The sales rep felt dejected. He had demonstrated to a client the cost savings offered by changing to a new process. When he followed up on his proposal, he was told that the order had been placed online due to better pricing. The rep had failed to differentiate his proposal from the online offering.

Create a partnership

What would have made a difference in the above scenario? Wise customers realize and appreciate the value of partnerships with their key suppliers. Sales disruptors like Amazon, Grainger, Fastenal, etc., or the possibility of manufacturers going to direct sales, exist. I believe that the industrial gas and welding customer is still looking for local, strategic distributor partnerships, however.  

Steps to take

Here are some steps you can take to create partnerships and differentiate yourself from the disrupters:

  1. Verify the decision-maker – Be sure you are dealing with the person who can approve the deal. Don’t make the assumption that your contact, no matter their influence on product or service selection, is the decision-maker. Spend time building relationships with the front office executive team.
  2. Ensure commitment – Before giving a solution to a problem or offering a cost savings idea, get a commitment to buy. Ask: “If I offer you a [specify the percentage] cost saving enhancement to your production line, can you guarantee I will get the order?” A written pre-commitment is best.
  3. Differentiate your services – Differentiate yourself from the online disruptor. Value-added services, like installation, engineering, and training, differentiate the distributor from the online seller or big box store. Separate the price of these added functions from the product or service you are selling. This prevents customers from buying online and expecting you to install or train them on the product.
  4. Offer other value added services – In addition to the above, consider offering these other value-added services: VMI (Vendor Managed Inventory), Kanban, consigned stocking, qualified service technicians, and product enhancements.
  5. Add fees – Value-added services add to your costs, but I find customers generally are willing to pay a premium for them. Some distributors have converted value-added services into revenue streams. Consider adding fees for services like transportation, acetylene cylinder inspection, cylinder maintenance, equipment installation, training, and engineering.

Make each sale count

Create partnerships and be sure your customer is aware of the added value associated with your products and services. Make each sale count by differentiating your proposition from that of the online or big box seller. 

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