Not enough distributors have destination websites, sites where a customer will visit before or perhaps instead of plugging their product into Google.
Examples of destination websites include Grainger, Ferguson, MSC Industrial Supply and Amazon. The gap between distributors with destination websites and those without a functional e-commerce platform is quickly widening.
Unfortunately, many end-users don’t see a distributor’s website as a place where they can find what they need to make a purchase decision. We’ve surveyed more than 8,500 end-users across distribution segments and documented it in our report “What Customers Want.” In that research, we found that many of the distributors’ customers prefer to shop first on a manufacturer’s website, giving the manufacturer the customer’s mindshare. And there’s no guarantee that customer will come to the distributor next.
As the generations shift, this becomes even more critical as millennials, and soon Gen Z, lean strongly digital in how they shop and buy. Add to this Forrester’s research outlined in “Death of a (B2B) Salesperson,” which finds that 68% of buyers prefer to research (shop) online before even reaching out to a salesperson. Your customers want to go to your website and have a better customer experience than if they picked up the phone and called you.
Have great content
Clean and relevant product data – the specs, imagery and availability/pricing data that appear on a product’s page in a distributor’s online store – fuels a distributor’s website. It’s now easier and more affordable than ever for distributors of any size to invest in good product data thanks to initiatives from buying groups such as Affiliated Distributors (AD) and IMARK, as well as industry associations. These initiatives provide large quantities of product data at a fraction of the cost of in-house or a third party. Still, to differentiate content, distributors must optimize and enhance data for their core products (typically the 10% of your products that make up 90% of your revenue) to increase the chances that a prospect will land on their website after a search.
A website is a resource for both existing and potential customers. End-users want robust product data, but they also need to understand the applications and want to see how others like them have used those products. End-users want more technical information, as well as product images, safety data sheets, videos and product training material. Ensure that when your prospects land on your website they find what they’re looking for.
Leverage your channel partners’ content
When customers go to a manufacturer’s website first, they’re telling you that that supplier’s content is better than your own. Distributors need to take whatever is on that manufacturers' website and make it better, adding expertise that only they have based on their customer base. This represents a deeper level of content that goes beyond scanning product pages and pricing. Partner with your suppliers to integrate resources such as configurators or comparison tools into your website or develop resources that are unique to your target industry segments.
Be available to answer questions
Just as you’d be available offline to consult with your customers on the right product for their application, your experts need to be available online. To do this, add chat to your website and make sure it’s useful and not a deterrent to returning to that website for future purchases. Nearly 45% of distributor customers we surveyed want the ability to request a chat with a customer-service rep online when needed. Make sure the customer-service rep behind the chat has the power and expertise to help your customers buy the right product. And if they don’t, that they have immediate access to someone who does. This is all about integrating the online with the offline to create a seamless shopping experience for your customers.
Make ordering seamless
Customers expect to be able to not only place an order online but have access to features that are unique to B2B and consistent whether they are shopping online or off. That includes the functionality to set custom search, quote and ordering permissions for their team members; allow managers to approve orders before they are released to the distributor; and request quotes and convert them into an order, among others. They also want to be able to check on the status of their orders and view order history in real time.
These features increasingly represent table stakes to play the e-commerce game. And the stakes are high. We’ve found that between 3% and 5% of customers are at risk per year without an easy-to-use e-commerce platform. In some market segments, that number is higher. That means building a destination website affects not only whether you draw in new customers, but whether you retain your existing ones.