisions.

Start thinking about measuring what we call ARW: a customer’s attractiveness to you, their readiness to buy and their willingness to buy. It’s likely your ability to attract customers is going to change. Think about what your customers’ customers are going through as well, and how that affects how your customers see you and what they need from you.

Think about what it is you want your salespeople to do. Then, think about what skills are needed to do it.

It’s a stressful time, but distributors have a great opportunity right now to rethink and redirect their sales efforts in innovative, impactful ways.

For more information about stress testing and cost reduction in the face of a pandemic, including free resources, visit ircg.com.

To learn more about Mike’s approach to value creation in distribution, read his NAW-published books: What’s Your Plan? Smart Salesforce Compensation in Wholesale Distribution, Working at Cross-Purposes: How Distributors and Manufacturers Can Manage Conflict Successfully and Value Creation Strategies for Wholesaler-Distributors

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J. Michael Marks, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow
J. Michael Marks, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow J. Michael Marks is Managing Partner of Indian River Consulting Group (IRCG). He became a NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow in 2002. IRCG is an experience-driven firm that continues to focus on the wholesale distribution channel. Prior to forming IRCG, Mike held the position of Executive Vice President at Lex Electronics, a vertically integrated electronics distributor. Prior to that, he was Director of Corporate Training and Development at Ducommon Inc., an industrial distribution company.

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