Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
January 16, 2020  |  ByJ. Michael Marks, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Many distributors think they need to look like Amazon to compete in today’s market. After all, more than 197 million people visit Amazon every month to shop the more than 12 million products available, according to BigCommerce. But just because Amazon is a household name doesn’t mean that distributors need to emulate its every move to be competitive in the digital distribution game.

Rather, it requires playing the game your way. You don’t need to look or operate like Amazon. In fact, it might be best if you don’t. Rather than play around the edges of what is necessary, start asking hard questions and change what isn’t working. The key for distributors is to focus on your customers, your sales methods and the value you provide.

Here are a few strategies for winning at distribution in a post-Amazon world.

Reassess concepts of value and price.

It’s more than just about how you sell. It’s about how you deliver value. Don’t compete on price alone. Deliver something your customers cannot get somewhere else, such as storeroom management or other value-added services. This is part of a successful value creation strategy.

Embrace digital tools.

Digital tools can support a multichannel strategy and drive a better customer experience in the process. Instead of seeing digital tools as way to replace people, consider it a way of enhancing relationships. You don’t need an e-commerce platform as extensive as Amazon’s. Rather, embrace tools that improve the customer experience or efficiency on the back end.

Don’t lose touch with customers.

The most important thing is to sell to your customers in the way that they want to buy. Make a point to connect with your customers. Understand their needs and wants. Become intimately familiar with their challenges and goals. When you can connect with your customers, you’re already winning because you’re offering them something Amazon cannot: a personal touch. After all, if there is a problem with a transaction online, a B2B customer wants to touch a person and get it fixed. That’s protection.

Remove inefficiencies from your sales channels.

Putting an effective sales model in place will be key to reaping the most benefit from your sales channels. This means identifying the best growth opportunities for your field reps and shifting transactional sales to another team. This is one way to help your team sell smarter. When your entire team is aligned on goals and processes, you’ll be better equipped to reduce wasteful actions while still giving the customer a great experience.

To win in a post-Amazon world, be intentional about the value you provide, how you connect with customers, and the ways in which you are investing in digital. How can you deliver what customers expect, and how can technology enable that?

Prioritize the customer experience when identifying which investments to make and align your resources accordingly. This way, you’ll be playing the digital game in your own market, with your own target customers in mind. After all, this is the game that matters.

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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.
J. Michael Marks, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

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