Industrial product buyers are changing how, why, and where they buy. Are you prepared to accommodate their preferences?
Distribution has always been an industry built on relationships. The loyal customer favored companies where they developed strong working relationships with a sales representative.
But recently distributors have felt a shift in the tide. Buyers have grown impatient with one-on-one sales relationships and quickly embraced the convenience of buying directly from manufacturers, for one. Distributors are left scrambling to keep up with such trends.
So how do distributors stay ahead of the game?
UPS recently conducted a study of the behaviors, preferences and perceptions of industrial product buyers. It found four major market forces driving change: customer demands, direct-from-manufacturer purchasing, e-commerce, and millennials. Additionally, the study offered up a few interesting takeaways we thought were worth highlighting.
5 trends in industrial product buying
1) Purchasing drivers
The study asked for the top five factors that are most important when purchasing industrial supplies from buyers’ preferred distributor size. Though “best prices” was a top contributing factor across the board, as you can imagine, other answers varied from small distributors to large.
For those purchasing from smaller distributors, 58% of customers ranked personalized service as most important. Among those preferring large distributors, 61% of buyers wanted a wide selection of products.
Takeaway: There is a strategic opportunity for mid-size distributors to cater to both types of buyers. Mid-size distributors focusing on larger selection with personalized service can offer customers the best of both worlds.
2) Friends stick with friends
Word of mouth is still the top tool buyers use to research a new distributor. Studies have shown that consumers trust recommendations from people they know more than any other form of advertising, and the same is true for distribution. Personal references and word of mouth are heavily influencing buyer trends.
Takeaway: Distributors need to have their ears to the ground and really focus on what buyers are saying. If the word on the street is that your company needs to make changes, make them. You want to consumers raving about your company, so others will follow suit. Also, consider the value of review sites.
3) Internet is king
The importance of the internet is old news. But UPS’s study found a substantial jump in buyers’ going online to purchase industrial supplies. In 2013, 57% of buyers were hitting the web, and that number grew a significant 9% in just four years.
Takeaway: Suppliers need to make sure that their websites are a one-stop shop for customers. Buyers need to be able to find answers about products, confirm product details, and access their negotiated prices all online. Spending the time and money to update your website is key to giving buyers a preferred way to make purchases.
4) User-friendly everything
Along with wanting to make purchases online, industrial product buyers want the ease and convenience of user-friendly websites. 72% of buyers said they would shift their spending to a different distributor with a more user-friendly website, and that number increases to 85% with buyers age 21-30. These findings confirm the shift from relationship-based buying to the experience-driven trend.
Takeaway: Brand loyalty is no longer based solely based on product quality and personable sales staff. Distributors need to take into account convenience, speed, and a good customer experience. What appeals to customers is the ease of their online service. Staying ahead of trends will involve constant maintenance of your website and its usability.
5) Cross-channel consistency
Industrial product buyers may be making most of their purchases online, but they are definitely checking in with friends and social media before making any decisions. Oftentimes websites don’t provide enough information, and, by default, they rely on other channels to confirm details before making purchases.
Don’t let users find conflicting messages from different resources. Cross-channel consistency will give your company an edge on the competition.
Takeaway: Make sure that your off-site and onsite messages are clear across all channels. Examining the buyer experience on and offline — and making sure that all channels are communicating the same message — can elevate your company’s position among your competitors.
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