Preserving Old-School Relationships with New-School Solutions

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E-commerce solutions for the kitchen and bath industry are crucial for contractor suppliers. The right online solution must combine the complexity of business-to-business with the ease of consumer simplicity. It 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 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 develop face-to-face relationships with staff, who become more than just order-takers.

Tailoring the right online solutions for customers can maintain that personal touch and help everyone get their jobs done faster.

What Customers Want
Distributors are adapting to a changing buyer profile that expects online services – from requesting and checking quotes, to reviewing local inventory and pricing in real time, to placing orders quickly for scheduled delivery.

But e-commerce systems and personnel can do more than help current customers. They can help win new business.

E-commerce is more than just creating a shopping cart. It’s a complete digital transformation.

A Complex Transaction
It’s critical to get input from both customers and 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 everyday business, not just a one-time project.

Keep it Personal
Even with stakeholder input from all levels, e-commerce can still seem impersonal. But with support from the staff at the local branches – particularly inside sales – and with communication from local contractors, the face-to-face support will remain. Orders and follow ups should go through the local branch – not a call center – so customers know they are still dealing with suppliers at the local level who understand 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. Instead of tracking down invoices and delivery slips, outside sales reps can leverage digital platforms to spark better conversations with customers, bringing sophistication to a centuries-old industry.

Suppliers in the kitchen and bath industry, 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:

  • Mobile solutions like phone and tablet access that help customers search for products and inventory at the local level and place orders anywhere, anytime, including on job sites.
  • 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. 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 for all sales and branch staff, ensuring the face-to-face support can be seamless and add value.
  • Offer support that involve local branches, which are critical for both your customers and your employees. Be sure users know the types of support offered and that support tickets are addressed quickly and completely.
  • 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.

E-commerce solutions must remember the importance of the long-standing relationship nature of the business. It’s an exciting time for those who can adapt.

Darren Taylor is a digital transformation marketing executive with a rare combination of market-centric strategy formulation skills, Fortune 500 operational experience, and a track record for driving commercial growth in early stage and large corporate environments. He currently serves as CMO for MORSCO, a leading U.S. distributor of commercial and residential plumbing, waterworks and HVAC, with branches and showrooms across the country. Taylor previously served as Director of e-commerce Strategy & Integration at W.W. Grainger, spearheading the company’s digital strategy and execution. Under his leadership Grainger became one of the top 15 eRetailers in the U.S. Taylor also serves as an Adjunct Professor in Northwestern University’s Masters of Information Technology Program and is a keynote speaker at many industry events such as CMOSummitt, DX Summitt and B2B Online. He also has be featured in INC. magazine and leadership books.

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