E-commerce solutions can preserve customer relationships & create new business opportunities
E-commerce solutions for the water treatment industry are becoming must-haves for suppliers, but developing these solutions involves the relentless pursuit of the exact mix of data, technology, training and support. Ultimately, the right online solution can enhance customer relationships, grow into a tool to spur new business and become a trusted resource for product information.
Developing an e-commerce solution comes with a mandate that combines the complexity of business-to-business (B2B) transactions with the ease of consumer simplicity. In the end, it preserves face-to-face relationships and adds a computerized solution to help customers get their jobs done faster.
Water treatment professionals historically have built relationships with suppliers on a face-to-face basis, talking directly with distributor staff about the needs for each project. The distributor, in turn, gets to truly know customers, developing relationships that extend beyond simply serving as order-takers.
What happens when we introduce digital tools and 24/7 data into this mix? Can we preserve these relationships without losing that personal touch? B2B e-commerce processes are substantially more complex than someone voice-ordering a basic household staple. B2B transactions often involve multiple people. The supplier can maintain that personal touch by tailoring the right online solutions to each customer. Suppliers must create a platform for everyone involved in the transaction to expand product knowledge, save time with online self-service tasks, and get help quickly when needed, so the personal touch remains.
Not Just a Shopping Cart
As more suppliers invest in e-commerce systems and personnel, many are only trying to help current customers.Not enough are using e-commerce to win new business.
E-commerce must be viewed as more than simply creating a shopping cart for customers. It is a complete digital transformation of the way suppliers do business and the way customers get the information they need.
Distributors are adapting to buyer profiles that expect online services. Those services should range from requesting and checking quotes, to reviewing local inventory and pricing in real time, to placing orders quickly for scheduled delivery.
Additionally, the demand for high quality, trusted water treatment products is an important element in the e-commerce transaction. The complexity of the industry and the increased scrutiny on safe, clean drinking water (think Flint, Mich.) requires treatment professionals to stay abreast of the latest technology and trends. E-commerce solutions will benefit water treatment professionals by providing 24/7 access to up-to-date information on the latest products and technologies, as well as extensive online catalogs tailored to each customer, including spec sheets and more information about each product.
Customer Input is Key
Customer needs differ across the water treatment industry, so regularly gaining customer input is critical. It is equally critical to gain input from every level of the supplier organization. At Morsco, when developing online solutions for each of its brands, the company listens closely to customers, as well as its inside and outside sales teams, operations, accounts payable and other internal stakeholders.
All parties must be involved in discussions around the development of the solution. After it has launched, they must be involved with the communication and training for the customer.It becomes part of everyday business, not just a one-time project, and thus a complete digital transformation for both sides.
Keeping it Local & Personal
Even with stakeholder input from all levels, e-commerce can seem a little impersonal. However, the personal nature of the transaction can be maintained if the right online process can work seamlessly with the local branch.
With support from the staff at local distributor branches—particularly inside sales—and with communication from local contractors, the face-to-face support and service will remain. Orders and any follow up should go through the local branch—not a call center—so customers know they are still dealing with local suppliers who understand their markets and needs.
The right online solution also frees up time for the outside sales staff. With features such as custom pricing and quoting tools, the outside team can better support new and potential customers at all levels. Instead of tracking down invoices and delivery slips, outside sales reps can leverage digital platforms in a way that sparks better conversations with customers and brings sophistication to the water treatment industry.
Suppliers in the water treatment industry, meanwhile, can continue to serve as personal consultants, troubleshooters and more, all in a face-to-face capacity. That provides better, faster service, while maintaining a level of local, personal support.
E-commerce sites also can serve as a vendor’s marketing tool, salesperson and cashier. Benefits include:
- An easy and fast search experience for consumers of products and inventory at the local level;
- Mobile solutions, such as smartphone and tablet access, that give customers the ability to search and order products anywhere, anytime, including on a job site;
- The ability to increase customer reach and become the preferred online vendor for customers; and
- Increased sales and loyalty with existing and new customers.
The Right Solutions
An effective e-commerce site should:
- Help people get jobs done more efficiently and use talent for higher-value tasks. Self-service support functions like viewing and paying invoices can be done online quickly and at the customer’s convenience.
- Offer technical documents, catalogs, component and accessory information, as well as substitute items and recommendations.
- Get input from all areas. Any online solution must be developed with customers, and employees must buy in and be trained.
- Invest in training and data so the solutions themselves become an indispensable part of customers’ everyday lives. Training should be mandatory for all sales and branch staff, ensuring the face-to-face support can be seamless and add value.
- Offer levels of support that involve the local branch, which is critical for both the customers and employees. All users should know the types of support offered and that support tickets are addressed quickly and completely.
- Provide extensive product information and spec sheets in customized catalogs to set the e-commerce solution apart from the others, establishing the organization as a trusted resource and partner.
- Power the digital customer experience with top-tier e-commerce, search, marketing automation, analytics and data platforms. This can give customers the 24/7 access they need, increase a supplier’s ability to make complex online transactions that vary by a customer’s needs and create the customer value that goes beyond the online shopping cart.
E-commerce in the water treatment industry can revolutionize the way the supplier and the water treatment professional interact. Online solutions offer opportunities to redesign digital processes, clarify new business practices and benefit from greater efficiencies. E-commerce solutions also can be viewed as critical resources for product information.
The key to success is offering customers a fully personalized solution that enables them to perform all aspects of their job more efficiently, while freeing up associates to assist customers in more meaningful ways. In the rush to offer e-commerce solutions to customers, we must remember the importance of the long-standing relationship nature of the business and ensure that any solution supports full integration of the old and the new. We also must focus on water quality and the importance of providing customers with the right information on the products they need to address water infrastructure concerns. It is an exciting time for those who can adapt to change.