Epicor Senior Director Distribution Customer Sales Tony Corley sees one common pain point when chatting with the company’s distribution customers.

“With the disruption in distribution by the ‘Amazon Effect,” distributors want to combat potential loss of sales from the eCommerce giants like Amazon, Grainger and even Fastenal,” he says.

Corley says there is a tried-and-true way to help make that happen. “A couple ways to combat this issue is to not only evaluate the competition, but distributors need to really know their customer base and provide the relationship and service the eCommerce giants can’t,” he says. “Provide a personal touch and deliver extra, ‘human value.’ Ask them what they need/want from you. Your customers don’t want to be told how to do business with you. They want to do business with you the way they prefer. Consider every aspect of the customer experience and identify how your internal activity affects them. Use analytics tools to replace the guesswork with measurable data. Launch automated, digital marketing campaigns to inform, entice and educate customers. Create ‘the one’ website your customers go to with content and tools that perfectly fit your market.”

Software providers alike see a variety of other common hurdles their distributor customers are attempting to overcome. Kevin MacDonald of MacDonald Supply and a customer of distribution software provider DDI System sees search-engine optimization as a key topic of discussion. “It’s a sign of the times that most everyone seems to go straight to Google to find a product,” he says. “So if you are not at the top of that search, you are going to have a hard time getting attention.”

DDI System Director of Marketing Jennifer Luizzi adds: “As such, distributors are realizing the importance of eCommerce as part of their complete commerce selling strategy while still creating an intimate, exceptional customer experience from beginning to end. However, the task of finding the right eCommerce product, integrating it with your operations and having an efficient way to control the product data throughout the entire system can be daunting, leading many distributors to give up on
the efforts.”

Brent Tippett, director of sales at Kerridge Commercial Systems, says almost all distributors in the company’s market should spend more time analyzing the data storied in their ERP system. “In a nutshell, they have deficiencies in business intelligence,” he says. “Most distributors spend so much time and energy being reactive, they forget to be proactive. They all are pretty good at discovering ‘what happened,’ but they don’t take the time or use the proper tools to assist them to discover ‘why it happened,’ ‘what is likely to happen,’ and ‘what action to take.’”

Unilog Senior Vice President of Marketing Scott Frymire says Unilog sees a lot of distributors who want to move faster than their software vendors allow, “especially on the eCommerce front,” he says. “Historically, it has taken too long for companies to provide distributors with the eCommerce site they need, with the B2B capabilities their customer demand — support for multiple layers of approval, customer-specific pricing, access to open order and invoice history, a quick order pad, and so on. Some lower-end web store solutions go up quickly, but don’t integrate with the distributors’ ERP systems or other back-end applications.”

Those are the pain points of today. So, what about tomorrow? “Being able to take orders from anywhere means distributors will need to have exceptional demand and warehouse management oversight,” DDI’s Luizzi says. “One way to accomplish this is through an industry-specific ERP and warehouse technology that can maximize efficiency and improve inventory/order accuracy. After all, the more orders you are picking — whether generated online or in-store — requires diligent workflows.”

Kerridge’s Tippett says too many distributors are still using systems that were developed and deployed during an era preceding high-speed internet, “which were developed for slow processors and decision-making that was ‘backward-looking,’” he says. “Today’s customers expect faster response, more information, higher accuracy and they expect to have their questions answered before they ask them.”

Epicor’s Corley adds: “Not knowing what your data can tell you about your customers’ needs and how to make your business more profitable is an issue distributors must overcome to survive today’s ever-changing market demands. Having a modern ERP solution as the business’s single source of truth is critical for growth.”