It was in the not too distant past that the 30 minutes or less pizza delivery option changed the way we would think about our dinner choices. Fast forward to 2020 and the way that we buy everything has changed the entire retail landscape. Convenience and cost savings have all but eliminated face to face customer interaction. Is the retail model influencing the way we think about making our purchases for our industrial processes?
In the industrial/manufacturing world it is most common for end users to purchase their equipment through integrators, distributors, or even directly from manufacturers. We would like to focus on the aspect of purchasing through distributors. We could even call them solution providers.
The distributors are typically located in the region of the end user. This means that they can build a strong relationship with the end user and are able to visit frequently to handle their needs. The distributors can offer many different brands or solutions so the end user does not have to spend time investigating the best option or comparing different costs for each component. The manufacturers benefit because they can leverage the resources of the distributor to provide customer service for the end user and receive honest feedback about their products.
So, what would be a drawback or what would cause one to fall into the Amazon model? At times the end user might think that the distributor might have too many products to offer and may not be able to provide the knowledge that a manufacturer could. He might be in a hurry and it might be something on a smaller scale and may not seem like a big deal to go right to the manufacturer.
In the retail world we now have the luxury to have something in our possession inside of three days from purchase. If it does not fit or was not the right item, we can conveniently send it back free of charge and try again, with little or no human contact. We do not have this luxury in the manufacturing world as items are more custom and more expensive. Returning the item just because it is a bad fit is not an option.
As a manufacturer, as much as we would like the easy sale and it may seem like a small item, this could damage our relationship with the distributor if we do not honor our agreements. So, where does the responsibility lie to ensure our end users are not tempted or feel like they are forced to go directly to a manufacturer?
It starts with the manufacturer providing the proper training and assets to the distribution team or solution providers. They should be able to answer any question and know the ins and outs the same as the manufacturer. In short, If I’m an end user and call the manufacturer I should get the same response as if I called my local distribution rep.
Second, the distribution team has the responsibility of comprising a team of reps or technical specialists that can use the tools they are given and know which one is best to use in each situation. The end user does not want to feel that the rep just picked something out of a catalog because it seemed to fit. This is where it is key for both the manufacturer and solution providers to be able to ask questions to determine the real problem that the end user is trying to solve. Once the end user feels that they are heard and understood will they be ready to accept the solution that is recommended, even if it was going to be that to begin with.
We as manufacturers can walk a fine line between wanting to sell high volumes of product while also maintaining the desire and goal to take care of the end user’s needs. It is imperative that we continue to build our relationships with our distributors/solution providers and give them the necessary tools to maintain that close relationship with the end user.