Benfield's Blog

The seventy percent solution

January 31, 2013

In a recent presentation to a group of PHCP distributors, I covered the subject of AmazonSupply, the fact that it is beta testing a site for contractors, and how the use of e-commerce and e-solicitation supplanting traditional sales efforts, combined with super-warehouses that are hyper-efficient, can significantly reduce the costs associated with fulfillment.

I also covered recent research on the contractor sector that found, of those that had smartphones or tablets, 58% used them to check price and availability and increasingly picked up items from big-box suppliers after their search as they lead in e-commerce technology.

My presentation, where I covered the technology advances, their cost advantage, and how they provided a faster, more accurate and less costly service, was met with a kind of strained expression from some audience members. Later, I discovered from several sources, including a few wholesalers, that a fair portion of those present did not have a functioning e-commerce capability. They had websites, of course, and maybe a Flash site, but not an interactive digital site with products, pricing, current inventory, product descriptions and other links that customer(s) need.

A few of the wholesalers, after the seminar, went out of their way to tell me why they didn’t need a fully functioning e-commerce capability. The timing on their disclosure(s) of technological nada was good as they accompanied dinner where, with a few glasses of wine, my objections were numbed and I let the issue go.

A New World with New Expectations

Driving permits for teenagers are falling after rising for several decades. Research on this phenomenon finds that teenagers don’t care about driving as much as they used to. Why?   Because they use social media to visit; hence there’s a lessened need to crank up the jalopy and head down to the burger joint, skating rink, mall or wherever local teenagers used to hang out. 

The simple fact that today’s youth use the Internet and social media to communicate should, for wholesalers, be as bracing as the Scandinavian glacial lake dip after the sauna. In short, today’s generation reviews products, communicates, gathers information and makes buying decisions based on information gathered from the Web. Recent research finds that for the B2B buying decision, “70% of the B2B buying cycle is completed before the salesperson engages.”[i]

When I heard the previous statistic, I didn’t believe it. But then I began to think about the number of things I do on the Web and the number of things I buy for my consultancy via e-commerce. For instance:

  • All my travel, which includes price and availability research and buying for hotel, rental car and air travel arrangements are done on the Web.

  • All my office supplies are ordered via the Web.

  • Three-quarters of my supporting research is done via Web sources.

  • All my survey research is done via the Web. 

  • Most of my business attire is ordered on the Web. 

  • 100% of my books and research reports are sold through e-commerce. 

    In essence, my communication, research, knowledge products, travel and support materials are transacted through some element of the Web or e-commerce and I’m a late-stage baby boomer, a good generation removed from Gen Y that is currently taking over distribution channels. Consequently, for a group of wholesaler executives to tell me they don’t need a robust e-commerce capability seems, in the words of Gen. Anthony McAuliffe[ii] - “Nuts!”

  • The Lighting Fixture that Leaks

    The PHCP seminar, where I was enlightened by several wholesalers that one does not need e-commerce, capped off a torrid month of travel, which can happen in the feast-to-famine world of consulting. I arrived home a day later, after several cancelled and delayed flights, hungry, tired, strung-out and just before the midnight hour.

    Knowing that sleep would be hard fought, I took the hottest shower I could stand and proceeded to the kitchen to raid the icebox. As I turned on the rather massive florescent light, I noticed water dripping from the opaque lens. I left a phone message with our plumber before dining on a sumptuous meal of cold chicken and olives.

    The plumbing/HVAC firm we have used in Chicago for the past 16 years is a well-established contracting firm doing work in light commercial, new residential construction, remodeling and repair. It has a sizable fleet of repair vans and has not, in all the years we’ve used the firm, had to come back once for work not done to satisfaction.

    I was duly worried about the master bath shower because the bathroom needs to be remodeled, including the tile shower which needs replacing. The contractor ran a test and isolated the leak to the gravity drain.

    “You have two options,” the contractor said. “I can try and fix the lead caulk around the drain or we would need to pull the base and do more work. The shower base is old and, if you go through all the work of pulling it, you might as well replace it and the drain.”

    “I’m cheap,” I said. “If you pull the base you might as well go ahead and rebuild the whole shower and since I don’t want to do that now, see if you can fix the caulk.”

    The plumber proceeded to take a hammer and bang on the caulk around the drain. I quickly learned the seal was malleable and after a minute or so of hammering, a subsequent water test found the fix worked.

    “Sometimes the lead comes loose from around the drain due to shifting and you can beat it back to fix the problem. If this happens again, you’ll probably have to have a more extensive fix.  Do you need anything else?”

    “Nope. I’m good,” I said.

    Before leaving, the plumber proceeded to pull a small tablet from a leg-pocket and key in information. 

    “Do you use that a lot?” I asked.

    “More and more every day,” replied the contractor.

    “Do you order products on it?”

    “I try to get as much product as I can from the shop. Sometimes, I’m too far out to go back so I check price and availability from a supplier’s site, place an order and go pick it up.”

    “So I guess a supplier would have to have a good e-commerce site that’s easy to use for you to buy from them.”


    “Do a lot of the suppliers have that capability?”

    The plumber shook his head back and forth while engaged with his handheld. “It’s not as common as you would think.”

    “That’s hard for me to believe in today’s time,” I replied. 

    The plumber stopped keying in information on his handheld, looked up and smiled.  “You’re lucky, you have a minimum charge. Oh, and remember to let the Sheetrock dry for several days before you put the lens back on the light fixture.”

    [i]Schaub, Kathleen. “The Point, The New B2B Buyer Dialogue,” at:, December 2010. 

    [ii]Anthony McAuliffe was the commanding brigadier general for the American forces at Bastogne (Battle of the Bulge), who, when offered surrender by the Germans, simply replied, “Nuts!”


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