The Sooner We Embrace eCommerce, the Better
We are a sales-driven organization by nature, and we believe in the power of seeing customers eye-to-eye. Nothing beats an in-person meeting. But we are cognizant of where things are going, and we understood that our company needed to invest in eCommerce.
Our strategy going in was different from that of Alaska Rubber’s Mike Mortensen, who wrote about his company’s efforts earlier. As TIPCO, Westflex, and ARG’s teams collaborated weekly, it became more and more apparent to me that we all share the same vision that technology can be your friend and technology can provide a prominent role in the supply chain of both today and tomorrow.
I have spoken with several NAHAD members, many of them family-owned businesses. A number of them tell me they see no need to offer their customers an eCommerce option. They say they do not think they are losing market share, so there is no urgency. But when I tell them about customers paying right on the site, and about the ability to manage vendors, check inventory, expedite shipments and upload orders remotely on their smartphones, many of them start to realize the cost savings benefits they had not considered.
When a salesperson calls in to check inventory and ties up your customer-service line for half an hour to fill a significant amount of the conversation with “small talk” — well, it is not hard to see how it would benefit your company to give that salesperson the ability to check inventory without a phone call which free’s up our inside team to focus on assisting our valued customers.
We have already onboarded a few new organic customers, and that is great, but we are more anxious to use the tool to onboard marketing campaigns with industry-focused catalogs. These campaigns will focus largely on markets within our core geographic footprint that may be simply too small to assign a Territory Manager.
We have worked hard to tie measurables to the digital campaigns. Our brand-new website gives us the ability to play offense. And the site Unilog built us works wonderfully with Salesforce.com — so we can power digital campaigns with cohesion between the two platforms. The typical sales guy wants to call his daily contact. That is fine, but that particular contact may not be as interested in digital transformation. This site, though, has given us an outstanding talking point for higher-level executives. They get energized by the power of technology. A lot of distributors lose business to national contracts because with big companies, purchasing can see the supply chain and feel like they have control over it. With this tool, they can have total visibility over pricing, product specifications, inventory — whatever is important to them. Our focus is on cost savings to them and proving it through digital transparency.
I firmly believe that most national or regional corporations are perfectly fine with supplier decisions being made at the local level as long as they can have access transactionally at the corporate level.
TIPCO Technologies went live during the first week of June and already witnessed 8.4% of all line items being entered online. We were completely astonished at the adoption rate and as a result, customers are requesting their very own personalized digital catalogs at an adoption rate much faster than we ever thought possible.
When I talk with my colleagues in the industry, I do not think their anxiety is financial as much as it is a concern about a lack of in-house technological talent. And that is a challenge — but it will not go away, will it? We hired a couple of interns out of college, and their ability to learn how to play key roles in our digital project has been gratifying to witness. Ultimately our sales and leadership teams fuel the tribal knowledge while Unilog and our digital team execute. By the way, those interns provided so much energy to our journey that we hired them on board full-time.
TIPCO’s experience with Unilog was frankly fantastic. The company enabled us to build our eCommerce site and continues to support the specific needs of our business. I would be more than happy to share our experience with Unilog.
Our industry needs to step into the digital world. I do not view it as a competition. I view it as a tool that we will all have to use, and the sooner, the better, for all of us.