June 11, 2014

The New Age of Selling Through eCommerce: Questions to Ask Your Team

At every industry event I attend, speakers and attendees ask how the electrical industry can compete with the new entries into the market via the web. The new buyers of today expect to be able to search an ERP/business system, website or web storefront for products and complete product information. That is how they’ve been brought up.  

As I’ve spoken with IT/eCommerce teams from many electrical distributors, they have expressed concern with the quantity and quality of marketing information provided by their manufacturers in the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW), or the lack of such information altogether. In fact, they are often unsure of where the data they have in their systems even came from. Distributors have also acknowledged that they don’t meet regularly with the product managers and purchasing agents within their own organizations to discuss such concerns. 

Likewise, in speaking with many of the electrical manufacturer IT/eCommerce teams, I ask them if their marketing and/or product management teams are reviewing the data that is being fed into the IDW and, in turn, to the distributors’ sales systems and web storefronts. Often, they do not know.  

Communication between teams within your own organization is the first step to sending a clearer message to your trading partners throughout the electrical channel. Regardless of whether you’re a distributor or a manufacturer, it’s important to maintain conversation between your marketing, eCommerce, sales, purchasing and customer service teams. Each team needs a unified understanding in order to successfully move forward and use eCommerce to sell more products.

If you’re a distributor, here are some questions to ask your team: 

  • When did you last ask your associates, who meet with vendors in-house or attend industry conferences, with whom they have upcoming meetings scheduled? These team members are a key asset that can be used to express your eCommerce needs to your vendors.
  • Do you know how your organization is specifically using the marketing content and attributes from the IDW to sell manufacturers’ products? This knowledge can be used to express to manufacturers the importance of providing as much information as possible to the IDW.
  • Can you identify where the product information in your business system and web store comes from? Does it come directly from your manufacturers through the IDW and into your system, or does is it come from another source?
  • Have you told your manufacturers directly which specific product information you must currently find on your own, because they are not providing it to the IDW?
  • When did you last clean out your product files, sorting out items that have been discontinued, replaced or that you haven’t sold in years? Doing so will enable you to give your vendors a true picture of their data quality.  

You should arm your purchasing team and product managers with your organization’s product data needs prior to all vendor meetings, including examples of how the IDW data is being used within your business system, website, web storefronts, and mobile apps. If manufacturers do not know you need their data, or how their data helps you sell more of their products, they are less likely to provide it to the IDW. Your input and direct communication matters.

If you’re a manufacturer, here are some questions to ask your team:

  • When did you last review your distributors’ websites to see how your products are being presented?
  • Have you asked distributor customer service teams how they search for one of your items when a customer comes to the counter or calls with a request?
  • Do your marketing staff and product managers work closely with your data team to make sure that the catalog description you provide is robust enough for your customers to make the right choice on the products they purchase?
  • Are you providing as many of the standard attributes as possible for key words so that distributors or their customers can find your products by using common search terms?
  • Are you providing distributors with accurate packaging information so they can organize their trucks correctly?
  • Do you load your new product information and pricing into the IDW in advance, so it can be made available to your distributors’ and contractors’ estimating software systems in a timely manner?

You should be aware of how your products are being presented to customers and make sure that your products can be found when searched for, whether online or within your distributors’ business systems. If distributors do not have the data they need from you to better sell your products, they may turn to other sources for less accurate information, and you lose some control over your brand.

We can all sell more products if we use accurate, robust and timely information available from one place: the IDW. Internal communication is essential to the selling process. Let’s all start discussions in our own office so we can be better prepared for our distributor/vendor meetings and sell, sell, sell!



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