Whether you’re launching a new site, or planning to re-platform your existing digital branch, Scott Frymire has nine ways sales staff can help
As an eCommerce and content services provider, a common challenge we hear from our customers is their sales team’s reluctance to embrace their digital sales channel. For wholesale distributors, this especially holds true as their reps argue they’ve thrived for decades with their strictly offline business model of face-to-face interactions and phone orders. Moreover, some sales reps feel threatened by new technology and pressured to change their conventional methods.
I recently hosted a webinar to address this concern and to share what Unilog has learned from working with so many successful companies in the eCommerce space. The truth of the matter is a digital branch benefits your salespeople just as much as the rest of your organization. If you show them its capabilities, explain its value, and provide profitable results, you have a much better chance of getting them to support your eCommerce efforts.
Today I’m going to share specific ways you can get your sales team behind your eCommerce efforts – whether you’re launching for the first time or re-platforming an existing site. To help garner your sales team’s support, get them involved in your eCommerce initiative from the start, and continue their engagement well after you’ve launched your site.
Getting sales involved before site launch
A great way to develop trust and understanding of your digital branch is to include members of your sales staff in the planning and execution of your eCommerce strategy. When you give them a stake in the game, they’ll feel a sense of ownership and responsibility, which will encourage sales to regard your site as a welcome opportunity, not a forced-upon necessity. Here are five ways you can include your sales team in your digital commerce efforts:
- Give them a seat at the (decision-making) table
I highly recommend that every business form a small steering committee consisting of people who will be impacted by your eCommerce site. In addition to having a senior-level decision-maker on board, you’ll also want representation by your marketing, operations, IT, as well as sales teams. As a committee member, sales will have the opportunity to learn more about the purpose and capabilities of the website, and have their voice heard during planning and development. Plus, the more they understand about the site, the more they will realize the benefits it will provide your customers, your staff, and your business as a whole.
- Involve them in surveying your customers
Any successful distributor’s website is built with insight from its customers. While your marketing or eCommerce team will most likely initiate a customer-wide survey to find out what they’re looking for in an online storefront, also get your sales reps involved by asking them to encourage their accounts to solicit feedback via the survey. Customers should be asked specific questions as well as open-ended ones to promote candid answers. For instance, what’s most important to them in an eCommerce site? Are they looking to get better visibility into your catalog? Are they looking for price availability? Do they want a self-service option where they can look up invoices and check their order status? Do they want the use of a chatbot to get a quick answer? When your sales staff learns firsthand the voice of their customers and what they’re asking of your business, they may be much more inclined to support a digital branch.
- Train them before you go live
Obviously, you want to make sure you train your entire staff to use the site before your launch. But we’ve seen organizations go a step further and require their sales reps to place orders for their customers for a one-week period before their public launch. All their internal staff – from inside and outside sales to customer service order takers – had to use the eCommerce site to place every order for a customer, whether they received the order via a phone call or e-mail, or a customer came up to the front counter in their store. It gave their staff a much better appreciation of the site’s power, as well as an understanding of its nuances and features. And with that gained knowledge, their sales staff was able to better educate their customers on the value of the site and provide feedback to the steering committee about things they may have noticed that needed tweaking.
- Supply materials they can use to promote the site
Enlist your marketing team to help support sales’ efforts in promoting the site to customers. Have them create helpful materials like a short presentation deck, one-page sell sheet, or a brief training webinar that highlights the main functions of the site and provides instructions to set up an online account. Consider designing swag emblazoned with your URL and logo as another leave-behind item to keep your site top of mind. For better impact and engagement, use more visuals and less text to sell your website to customers.
- Enlist “digital savvy” team members to help sales drive customer adoption
If you want customers to see how just convenient and easy your new site will be to use, bring someone with innate computer skills on board to assist your sales team with on-site demos before your site launch. While your sales staff should be comfortable using and demonstrating your site functions, it doesn’t hurt to have a younger, more digital savvy person on hand to help answer technical questions and show them more in-depth functionality and features like setting up an online account, finding products using the onsite search box and navigation bar, and ordering from their punchout catalog.
One of our customers implemented this idea as part of their eCommerce adoption initiative and saw great results. They hired an intern out of college to be their eCommerce onboarding specialist and travel with their sales reps to provide one-on-one training to their larger accounts. Born in a digital world, this intern not only educated their customers, he offered additional support for the sales reps, and together they had the expertise and confidence to articulate the value of their new site. Their website roadshow was a huge success and helped generate a 95% increase in registered site users and a 26% increase in online customers.
Keeping sales engaged post-site launch
Once your site is launched and promoted to customers, it’s important to maintain sales’ engagement with your customers online and support your digital channel. Hopefully by now they’ve seen the benefits of the website and are using it on a daily basis. To keep the positive momentum going, try these ideas that some of our customers implemented once their sites went live.
- Commission sales reps for online orders
As I’ve discussed in previous webinars and blogs, if you want to encourage customers to order online, you must compensate your reps for digital sales. Without sales’ help and support, it will be a struggle to get your customers on board. Our research shows that the majority of Unilog customers provide their sales staff with commissions for online orders. In fact, some said they pay a slightly higher commission for online orders because of the lower cost to serve. If you’re not compensating sales for customer orders made via your site, you’re essentially telling them not to push your digital branch as an option to buyers. It shouldn’t matter if an order starts online or offline, or ends online or offline. An order is an order, regardless of the sales channel.
- Create SPIFFs as additional incentive
Along with online sales commissions, try executing SPIFFs (instant bonuses) around customer milestones, like when a new customer signs up on your site, when they place their first online order, or when they make an online purchase over a specific dollar amount. There are a number of ways to award SPIFFs based on online events; come up with a few that will incentivize your staff and promote more online engagement with buyers.
- Analyze customer behavior to share with sales
Another benefit of having an eCommerce platform is it provides a wealth of information about your customers’ buying behaviors and interests. Make sure your marketing group, or whoever tracks the data, shares it with sales. These analytics will help your reps gain more insight into their accounts so they can better serve their needs. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile for your salespeople to see the search queries by their customers? When they use your onsite search bar, they’re looking for answers, so make those queries available to sales so they can help guide them to those answers.
Some website platforms, including Unilog’s commerce solution, send out alerts to customers who abandon their online shopping cart. So, when they add items to their shopping cart but don’t complete the purchase, the customer receives an automated e-mail to remind them of those items and encourage them to finish their transaction. When the e-mail alert goes out to the customer, your sales rep should also receive the communication so they are made aware. He or she can then look into the possible reasons for the cart abandonment – perhaps the pricing displayed for the item doesn’t match their contracted price, maybe the customer is unsure the product is the right one for their particular application, or it’s possible they were interrupted during the transaction and just forgot about it. With the customer data available from your website, the sales rep can most likely determine the reason and proactively assist the customer in order to save the sale.
- Encourage your reps to be online content creators and thought leaders
Your competitive advantage as an organization is your staff’s depth of knowledge of the products you sell. Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Amazon Business can’t compete with your salespeople’s level of product expertise and experience. I highly suggest you leverage this differentiator by having your sales reps share their knowledge via your digital channel. Encourage them to write content pieces around product solutions, news, and industry trends, or have them record short videos demonstrating a product’s applications or showcasing new product lines. Have your marketing team support sales in these efforts to ensure the content is relevant, professional, and engaging.
Blog posts, white papers, social media posts, and videos are great ways to attract online visitors, inform buyers, and build deeper relationships with your customers. Don’t underestimate the tremendous potential impact your digital channel can have on your business; instead, take advantage of it!
To help you remember these nine pre- and post-launch tips, we put them into a handy list you can download and share. Get your copy here.
We hope these tactics will encourage your sales reps to be great advocates of your eCommerce site and show them that there’s benefit not only for their customers, but for them as well. If you have half the success as our customers who have implemented these tactics, you’ll be well on your way to strengthening your foothold in the digital marketplace.
Scott Frymire, SVP of Marketing at Unilog, has more than 20 years of experience with B2B software companies, including 16 years marketing ERP solutions and services to the wholesale distribution market. As an industry expert and thought leader, Frymire hosts webinars and presentations geared toward wholesale distributors considering a digital branch, and those entering and competing in the digital commerce marketplace.