Selling Industrial Products in Today’s Digital Economy

Industrial distributors should focus on three key areas.

Acumatica customer, Boca Terry.
Acumatica customer, Boca Terry.

As manufacturing suppliers move to sell directly to customers, industrial distributors are facing increased disintermediation. In other words, they’re being cut out as the middlemen. As far back as 2019, McKinsey & Company highlighted that manufacturers were already eyeing distributors’ profit pools, that customer expectations were rising, and that new players running on innovative technologies were disrupting traditional business models. The pandemic rapidly accelerated those trends, and, in 2024, according to Business Research Insights, business growth is being further hampered by fierce competition and monopolies driven by tech-savvy competitors.

Though industrial distributors are now playing a new game with different opponents and unfamiliar rules, this evolving business landscape is not necessarily a bad thing.

It can actually be an opportunity for industrial distributors to adapt, capture new markets, and build sales models and strategies that will set their businesses up for stability and success in a post-pandemic world.

To make and sustain sales in today’s digital economy, industrial distributors can focus on three key areas: crafting an omnichannel buying experience, developing customer-centric business practices, and using technology to harness the data they’re already producing and put it to work.

Expanding a Company’s Reach

Focusing solely on traditional, direct, in-house sales and counter sales hampers business growth. But pursuing omnichannel sales gives industrial distributors the opportunity to diversify their business operations. By augmenting traditional processes with websites, ecommerce shopping platforms, online catalogs, and mobile customer self-service apps and portals, distributors can reach a wider audience and keep that audience engaged.

This shift to omnichannel sales brings three potential benefits.

  • Increased efficiency – With both brick-and-mortar and electronic-based purchasing options in place, customers can quickly find what they need in their own way. They can also place orders without manual paperwork and without needing to extensively communicate with sales and customer service representatives. This streamlines the entire sales cycle, saving time and effort for both the distributor and the customer.
  • Increased revenue – The easier it is for customers to make purchases in their own time and way, the more readily they will buy from a distributor. And the more satisfied they are with what they buy and their purchasing experience, the more often they will come back. This, of course, increases revenue and builds a base of loyal customers.
  • Improved customer experience – In omnichannel sales processes, customers can consume information about products and services in various ways: in person, in conversation with sales representatives, in a mobile app from the field, through a detailed website or spec documentation, and so on. This transparency and ease of access to information makes customers feel that they can place their trust in the distributor, improving the buyer experience and growing a strong working relationship between customer and company.

Building loyalty and trust underscores the importance of the next key area: customer-centricity.

Cultivating Loyal Buyers

Today’s B2B and individual customers have very similar demands. They want fast, convenient purchasing options, solid pre- and post-purchase support, and a customer journey personalized to their business and needs. Research also shows that B2B buyers “…spend as much as 45% of their time doing more research to identify the solutions that they need and the best sales partners to meet those needs.”

Customers don’t want to be “sold” on a product or service. While they want fast, convenient service, they aren’t just looking to make a purchase and move on. Instead, they want to make sure they are partnering with a distributor that is knowledgeable, trustworthy, and able to provide personalized, consultative service before and after they make a purchase.

To meet these customer demands and build healthy client relationships, industrial distributors should develop a customer-centric focus that:

  • Meets buyers where they are in their journey.
  • Tailors solutions to solve each customer’s problems.
  • Replaces generic sales tactics with personalized service.

But this can only be accomplished with access to the right data.

Putting Data to Work

Industrial distributors are constantly generating data. Every call, sale, prospect, or customer journey touchpoint creates data that tracks the financial health of the business, provides the groundwork for seamless omnichannel sales, and opens the door to a truly profitable customer-centric operational focus. But that data is valueless without the right technology to capture, store, and analyze it. To sell products in the digital economy, industrial distributors need technology that:

  •  Provides instant, on-the-go access to inventory information (including stock levels, product specifications, and pricing), so sales representatives can always know what products are available and where those products are located.
  •  Embedded customer relationship management (CRM) functionalities that store data from all customer interactions, including contact information, order history, billing data, and more. It should also provide service and support automation, sales automation, and customer self-service features to fully streamline the customer experience and shorten sales cycles—which turns one-time buyers into loyal clients.
  •  B2B storefront and marketplace platform integrations, which are built to make omnichannel sales a smooth, straightforward experience.
  • An interface for tracking customizable key performance indicators (KPIs), customer behaviors and preferences, and market trends, so distributors can make informed decisions and tailor their product offerings to market demand.

There are many options for such business management software on the market, including Acumatica Cloud ERP. To learn more about successfully selling industrial products in today’s digital economy, download Acumatica’s free eBooks: Omnichannel Readiness for Today’s Growing Companies and Resilient Sales Strategies for Wholesale Distribution and Retail Leaders.

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