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Wholesalers Detail Reponses to Amazon, Evolving Customer Expectations and the Buyer’s Journey

Posted by Barney Beal, Content Director

New customer expectations, mature sales organizations, staid industries, increasing competition from Amazon—the challenges for distributors seem to multiply by the day. Businesses as diverse as a furniture wholesaler, a firefighter equipment supplier and point of sale supplier explained how they’ve dealt with some of the common challenges confronting people in the industry and how they’re taking their ecommerce to the next level at a SuiteWorld19 session last month.

James Bonomo, Chief Operating Officer at Regina Andrew Design Inc., Shridhar Shah, CIO at Municipal Emergency Services, Inc., and Mark Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer at POS Supply Solutions, were all on hand to cover topics ranging from Amazon to customer expectations to the evolving buyer’s journey.

Competing with Amazon

Amazon hasn’t just impacted the consumer experience, it’s made a big difference in how B2B companies operate as well.

“We found that we’re going more toe to toe with manufacturers,” said Mark Fitzgerald of POS Supply Solutions. “The people we buy products from are selling against us, especially on marketplaces like Amazon. As the waters get more and more muddy, we found the way to compete is to offer specialty or unique packaging. There’s always some way to differentiate ourselves.”

“We’ve sold for a couple of years on Amazon, unfortunately, you give a good part of your profit margins back,” MES’s Shah said.

Instead, MES has focused on creating firefighting equipment microsites for municipalities, allowing them 24/7 access, run from a single instance of SuiteCommerce Advanced (SCA). It is also looking at integrating directly with municipal procurement systems as a way to meet the needs of large state and municipal purchasing organizations. .

Retailers can use Amazon’s reach to grow their customer base, but need to be careful, warned Regina Andrews Design’s Bonomo. Businesses need solid brand guidelines and need to be sure to trademark everything.

“Don’t fear Amazon, try to participate on Amazon,” he said, suggesting distributors treat it like a search engine for their own products, but warned. “I’ve caught pirates, people who will try to sell our product without buying our product using Amazon in the middle.

Evolving Customer Expectations 

Amazon has done more than just create a very large competitor and/or partner. It has helped to fundamentally change customer expectations in B2B as well as B2C. The panelists were asked how they’ve seen buyer expectations change.

“There’s a level of personalization expected,” Shah said. “They want the Amazon experience. They want faster response. They want to be able to contact the sales rep through multiple channels, email, text, or a direct call.”

MES is leveraging NetSuite to deliver that customization and faster response. Customers can create a dynamic quote, log in and change the quantities. Once it’s in, the order hits fulfillment within 30 minutes.

“It’s just evolving with what the market wants.,” Shah said.

For Regina Andrew Design, content, particularly multiple, quality images have become a requirement, along with SEO.

“My biggest belief is to take the iterative approach,” Bonomo said. “Try to answer questions and allow customers to answer their own questions. More and more, people don’t want to talk to each other. When they call, it’s usually because there’s something wrong in the buying experience.”

For B2B side customers are coming in with a specific need. They need to know if it’s not in stock, when is it going to be in stock. With SuiteCommerce Advanced, Regina Andrew Design is able to provide that back office information on the front-end website.

“Start to think that way,” Bonomo said. “It’s all about the content and experience.”

According to POS Supply Solutions’ Mark Fitzgerald, meeting the customer experience can depend on whether they’re looking for a commodity product or a specialty product.

“To the extent the customer is looking for specialty then the content is really critical. You want to be the authoritative voice on that content,” he said, adding that for commodity and B2B there needs to be a different focus. “The thing we try to do, and what SCA has allowed us to do, is focus on simplicity. I can’t stress how important simplicity is when it comes to the buying experience. I spent a lot of time in apparel and I understand very well the difference between want and need. And in the B2B world it’s really about need. The ability to quickly see what you purchased in the past and just reorder that is vital. SCA gives us the ability to do that.”

The B2B Buyer’s Journey

B2B extends beyond just the ecommerce channel, of course. Across the three businesses, each company has had to adapt to the changes around it in different ways. For Regina Andrew Design, for example, “the home furnishing world has always been, for some reason, very complex,” Bonomo said. Traditionally driven by large trade shows and with a veteran sales force, adapting to ecommerce has been a challenge, but an integrated front-end website and back office accounting empowers the sales force to be proactive and transparent.

“For us it was a challenge with sales,” said POS’s Fitzgerald. “We sell through direct, inbound calls to the service center and online through marketplaces. One of the things is we’re capturing a ton of information. For example, customers can submit quote requests online. We’ve reinforced to sales that ‘your job is to close the deal.’”

They’re better able to do that with the ability to automatically create sales order .pdfs right from the online interaction or close the deal online, Fitzgerald said. NetSuite also allows the company to offer unique pricing to win new customers but not change the underlying price list, so it doesn’t wind up undercutting its own business. And, data collected from NetSuite and Bronto commerce marketing equips the sales team with browser-related data inside the customer record. For example, if a customer doesn’t respond to a third abandoned cart email it’s passed on to a sales rep who can follow up personally.

“As long as you do that right, the customer will not feel like they're being stalked," Fitzgerald added with a laugh.

For MES, air packs have specific configurations across multiple categories and product types.

“We wanted to put as much info at the fingertips of the outside sales rep as possible,” Shah said. “They can see the last transaction, pricing, set up an equipment profile, etc. We want to give the feel of a tailored service that we know the customer wants, even if we haven’t met them before.”

Learn more about POS Supply, Regina Andrew Design and MES and their experience with NetSuite.