Preserving old-school relationships with new-school solutions

E-commerce solutions for the kitchen and bath industry are becoming a must-have for contractor suppliers. This comes with a mandate that combines the complexity of business-to-business with the ease of consumer simplicity. Ultimately, the right online solution can enhance, develop and support customer relationships. But it involves the relentless pursuit of the exact mix of data, technology, training and support. 
In the end, it preserves old-school relationships, adds a new-school solution for customers and becomes a tool to spur new business.
A Rich History of Relationships
Contractor supply has historically been a relationship business. Customers go to the supply house and talk face-to-face with staff about the products needed for each project. The staff, in turn, gets to truly know the customers, developing relationships that extend beyond simply serving as order-takers.
You can maintain that personal touch by tailoring the right online solutions to each customer. And you can create a platform for everyone involved in the transaction to get jobs done faster.
What Customers Want
Distributors are adapting to a changing buyer profile that expects online services, ranging from requesting and checking quotes, to reviewing local inventory and pricing in real time, to placing orders quickly for scheduled delivery.
More than half of suppliers are slowly investing in e-commerce systems and personnel. But that’s mostly to help current customers. Too many are not using e-commerce to win new business.
E-commerce is more than just creating a shopping cart. It’s a complete digital transformation.
A Complex Transaction
Customer needs differ across the industry, so regularly gaining their input is critical. It’s equally critical to gain input from every level of the supplier organization. At MORSCO, we listen closely to customers, as well as our inside and outside sales teams, operations, accounts payable and other internal stakeholders.
All these parties must help develop the solution and train customers afterward. It becomes part of everyday business, not just a one-time project.
Keep it Personal
Even with stakeholder input from all levels, e-commerce can seem, well, a little impersonal. But the personal, face-to-face nature of the transaction can be maintained with support from the staff at the local branches – particularly inside sales – and with communication from the local contractor.
Orders and any follow up should go through the local branch – not a call center – so customers know they are still dealing with suppliers at the local level that understand their markets and their needs.
The right online solution also frees up time for the outside sales staff. With advanced features, like easy-to-use custom pricing and quoting tools, the outside team can better support new and potential customers at all levels.
Instead of tracking down invoices and delivery slips, outside sales reps can leverage digital platforms in a way that sparks better conversations with customers and brings sophistication to a centuries-old industry.
Suppliers, meanwhile, can continue to serve as personal consultants, troubleshooters and more, all in a face-to-face capacity. That provides better, faster service, while maintaining an unmatched level of local, personal support for customers.
Benefits for Vendors
E-commerce sites can also serve as a vendor’s marketing tool, salesperson and cashier. Benefits include:

  • An easy and fast search experience for consumers of products and inventory at the local level.
  • Mobile solutions like phone and tablet access that give customers the ability to search and order products anywhere, anytime, including on a job site.
  • The ability to increase customer reach and become the preferred online vendor for customers.
  • Increased sales and loyalty with existing and new customers.

The Right Solutions
So what does it take to offer world class e-commerce? Solutions that:

  • Help people get jobs done more efficiently, freeing talent for higher-value tasks. Self-service support functions like viewing and paying invoices can now be done online, much more quickly, and at the customer’s convenience.
  • Allow access anywhere from desktop computers to job sites through mobile phones. Offer technical documents, catalogs, component and accessory information, as well as substitute items and recommendations.
  • Include side-by-side input from customers and support from employees.
    Invest in training and data so the solutions themselves become an indispensable part of customers’ everyday lives. Training should be mandatory for all sales and branch staff, ensuring the face-to-face support can be seamless and add value.
  • Offer support that involves local branches, which are critical for both your customers and your employees. Be sure all users know the types of support offered and that support tickets are addressed.
  • Leverage technology – Power your digital customer experience with top-tier e-commerce, search, marketing automation, analytics, and data platforms. At MORSCO, this gives customers the 24/7 access they need, increases our ability to make complex online transactions that vary by a customer’s needs and creates the customer value that goes beyond the online shopping cart.

In the rush to offer e-commerce solutions to customers, we must remember the importance of the long-standing relationship nature of the business and ensure that any solution supports full integration of the old and the new. It’s an exciting time for those who can adapt.
Darren Taylor is the chief marketing officer for MORSCO, a leading U.S. distributor of commercial and residential plumbing, waterworks and HVAC, with showrooms across the country.

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