When I began my career with an automotive supplier in Zeeland, Mich., in 2003, there were three reverse osmosis (RO) systems and four deionized (...
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.
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 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.
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 effective e-commerce site should:
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.