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The mass-transition to online shopping has created new opportunities for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to increase revenue from online and multichannel sales. Now, customers can buy directly from an OEM’s webshop, seemingly minimizing the need for dealer intercession and distribution networks.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

But is there really no need anymore for dealers in this new digital, omnichannel environment?

To answer this question, we should first look at the benefits that dealers and distributors can provide to both OEMs and customers.

The unique benefits of partnering up with dealers

OEMs can instantly streamline their distribution processes by relying on a dealer’s:

  • Distribution management and logistics
  • Experience, infrastructure, and salesforce
  • Ability to extend the geographical reach
  • Existing retailer relationships

You can tap into all of the above and more simply by partnering up with the right dealer. Additionally, there are other perks to be considered such as the ability to share shipping and storage costs, access a wider customer base, and bring products within the customer’s reach. As explained in The State of Digital Innovation within Manufacturing survey report, dealers:

“…are vital to manufacturers who may not have the possibilities to be where their customers are—with service points, branch offices, or workshops, for example.”

While these are all great perks, the fact that OEMs are starting to sell online now more than ever before is putting a wedge between manufacturers and dealers. This begs the question: how can dealers continue to bring value to OEMs if they are no longer needed for sales support?

While dealers may no longer be needed for sales support, sales representatives can still bring value by providing consultancy, managing more complex purchases, and handling the cost and efficiency aspects of the customer journey.

The key to success, in this case, is to see the possibility of evolving the role of the sales rep rather than abandon it completely. This means investing resources in training the salesforce for the new paradigm. 

All things considered, the support provided by dealers and distributors is still necessary for customer service, maintenance, and more. That’s why dealers are required to rethink their service models while OEMs are developing e-commerce strategies in which the importance, as well as reliance upon dealer networks, is being redefined. Working congruently becomes a mandatory endeavor now and distributors must keep up with the pace of digitization in the manufacturing industry.

Dealer and manufacturer alignment in the digital age

According to research conducted by B2BecNews, most dealers and distributors have already started revamping their roles, services, and value proposition as two-thirds of them have created e-commerce sites and are planning to increase their online sales and web traffic in the future. This means that they will be able to continue to bring value to their manufacturing partners. The main question is: how?

Beyond the obvious e-commerce functionalities, dealers and distributors should embrace the digital tactics that successful e-commerce companies are using to increase revenue. These include key strategies such as:

  • Improving customer experience
  • Supporting omnichannel customers
  • Creating mobile-friendly sites
  • Building dedicated online sales teams

Distributors that understand the importance of enabling their customers to shop anytime and anywhere across multiple channels, will have a greater chance of leveraging the opportunities created by the digital landscape and differentiating themselves from their competitors. There’s nothing like customized and memorable shopper experiences to keep a business thriving.

But for distributors, delivering superior online shopping experiences is not enough. They need to adapt to the new buyer demands that involve the full-service attention of sales representatives, for example. To achieve this, sales reps will need to be able to access order histories and other important data, determine unique pricing for customers, and understand the purchase behavior of their clients. They also need to be able to check item availability in real time to maximize efficiency.

Beyond the customer experience, the mobile experience is also paramount. It’s a well-known fact that mobile is a great opportunity to get ahead of competitors and that a fully functional app, that is custom-crafted to handle important operations such as sales, promotions, returns, and order tracking, can make all the difference. For example, with mobile functionality, distributors and dealers gain the potential to enable their sales reps to troubleshoot customer problems quickly and efficiently, saving precious time and resources.

It’s time to catch up—online

First things first: dealers and distributors need a stronger online presence in order to thrive and continue to support both customers and partners.

The initial and most important step toward success is transitioning towards a better interface that enables users to easily inquire, research, and purchase online. In this regard, a clean, well-designed website is a must-have for any e-commerce strategy that aims at providing a holistic experience across multiple sales channels. Additionally, distributors should consider creating product pages on their sites that are backed up by helpful content that guides the customer through their journey seamlessly.

Every other step in a distributor’s e-commerce strategy depends on ensuring that they can easily be found on the web and that they can support their OEM partners where they are: online.

Speaking of OEMs, it’s worth mentioning that they can provide their dealers and distributors further opportunities that include relevant products, services, customer data, partner portals, designated webshops, and even customer portals. Working together to digitize in unison will strengthen the distributor-OEM relationship and increase the value of this kind of partnership in a future that is forecasted to be more and more digital.

It’s time to embrace digital transformation and understand that e-commerce is not the end of distribution networks. In fact, it’s a new opportunity for distributors to cater to omnichannel customers and even expand into a new D2C business model that will allow both OEMs and manufacturers to experiment with sales strategies and revenue opportunities that have never been accessible before in the B2B landscape.

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