The Advent of Distribution Networks

As we know it today, distribution sales began in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Due to the mass production of goods, a nationwide network of distribution centers became necessary. Furthermore, wholesalers began storing inventory for local distribution and new sales strategies emerged to move products. Here is a recap of the best sales strategies over time.

Presenting Products

When I started my career in the 1970s, outside sales had a focus on transactional, professional sales cycles. When I was a sales manager, I attended an IBM training course titled “Practice of Professional Selling.” However, its primary objective was to present product features and benefits. This approach to selling failed to focus on customer needs, and purchasing agents learned to avoid salespeople.

Building Partnerships

In the ‘90s, to offset this imbalance, sales strategy shifted to developing strong relationships of trust with customers. Selling became more about building meaningful partnerships.

Selling Solutions

Additionally, the transactional sales techniques were advanced. The term “solution selling” became popular as distributors put forward productivity enhancement options for their customers. Companies introduced plans like Lincoln Electric’s  “Guaranteed Cost Reduction Program.”

Furthermore, came solution selling which  gave way to a broader concept, consultative selling. This focused on customer needs and experience rather than selling them on product or service. And, the salesperson learned to ask questions that flushed out solutions that met customer concerns.

Enterprise Selling

Accordingly, with the digital transformation we enter yet another era of building key stakeholder relationships and the buzz words are Enterprise Selling. The enterprise sales strategy was first used by IBM to sell mainframes and micro-computers in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Its best practices have evolved over time. Today’s top salespeople have taken Enterprise Selling one step further — using it to act in a business advisory capacity with clients.

Bring Your Sales Strategies Up To Date

Lastly, a survey conducted in 2021 by the Distribution Strategy Group revealed that in the next 5-years, without a radical change in sales methodology, traditional distribution will loose 14% of their revenues: 7% from suppliers selling directly to the customer, and 7% through other online channels. History provides valuable lessons for distributor sales. Make sure you are incorporating the best selling strategies for success in today’s digital marketplace.

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