I think everyone knows that you have to provide your customers with great service and how important it is to satisfy their needs and desires. The problem is a lot of businesses are not properly set up to handle the way your customer might want to do business with your organization.
In today's day and age, customers are spending less time on the phone and on the road and more time on their computers shopping for what they believe is the best deal. Industrial Distribution has published countless articles promoting the use of technology that we can use in our businesses. The question then becomes 'how can you provide extra value and separate yourselves from your competitors if your customers are shopping strictly online?'
You can easily find a number of companies who specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) and are pros at creating an inviting homepage that can make your customers shopping experience a pleasurable one. The problem I alluded to is that a lot of businesses have invested heavily in the people that they have working at their counters, warehouse personnel, and with outside sales personnel. The world is changing at a rapid pace and the companies who move resources into place to strengthen their IT departments will be the ones who have the advantage moving forward.
Online Customers Are Helping You
If you don't possess a strong website that allows customers to easily search for the items they need and quickly purchased them in an expedient fashion you will soon be losing ground to competitors. You always have customers who prefer to physically come into a store location and place their orders face-to-face. The question is which customer will give you the greatest profit margin? The answer is the Internet customer will cost you a lot less to serve because the customer is the once who is placing their order, filling out the information needed to process their order – such as filling in their purchase order number or the items and quantities needed – and they are specifying the place of delivery. All you have to do at this point is have your warehouse personnel pull the order and complete the transaction. You didn't need the counter or outside personal for this order. It’s almost like you have hired a new employee and that is your customer!
The customer that came into the store front probably tied up an expensive counter person for an extended period of time as they placed their order. Your typical counter personnel will be more expensive than warehouse personnel, plus Internet sales typically garner a higher gross margin.
You will have to be competitive on bread-and-butter items that people use to price check, but outside of these price sensitive items, you'll find you'll be able to get a much greater profit margin from customers who use the Internet. These folks realize time is money and ordering online is a quicker and is an easier way to get what they need. We still have customers who want to fax in their orders, come to our counters, and are hesitant to get online. The key is to do business with the customer the way they want to do business with you.
You have to look at how profitable it is for you to do business with a variety of different customers in a variety of different fashions, and at the end of the day, if you have crunched the numbers correctly, you can make the hard decisions as to how you want to proceed. What you might find out is that you have to reallocate your resources to support the new way that customers want to do business with you and your company. The change can be a little rocky at first, but trust me, it will pay off in the long run. We have tried to train or counter personnel to talk to customers about the merits of ordering online at how simple that it can be. We have ways to set up lists so that our customers can simply go to a list that might be designated by a truck number and order stock for that truck by simply choosing the items they need from the list that has only been created for that particular vehicle. The easier you can make it for your customers to do business the more they'll want to do. We found that creating installation lists and service trucks stock lists helps the purchasing agent to quickly find what is needed on a particular vehicle so they can stock a vehicle rather quickly without much time wasted.
The Outside Sales Role
The role of the outside salesperson will also change, as they will now interact with their customers in a different manner than they did before. We have large customers who give us all of their business with 90 percent of it coming through our website. The new role for the successful salesperson will be to find out if our customers are experiencing any problems with the website such as problems using our search engine, or with the various list we created together to make reorder easier, or if they have any general concerns so that the salesperson can help to troubleshoot the problems that they might be experiencing. Your sales personnel will now how to have an in-depth knowledge of all the programs that have been plugged into a particular customer's website so the sales person can understand what going on well enough that they can solve simple problems and can adequately relay the more complex problems to the tech team inside your organization.
The sales person role in some aspects will stay the same because they should still be looking to find more products they can quote or offer, but now, if the customer likes what is presented, they can purchase what they want online at any time of day or night. Customers what things simple and quick and if you're able to give them what they want, you will become their new favorite supplier.
The Bottom Line
The key is to change the culture of your business so that everyone is programmed to help customers get what they want, which typically is giving great service by making it easier to place orders and fulfill their orders quickly and expediently. If you can do this, your business will grow.