If you’re a sales leader in B2B distribution, you’re largely responsible for building the business and driving customer loyalty through deep industry knowledge and product acumen. Your customers trust you and your team to quickly provide accurate and relevant answers for their business issues, including product offerings for the most obscure solutions.
But many distributors acutely feel the current market-wide fluctuations. Digital-first disruptors are entering, and established manufacturers are creating their own direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels — bypassing B2B distribution partners. There are also emerging marketplaces in direct competition to distributors and behemoth players taking more and more market share.
With so many radical changes in the past few decades, sales leaders in B2B distribution are facing certain challenges. Luckily, some of those challenges provide room for opportunity.
Customer Loyalty in B2B Distribution Is Waning
Today’s B2B buyers are younger, less loyal, and digitally native. While they may not expect “a B2C experience,” they want to get their job done. They’re looking for fast, accurate answers to their researching and buying questions in a number of places.
Some of the most common channels where B2B product buyers search are:
- Amazon / Amazon Business
- In-store or vendor warehouse
- Supplier portal or app
- Supplier catalog
- Other B2B marketplaces
This variety of sources means your business is in constant competition for attention and answers. The good news: you own your customer insights and depth of product expertise. Move this into digitized data and a knowledge base that your customers can access 24/7 for researching and ordering.
Creating Unique Selling Experiences in B2B Distribution Is Difficult
According to McKinsey, the distributors who are leading their verticals “build unique ecosystems to address customer pain points, and they use their unique product and technical knowledge to create profitable and repeatable services.”
Knowing what you know, how can you think creatively about creating selling experiences? How do you reallocate your time and resources to meet current demands and pave the way for a digitally-enabled, highly competitive future?
In B2B distribution, your job is to help your users get their job done as quickly and painlessly as possible. As a sales leader, you have two core audiences: your B2B users and your associates. So, how do you help make their work life as easy as possible?
Here are some areas of opportunity.
Solve for customer revenue
B2B buyers have settled into a pattern of thirds in their research and buying interactions.
A third are “traditional,” preferring in-person meetings, direct mail, or fax. Another third prefer “remote” interactions, like phone calls, video conference calls, and emails. And the final third lean toward “digital self-service” in the shape of websites, apps, chatbots, and internet searches.
The biggest opportunity for growth is often in solving for digital self-service, as BCG writes:
Here’s where you can look for opportunities to create unique self-service experiences in B2B distribution based on your product knowledge, business expertise, and customer insights:
- Create personalized, individualized digital experiences that serve customized pricing and customer-specific products and catalogs
- Provide guided selling with vertical-specific education and information
- Show company-specific information that helps customers find products, make purchasing decisions, and order (and reorder) quickly
- Build in detailed product information so your B2B buyers can compare similar products and make the correct choice
The KPIs to measure here include average order basket size, customer lifetime value (CLV, trending over time), reorder frequency, and customer retention.
Solve for associate enablement
Even as you move towards self-service, your customers still expect in-person meetings and remote human interactions. So how can you equip your field sales and customer service associates to best serve your customers?
For starters, your associates need their job to be as frictionless as possible so they can build trust and show customers a clear path forward. They don’t want to be embarrassed in front of customers, having to wait for a slow-loading site or dealing with incorrect pricing information and products that aren’t in the customers’ catalog.
As a sales leader in B2B distribution, you are trying to make your sales team as efficient as possible. You want to retain — not frustrate — your best employees by reducing inefficiencies and hastening time to quote and purchase.
Consider how to digitize these experiences to solve for selling.
Serve your field sales team
Create a fast, user-friendly digital experience with customer-specific pricing for your field sales to easily access to build an order, make product recommendations, and offer custom incentives to retain customers. Also, ensure site search, navigation, and product details display quickly and correctly on mobile and tablet.
Some KPIs to measure here include sales by field sales rep, customer retention, and customer lifetime value (CLV).
Serve your customer service team
Your customer service team needs access to a fast, robust website with detailed product information and recommendations to quickly and accurately support your customers.
At a minimum, your product information needs to include:
- Videos and images that can be emailed (or texted)
- Spec sheets that can be downloaded as a PDF and emailed (or texted)
- Fast product lookup by name, SKU, or other product ID
Measure customer service call duration, customer NPS, or eNPS as metrics.
Designing for Product Discovery Can Alleviate B2B Distribution Challenges
While Google and Amazon have trained generations of buyers to look for the search bar, you can leverage this muscle memory to serve up the products and information your customers and associates need.
Baymard Institute’s research on B2B ecommerce UX finds that most B2B sites reviewed were graded “poor” for key user experience components, including homepage, on-site search, and product pages.
You may have fewer customers than a B2C site, but their order size is much larger. Up to 20% of B2B buyers are comfortable spending $500k-$5M in a single self-service purchase.
So, how do you best design for this kind of buying?
Constructor’s AI- and ML-powered product discovery software allows distributors to create better purchasing experiences with B2B-specific features:
- Solving for B2B product complexity. Traditional keyword engines can’t handle measurement-based search queries like SKUs and product identification numbers. Constructor’s search engines use large language models (LLMs) and transformers to better understand search context and provide accurate results more quickly.
- Managing huge, complex catalogs. Thanks to our API-first architecture, you can easily ingest catalogs with tens of thousands of SKUs. We also partner with PIMs and syndication products for full integration.
- Personalizing pricing models. Show the right customers the right price at every interaction. Constructor’s deep commerce core powers dynamic pricing across accounts and buyers based on customer data, market demand, geography, or industry.
- Filling in missing attributes. Constructor augments product data before it’s uploaded into the system. This saves time for your merchandising team and allows customers (and sales associates) to find the right products quickly and easily. It includes default attribute categories or the ability to create your own custom set.
Leverage Opportunities in B2B Distribution
As sales leaders, you have the mandate and opportunity to greatly improve the digital experience for both your customers and your associates.
By digitizing your product knowledge; making product discovery fast, accurate, and rewarding; and enabling product discovery and recommendations along the way, you are solving work-life satisfaction.
This makes your customers’ and your associates’ jobs easier and more rewarding, all with the goal of making your business more efficient, competitive, and profitable.