We recently sat down with Ken Dickinson and Keith Lambert of Kore Technologies — a company that specializes in e-commerce integration and management solutions. The company has a strong focus on the industrial sector and shared some of their biggest takeaways from working with manufacturers and industrial distributors.
Jeff Reinke: E-commerce can be a daunting venture for the industrial sector. What advice could you offer for the initial platform selection and implementation phases?
Keith Lambert, VP Marketing & Business Development, Kore Technologies: Our experience has found that this sector, maybe even more than others, really needs to take extra time in making sure the tools and technology being put in place mesh cleanly with the company’s goals. Most of the time, we’re helping companies narrow down their overall focus so they can make the right investment decisions.
We always tell them, “don’t try to eat the elephant all at once”. Figure out the primary products you want to sell on-line and focus your efforts on those products. Essentially, we’re asking them to segment their customer base and choose the SKUs appropriately.
Ken Dickinson, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Kore Technologies: Content is king. Manufacturers and suppliers have varying degrees of control when it comes to content, but they are both equally challenged with finding the best way to distribute this content to the sellers. This means they might need an e-commerce solution that is more flexible in working with their channel partners.
For manufacturers, the site’s primary function might not be to sell products, but to act as a promotional tool in presenting content and directing the audience towards the sellers or distributors. It helps greatly if the two can work together in developing these solutions so they can stay in-sync and deliver a consistent message to the customer.
Again, it’s about understanding what is best for your company and staying focused on those goals. Distributors and manufacturers always need to remember who the site is for and what service it should ultimately provide. Also, e-commerce should be positioned as a sales assist. More than anything, these platforms provide a higher level of engagement with the on-line world. They’re not about undercutting internal sales people, but expanding sales opportunities.
JR: Internal sales resistance can be a significant challenge. Do you have any thoughts on strategies that help improve internal buy-in?
KL: Post-implementation training for sales and customer service is key for a number of reasons, but one is to help illustrate how these platforms can help sales staff manage customer relationships more efficiently. Salespeople with an understanding of the e-commerce platform can show customers how to use it, which helps resolve some of those concerns and increase customer comfort levels. This also creates a platform for obtaining customer feedback — potentially enhancing the role of the company and the rep even more.
JR: What has the response been like when presenting these types of strategies?
KL: It can be tough for some because it represents a change in the attitudes they have towards customer interactions. Most distributors and manufacturers have regional brick and mortar location with sales reps out in the field.
They see e-commerce as a threat, when really e-commerce can work as a compliment to brick and mortar. The two can bring more traffic to each, depending on what the customer prefers. This allows them to differentiate from sites like Amazon that focus more prominently on price. We encourage them to look at e-commerce as a way of expanding their services via the web and leverage trends like the growth of mobile device use.
JR: A standard “jumping off” point for e-commerce is often digitizing the catalog. What has been your experience here?
KD: The catalog is a great place to start. It’s not going away, but they’re obviously expensive to print. Although it always depends on the industry and customer preferences, the e-commerce site allows for these catalogs to be leveraged more dynamically and cost-effectively. Although most start with the printed catalog and transition this content to the e-commerce platform, many are now using the site to feed the printed catalog.
KL: The trap to avoid here is to remember that the site needs to be organized and set-up in a way that accommodates simple and frequent updates. It’s a living document, whereas the catalog is static.
JR: What have been some of the key takeaways in helping manufacturers and distributors set up their e-commerce sites?
KD: Organization and on-going site maintenance are constant challenges. You can’t just put the site up and forget about it. Also, collecting data from multiple sources, and then understanding which of those are the best sources, can be tough. This is especially true for distributors working with numerous suppliers.
So we recommend keeping everything as simple and straightforward as possible — for both the buyer navigating on the front end of the site, and the seller organizing and updating content and pricing on the back end.
KL: This is where integration is so important for the seller. Being able to integrate product, pricing and inventory data from ERP systems or other data repositories can really streamline the whole process.
KD: Tying in these systems will also help in better defining those initial goals. Now you can compare sales forecasts with costs in determining ROI and understanding the true potential of e-commerce for your company.
JR: So how is the industrial sector pacing with their e-commerce competitors in the consumer space?
KL: The rate of adoption is tremendous and encouraging, but still lagging behind B2C. Much of this stems from the fact that pricing can be more complex and distributors in particular are still unsure of how to handle this without playing favorites.
The momentum is very encouraging, and we see more companies experimenting with higher levels of support, and then evaluating those results to see what is working most effectively.
KD: To their credit, industrial companies are also seeing the need to differentiate from companies like Amazon and competing on more than just price.
For more information on Kore Technologies, go to www.koretech.com.