Industrial sales reps who fail to deliver an omnichannel B2B experience may soon go the way of the dinosaur. Today, it’s more important than ever for traditional sales reps to NOT just utilize technology but innovate over it to serve their customers better.
Technology Adoption in the 80s
Innovation in industrial sales isn’t anything new. There emerged many safety signs for distributors in the 80s and 90s. A lot of signs! But not every sales rep was able to keep up with the demand.
The new technology at the time had the ability to reduce friction in the ordering process, and get sales reps off the phone and out of the office, so they could win more business.
What was this innovative new technology? Fax machines!
These fax machines would increase order volume and free-up time for industrial sales reps. That’s right! Sales boomed, the fax machines paid for themselves overnight, and among their distributors, our brand became synonymous with innovation and growth.
But for some industrial sales reps, the fax machine was a technological paperweight. They didn’t embrace change. So while their competitors were keeping 40 cents on every dollar they sold of safety signs, they were stuck pinching pennies and hand-writing orders.
Today, our modern-day fax machine is B2B eCommerce and AI-Powered CRM Sales Software. How do we use it the right way? How can traditional sales reps (you know, the guys who were around when fax machines hit the scene) transform the way they sell so they can thrive in today’s digital economy.
Let’s explore some ways to teach these old dogs new tricks!
Understanding the Industrial Buyer of the Future
94% of B2B users in a recent McKinsey study said new omnichannel methods are as effective or more effective than pre-COVID.
B2B buyers use ten channels now vs. just five in 2016. It would seem that B2B customers don’t want to return to the way things were.
More and more end-users are doing their best to AVOID phone calls and/or in-person visits from traditional sales reps. By the time they type everything up in an email, couldn’t they have logged into your website and placed their order online? Can you blame them?
Industrial sales reps are working harder, longer hours than ever and are responsible for more roles than ever before.
To avoid falling behind, you must make the ordering process as streamlined and frictionless as possible.
One way to do that is to give your customers options when it comes to placing orders with your business.
Wouldn’t it be nice to say to your customer, “You can place your orders online through your very own customer portal”?
Of course, they can still call, email, or write their order on a cocktail napkin. Some of your customers are not ready to change the way they buy. They want to keep ordering the same way they have been for the past 25 years, and that’s fine. But retirement is coming soon, and who will replace them?
Meet the New Industrial Buyer
The largest workforce in the history of the world, millennials! You know, the same people who invented Facebook, Snapchat, and the “Selfie” (ok, not our proudest moment).
These are the purchasing managers, safety directors, and operation managers of the future. The very near future!
They think outside the box, they order online, they shop for savings, and perhaps most importantly for you… they have a built-in instinct to find the path of least resistance.
Transform Your Industrial Sales Process
How does the sales process work? You may be familiar with the following. In fact, this may be your life.
A distributor sales rep will call on an end-user. Sometimes manufacturing reps may join them, but most of the time they are alone. The sales rep meets with the customer, identifies their needs, and puts together a list of items that he believes will help his customer operate better, be safer, or save money.
Of course, price is always a consideration. They must compete with three or more identical sales reps submitting nearly identical bids.
Will they win with price? How much margin will they need to sacrifice? Will they charm the customers with their bubbling personality?
DO THIS INSTEAD: Turn boring spreadsheets into memorable brand experiences
In order to deliver on the most important capabilities that today’s industrial buyer expects, imagine replacing your boring spreadsheet with a digital purchasing experience for your customer.
This creates a compelling brand experience that separates you from your competition.
- Locate the items you’re bidding on from a comprehensive product content database
- Invite your customer to login to their account portal
- Personalize pricing, and include related or similar items
- Personalize the branding and marketing
- Show your customer how to turn their RFQ into a PO in seconds
When your customer logs in to their personalized website, they can actually see the items. Product images and descriptions help bring product details to life. They also see everything else that you offer.
They visit your marketing pages where they learn more about your value proposition. They discover services they didn’t even know you offered. They read a blog article that helps them understand more about compliance or maintenance-related best practices.
In short, you blow your competition out of the water! You win the bid, and your customer needs to only add items to the cart and checkout to complete the purchase.
🚨 eCommerce Alone Will NOT Elevate Sales Experience
The 2023 State of eCommerce in Distribution report established a direct correlation between users on your website and purchasing. Most B2B buyer journeys are increasingly beginning with online searches even if it is culminating in an offline purchase.
So, if your business is creating resistance for these millennial buyers and decision-makers, then you might be in trouble.
But don’t lose hope, there are a few simple things you can do to make it better overnight with little cost to you.
Here are three easy ways to create a better B2B sales experience:
1. Email Marketing Automation
Does anyone actually pick up the phone today?
An end-user survey found that B2B customers prefer the following mediums and frequency:
- Email – (Weekly)
- Direct Mail – (Monthly)
- Phone / Video Call – (Monthly)
- Sales Rep Visit – (Quarterly)
- Print Catalog – (no thanks)
There was a time, just a few years ago, when email marketing automation was very expensive. Software companies like HubSpot still lead the way when it comes to innovation and powerful features, but other email marketing companies like MailChimp and Constant Contact have been catching up in recent years and have made it very simple and affordable to create simple, customer drip campaigns.
A drip campaign (we call them Customer Buying Journeys) is essentially a series of thoughtful emails that help your customer do their job better and offer opportunities to learn, shop, or purchase equipment when they are ready. You might be surprised how some of your customers will appreciate these emails more than your persistent phone calls and drive-bys.
When you implement these customer buyer’s journeys, your sales reps will be able to spend less time on the unprofitable, smaller customers, and more face time with the customers who really move the needle.
2. AI-Powered Sales Enablement
Robots aren’t taking over the world (yet). But they are taking over many distributor and supplier websites.
In Tom Nichols’ book, The Death of Expertise, we are told that the Information Age has essentially made the expert obsolete.
With Wikipedia, Safeopedia, and a host of other online libraries of searchable information at our fingertips, anyone can be their own expert. They no longer need someone to tell them what to do, which product they need, or how to maintain that product.
But there’s something we can do to push back. We can show up in the gap where online information falls short of satisfying the customer’s questions.
Use conversational bots as the NEW form of consultation. That is why setting up an AI-powered chatbot to collect questions, customer information, and service requests can significantly improve the B2B sales experience.
When chat software first came out, nobody used them because unless you were already online and waiting for your customer to begin chatting (which was nobody), chances are you would lose your customer’s attention after a few seconds of non-human response, and they would just leave. Soon, website visitors learned that chat software was little more than a fancy way to leave a message. Not so today!
Accenture survey finds 84% of executives won’t achieve their growth objectives without scaling Artificial Intelligence (AI). With AI, you can program chatbots to answer real questions, route requests to the right salesperson, and even provide resources to help your customer continue their buying journey.
3. Communicate Your Value Proposition
Online customers are a fickle group. In my past experience as an agency owner, we utilized a tracking program in the past that actually allowed us to “spy” on website visitors. (If you thought chatbots are creepy, you might want to turn back now.) This software allowed us (with the consent of the visitors, of course) to literally watch their screen like a video to see how they read pages, where they click, how they scroll, etc.
What we learned was that website visitors quickly scroll and skim-read content; especially on your home page.
If you are not crystal clear about what you offer and why it will help your customer within 5 seconds of them hitting your home page, you will lose them. Possibly forever.
Remember, the customer is the hero of the story, and you are the guide!
You don’t need a $20K/month marketing campaign to be incredibly successful online. You just need to tell a better story. Use sales copy on your website pages to meet your customer (the hero) on their quest to solve a problem. Help them solve the problem with a simple, well-thought plan, and then call them to action.
It’s really as simple as that. But if you think the latest buzz around ChatGPT and its ability to resemble human writing will save you cost and effort, it would prove to be disastrous. In the words of Melissa Heikkila, senior writer, “they are excellent at predicting the next word in a sentence, but they have no knowledge of what the sentence actually means”.
Are You Ready for What’s Next?
Innovation can only take you so far. Most industrial buyers begin their shopping experience online even if the final transaction is conducted offline.
Only the right execution will help you take a leap of success to become the industrial sales rep of the future.
Industrial sales reps need robust shopping and account management capabilities to achieve digital maturity. For that, you need a sales platform that enables more efficient and effective purchasing experiences.
Remember, You’re Not Alone
At CommerzNXT, we know independent industrial suppliers struggle to compete against national brands. We’ve been successful in creating custom eCommerce software, B2B online sales strategies, and related services that utilize personalized catalogs to grow their business and build a legacy that stands the test of time.
Schedule a free consultation today to get started on your journey to empower the industrial sales reps of the future.
It's Okay to Ask for Help Sometimes
We know digital transformation can be complicated and overwhelming.
Don’t worry, we can meet you wherever you’re at and point you in the right direction.