Twenty years ago, as the VP of Sales for industrial gas and welding supply company, I started writing a monthly column, “The Art of Sales,” for CryoGas International (now Gasworld). The magazine focused on the industrial gas distribution business. My articles were directed at that audience and contained sales tips and stories. Today I am a consultant to that sector, have my own blog and continue to contribute to industry publications. While I still write on sales skills, I have noted that the rapid and critical change in commerce has prompted the need to concentrate more on digital and organizational practices. Many clients are asking, “What should I do with my business now?”
The Digital Transformation
Furthermore, much of my writing relates to how to deal with the marketplace disruption caused by the pandemic. For example, consultants no longer spend their time on planes in order to make face-to-face meetings. Appointments are now virtual. Also, COVID accelerated the digital transformation, and the distribution business, like all others, is feeling the shift.
Advanced ERPs, eCommerce, and virtual product content have radically changed sales responsibilities. Furthermore, Reps have moved from product presentations, quoting, checking inventory, and tracking orders, to added-value consulting and answering questions about products the customer procurement team has already researched online. Also, the distributor faces the added challenge of competing with manufacturers that can sell directly to customers, or through marketplace alternatives.
These facts beg the question – what do I do with my independent distributorship now? I have observed three typical responses:
- Sell out to a conglomerate
- Transfer the business to your employees through stock ownership programs, such as ESOPs
- Hire a qualified consultant to bring your company up to date
Regarding option 3, there are qualified senior executives with years of experience who know how to navigate the distributor’s challenges in the digital marketplace. Thus, The most essential primary priorities are to apply organic/systemic organizational skills nimbly and invest in digital proficiency. The most effective means to accomplish this urgent progression is finding people that understand your business – those who have “walked in your shoes.” Henceforth, talent can be developed internally or externally. You probably already have employees who have unidentified digital skills that could be enhancing your business.
In conclusion, what should you do with your business to compete in today’s marketplace? Develop your organizational skills and digital proficiency … and do it now.
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