Imagine if all of your channels were completely integrated?
- A sales rep walks the floor of a plant with the facility manager to talk about some updated products from a leading brand. The manager recognizes the value of the products for some pain points she’s facing but isn’t ready to place an order.
- The sales rep logs the visit and the products in the distributor’s CRM and makes a note to follow-up. Later that week, the customer calls the customer service line to get more details on those products and place an order.
- The customer service rep easily pulls up the customer’s file and sees the products that were discussed with the outside sales rep. That makes it quick and effortless for the CSR to fulfill the request. The CSR takes the opportunity to remind the safety manager that they are due to reorder another product and adds that to the order.
- Later, the customer goes into her account on the distributor’s website to check the status of the order she placed with the CSR; everything appears to be on track for the delivery date she expects. While there, she is introduced to a product that complements a previous purchase. This is thanks to personalization driven by AI. She makes a note to discuss this with her sales rep on his next visit.
- After the order is delivered, the sales rep gives the customer a call to confirm everything is as expected and to offer any technical support.
This is an example of a customer who needed and wanted to interact with the distributor on multiple sales channels. Because the distributor ensured that the data was consistent in every interaction, there were no hiccups in the buying process.
Everybody in this distribution company could access this customer’s profile and purchase history, browsing and buying preferences, reorder needs and order status as well as the AI analysis to help personalize their customer experience. Because they broke down the siloes between departments, the data is centralized, allowing AI to analyze it and provide actionable next steps for sales reps without them having to analyze the data themselves.
Why frustrate your customers?
Imagine if the distributor had not integrated channels, though. Each interaction have been frustrating for the customer as well as inefficient – and less profitable – for the distributor.
- The customer service call would have taken twice as long as the CSR was brought up to speed on the previous conversation with the sales rep.
- Checking the order status on the website would have frustrated the customer if the website account information wasn’t synched with the ERP and order system. It would have forced a call that would have taken up valuable time for the customer and the distributor.
- The order would have been smaller because the CSR would have fulfilled the customer’s request – and would not have been prompted to suggest the additional purchase based on the customer’s history.
It is easy to avoid frustrating your customers in this way.
Most distributors today understand the importance of engaging with customers on multiple channels, such as a mixture of ecommerce, sales reps and brick-and-mortar locations.
The key is going beyond the traditional multichannel approach and building an omnichannel experience. The customer journey is connected across channels, so anyone on your team (customer service reps, ecommerce site, inside sales reps, outside sales reps, technical specialists) can see the customer’s entire experience across all of your platforms. Every interaction is synched and communicated so that the experience is seamless for the customer.
To put a point on how important offering this experience has become, a McKinsey report found that the number of channels B2B buyers use doubled within the past five years (from five in 2016 to 10 in 2021).
The visibility, and single version of the truth, that an omnichannel approach provides significantly affects sales growth, lower cost to serve, improves customer satisfaction and reduces customer churn rates, according to a recent Harvard Business Review report.
- Reps from each part of your business gain a holistic view of your customers.
- Since data is shared between channels, reps get actionable insights into what’s next for customers.
- The customer experience is more consistent, making it easier for customers to buy more.
What’s in the way?
It all sounds good, but in practice it probably feels like distributors need to climb a mountain to get there. In reality, they just need the right technology. Connecting previously disconnected departments – used to operating on their own – is a critical component of omnichannel.
Distributors also can’t easily parse the data they have for tens or even hundreds of thousands of SKUs. So they may feel like they shouldn’t even try. The good news is that AI can do that for them, and combined with the right CRM, ecommerce and ERP platforms, distributors can create shopping and buying experiences that align with what B2B buyers want.
Here are some examples of what that looks like:
Buyers want a personalized online shopping experience – even in B2B, where the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell is just as big as in B2C. But that requires the use of data from other parts of your organization, including purchases through other channels, as well as past purchases and history with sales and customer service reps. Thankfully today, AI can help make sense of this vast set of online and offline data to personalize that online shopping and buying experience for customers.
Customer Service Sales
While customer service reps sit in a reactive role, they talk to customers every day who may not know that the distributor sells a complementary item, for example. Armed with the same information about a customer as your sales teams, such as past purchases, reorder needs, conversations around specific products, and upsell and cross-sell opportunities – customer service reps can grow order size on inbound calls.
Quick and easy questions can also be answered quickly and easily, increasing customer satisfaction. This takes the CSR team from a cost center solving complaints and processing reorder requests to a revenue generation team.
Your inside sales team contacts many customers per day, so it’s important to incorporate tools that can increase their efficiency. When you break down the data walls between channels, inside sales reps can better prioritize their time by pursuing accounts that need to reorder or are at risk of churn. From there, they can spend the rest of their time reaching out to qualified new leads.
Aided by AI, outside sales reps can also benefit from an omnichannel approach by being able to quickly mine for relevant customer information from other channel interactions before a meeting – all from their laptops or phones. That makes them more efficient – and effective – when face to face with their customers. When time is at a premium, customers will appreciate the additional value the sales reps are bringing to the table.
Customers have become accustomed to an omnichannel experience in their day-to-day consumer shopping and buying interactions. Without an AI-enriched omnichannel approach, distributors will miss out. Give your team the data they need to grow sales and keep customers happy.
Benj Cohen founded Proton.ai, a growth engine for distributors. His company’s mission is to help distributors harness cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) to drive increased sales. Benj learned about distribution firsthand at Benco Dental, a family business started by his great grandfather. He graduated Harvard University with a degree in Applied Math, and speaks regularly at industry events on the benefits of AI for distributors. Benj has been featured in trade publications including MDM, Industrial Distribution, and Industrial Supply Magazine. His company, Proton.ai, announced a $20 million Series A round of funding in 2022, led by Felicis Ventures.