Being in the middle is dangerous. Distributors are easily replaced in the digital landscape. How can you, a distributor, stay relevant? Focus on what makes your company unique.
Your uniqueness isn’t your products. With a few exceptions, the products you offer are available in other places.
Don’t use price to stand out. Having a low price is not unique. Large digital players are willing to take a loss to win a customer. There are more profitable ways to create uniqueness.
Your uniqueness isn’t your products.
So what can distributors do to provide a unique experience and stay relevant in the digital era? Here are a few ideas and examples.
Ecommerce allows buyers to serve themselves. While an increasing number of B2B distributors offer ecommerce (with more on the way), you can still create uniqueness by making your website easier to use than your competitors.
Beyond self-service ordering, digital can offer many other opportunities to make customers’ lives easier.
Take Future Electronics, for example. It offers a system that generates an entire lighting solution to meet flux, efficacy, and lumen maintenance targets.
Newark Electronics provides multiple paths for customers to order products quickly.
Outstanding customer service is another way to differentiate your distribution business. Ask your best clients and prospects to name their greatest challenge in buying products like yours. Their frustrations are an opportunity to brainstorm solutions and configure your site accordingly.
Use live chat to immediately answer questions from prospective customers — without them having to pick up the phone. Staff your live chat with reps who are knowledgeable about your products.
The speed of your service impacts your customers’ satisfaction. Configure your systems to provide quotes within 24 hours — or, even better, instantly. Use technology to deliver faster and better service than your competition.
Relationships matter. Customers have options. They prefer vendors who connect on a human, emotional level. Developing brand loyalty is hugely valuable.
Use content or other methods to connect with buyers. Your site should convey your company’s story, personality, and priorities.
Provide safety data sheets, product specs, and how-to videos so that customers see you as a trusted expert and guide.
A good example is Allied Electronics, which offers expert advice to buyers.
Consider using social media as a part of your brand strategy. Build an online following that reinforces your digital expertise.
Don’t think social media works with industrial buyers? Think again. Harvey Performance Company, a provider of tools for manufacturers, has more than 56,000 followers on Instagram.
Could you package services with your products? Providing training, installation, or maintenance makes your company difficult to replace.
Similarly, managed inventory services ensure customers have what they need when they need it. Cumberland Electronics does this with its “vendor managed inventory” solution.
Another option is to bundle products from multiple manufacturers to solve a specific need. It’s an added value of being a supplier. Components Company Incorporated, a distributor and manufacturer, does this with its kitting, bagging, and packing service.
Where to Start?
Likely these ideas aren’t new to you. It is difficult to find the money and time to execute the needed changes. Use feedback from customers to set a vision to differentiate yourself. Look at your top three competitors. Are your ideas different and better? If not, be more creative. Involve your entire team.