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Distributor Pubcast Episode 1: Distributor Data Solutions

by Matt Johnson, on Mar 17, 2021 10:00:00 AM

We're joined in the virtual pub by Matt Christensen from Distributor Data Solutions (DDS) to discuss all things related to manufacturer product content for B2B eCommerce websites.


On this episode of the Distributor Pubcast, you'll learn:

  • Why high-quality content is so important to online success.
  • Why distributors struggle with sourcing and publishing good product content on their websites.
  • What can manufacturers or vendors do better to serve the supply chain.
  • What it looks like to manage product content in-house.
  • The ultimate best-case scenario. What does a successful product content management program look like?

Be sure to checkout our partners, Distributor Data Solutions, to learn more about how they can help you solve the product information challenge.

On tap:

Distributor Data Solutions

Introduction and History of DDS

Cheers guys, it's great to be with you and I'm excited about the conversation we've been planning this for awhile and it's nice to have Matt Christensen on the first episode. So Matt, why don't you just kick us off by telling us a little bit about Distributor Data Solutions and kind of your story, how you got to where you're at and tell us about the business and we'll go from there.

Matt Christensen:
We just passed our six year mark which I don't know, in time seems forever, but it's really just flown by. I'm the president co-founder DDS and we started off really we just saw the huge need for real eCommerce content for distributors websites. We started in the electrical side, that's where we came from. We were subscribed to the two industry data sources, and we looked this up last week and we launched our eCommerce site on the distributor side 13 years ago.

It's just amazing, we were always kind of early adopters in technology and it's amazing to look now how many distributors we're all still collectively trying to get online. But back to then, we bought Second Phase. They were the only ones that had an eclipse integration at the time. So we spent a ton of money on the site, the usability, the look and feel, we thought ... We treated it like a website. We treated it like a corporate site but it was full eCommerce.

We launched it and we immediately had complaints from our customers. We thought you guys were going to sell stuff online, but there's no images. There's 25% of the products back then even had images. So that was kind of the standard was images and short description. We needed enough to search on and just a picture of the product. We didn't have the videos and 360s and all the attributes and even the categories and stuff that we have today.

So what we did is we hired a guy and he still works there. Really, his only job was to sit there with two monitors, copy paste and our key vendor was Rockwell, was to copy paste from the manufacturer into a spreadsheet and upload the products into Second Phase. It took him about a year to do 11,000 products. And we had I don't know 350,000 products in our product file and hundreds of manufacturers.

So then the numbers just didn't add up. And that was kind of the aha moment of product content is important. So fast forward a couple of years Dale my business partner sold to Sonepar. He stayed on for about a year. I stayed on for two years and then we started this company really to fulfill that need because nobody was doing it in these wholesale trades.

We just felt like we could do it with technology. We could do it better, we knew what the expectations are, the Amazon style content experience. So that's how we started, really tailored to the distributors. As we have more success in working with some of the biggest and the very biggest distributors in North America, the manufacturers started asking, "Okay, well, you're delivering to some of my biggest wholesalers. Can you take our content and deliver it to the retail side? Can you deliver it to Home Depot, to Lowe's, to Amazon if they sell on Amazon?"

Plus our entire wholesale, plus some were even delivering to some of the industry data warehouses, data pools. So that's really been kind of the focus. We've always sat in the middle of the manufacturers and distributors, but the main focus is the syndication side, is getting all the content from the manufacturers and then helping their channel, helping their distributors, retailers use the content. And that's kind of where we're at today.

As we together go into some of these other industries, other verticals, plumbing, HPAC, industrial gas and welding industrial tools. The problems are the same, the needs are the same. And so they're lower tech industries, some say a little further behind but there's tons of opportunity and tons of future opportunity and the timing is great to help both the manufacturer side and the distributor side with the product content.

Dave Bent:
I actually think Matt, the biggest breakthrough is it's actually helping the manufacturers and the distributors. It's like a community project really.

So it's a win-win for everybody because while you can expand on it better than I can, but it's a pain for the manufacturers because everybody wants the content in a different format. So it's a pain for them and then the distributors often have different formats. So I just think maybe you could share a bit Matt. I mean, the number of suppliers involved now, number of skews. It serves the community that we're operating in.

A Win-Win for Distributors and Suppliers

Matt Christensen:
We're now working with I don't know the latest count total, but it's well over 1000 brands manufacturers and sub brands lines. We're over 6 million skews. Probably well over that now with some of these new verticals. I just saw an update yesterday that we've brought in 224 unique manufacturers since January one. So the need is huge And I think that we'll all agree the push with COVID has sped up the demand, has sped up the need, the eCommerce in general and you guys know that better than anyone.

Dave Bent:
No, absolutely. Absolutely. I think too the other thing is there's an overall efficiency and effectiveness. I know in my two prior roles before coming to ES Tech, I worked in very large distribution companies and we kind of did what you did, Matt. We actually bought a PIM platform and I would say in each company, we probably spent $1 million dollars on a PIM platform and staffing and gosh it was painful. Even with staffing and all of that too. We were a year just getting the first sites launched. So I think it's actually the quality of the content, but it's the efficiency it can drive is amazing.

Matt Christensen:
We released a blog this morning and one of the focuses really was on the manufacturer side and how fragmented they are. So they're getting all these requests from their retailers, their wholesalers, third-party companies, and a lot of them are fulfilling those requests directly with their content teams. We have one manufacturer who tracked these unique requests a couple of years ago. And it was like 800 and something unique requests just from their channel.

So they're filling those templates directly. A lot of them have put their product content in their manufacturer portals. They are using these as industry data pools, data warehouses, both here in North America. In Europe, you see a lot of country sponsored data pools in Europe. You see buying groups doing their own initiatives.

You see kind of data brokers getting data from them, reselling it ... And then you have other kind of retail focus indicators. You have the kind of Syndigo, Salsify delivering to some of the Big Box chain stores as well. So you have manufacturers feeding content to so many places to then try to get it out to the channel. And it's no wonder that distributors are left with what some say is poor content, but it's really manufacturers actually have great content.

It's that whole middle process of getting the content and then again, trying to help the distributors use it. How do they use it on their site? How do they ... An image and a description is easy, but what about everything else? And then how do they try to make it unique from their competitors? So it's really there's not a standard for kind of transacting that between manufacturers and distributors. So it's kind of all over the place. So that's some of the problems that are going on in the industry.

Matt Johnson:
And Matt, I heard ... So I was talking to a distributor just the other day and he was talking to me about how he had this great relationship with this manufacturer and they were growing their business with them and he talked to the sales rep and he said, "Listen, I got to get more of the product on my website." So he made that request. So eight months go by and nothing happens and he calls him up and he's like, "Hey man, what happened to the product content that I was going to get from you guys to add to the website?"

And the manufacturer rep said, "I checked on it three times and it's not moving. I just can't get it through the backlog." So can you talk to the idea of from the distributor's perspective, that's extremely frustrating. I mean they're trying to develop their online presence. They're trying to build that eCommerce channel. What does the distributor do in that scenario? What's the best way?

Content is a Real Hassle for Smaller Distributors

Matt Christensen:
It's probably really frustrating because most of the time it seems to depend on the distributors size. If they're one of the big top 10 for any given manufacturer, no problem. These distributors, retailer is the biggest ones, they have their own unique templates to get the data into their systems. They send that to the manufacturers and say, "Pay, fill this out."

Then the manufacturers are ... That's why there's the backlog because they're busy fulfilling all of these manual templates. But if you're kind of a medium size, smaller distributor getting online, you're waiting in line. And so yeah it's a problem. And there's some solutions, there are some data warehouses that a lot of manufacturers supply kind of what they call master data to but it's really was they were built for ERP type data.

So this is what you need in your ERP, your Eclipse, your NetSuite, or whatever you're running to be able to transact and sell the product. But most of that content was never meant for eCommerce, it's not all the rich marketing content, it's not all the videos, it's not the 360s. It's not even helping the distributor use it and getting it on their site. So the medium smaller distributors definitely can sign up with if they're industry, and that depends on the industry.

So I don't know what the coverage is in kind of HVAC, there's not one in industrial gas. We know there's some buying group activity trying to do some things. Electrical has two kind of legacy data sources that provide some of the content. But it's still only a portion, it's still only a percentage of what really any distributor of any size needs. So then they are going to the manufacturers if they don't participate in these kind of data pools and saying any of the content.

I think some of the manufacturers, what they're doing is doing these custom templates for their big guys. Then they're working towards, okay, here is a one size fits all CSV or Excel file that you can use to try to get the content in. The problem is each manufacturer then has their own format. So the distributor then if they do get it and they have 200, 300, 400 manufacturers, 400 different file types, it's just a massive amount of work to try to get that content in.

And it's one thing to get it in one time, but the products are changing. There's new products and so how do they do that at scale on a monthly basis? And then they've got to categorize the products and they've got the drill-downs and all the things, it's a challenge.

The Importance of High-Quality Product Content

Dave Bent:
Matt, maybe just depending on who's listening in, maybe we just spend a couple of minutes on why is content so important? Maybe it's obvious, maybe it isn't, but just from our experience of providing eCommerce platforms, just philosophically we don't really like to engage a customer unless they have awesome content. You could say, well why is that? Well, I think we can undoubtedly say the best websites have the best customer experience.

When you're on the site and we can see statistically session times and how people stay on the conversion rates. We can statistically show if the content is poor, such results are poor. People can't find what they're looking for. Maybe they find it, but comparing it to another product, doing that side-by-side comparison we're all used to on Amazon, that doesn't work because the attributes don't line up or whatever it is.

So the content is absolutely critical if it's not kind of an obvious point, if you're listening in and maybe looking at eCommerce for the first time. The content is absolutely critical. I think too, so back in the day, Staples, that pretty much everybody's heard of Staples was one of the leading B2B eCommerce platforms. And they also statistically found that returns went down 50% when they got the product content right because people actually really was sure of what they were buying.

So there's no point in putting up a website if you don't have awesome content, really it's not going to be effective and your customers will get frustrated. And once they come and don't find or struggle, it's hard to get them to come back. So it's absolutely critical to the experience overall, it's the foundation really.

Matt Christensen:
I think the goal of what we're hearing more and more, it's not just the kind of one time purchase or one item too. It's you want to build the trust, build the credibility so that they're coming to your site repeatedly and not just buying one thing, they're loading their cart, they're loading their quick lists or whatever the platform calls them.

They're using that as a way to save time and if they don't have ... If they can't find it or if they can only find one thing out of five, that's really not going to help make their job easier. So I wonder how many times they try a distributor site one time, and then the guys who have always called or emailed and say just this is what I want, just send it to the job. So they give up right away. You would have more insight as to how much of that is going on.

Dave Bent:
Oh, no, it's huge. I mean churn, when the content is not good, people abandon. Abandon the search, abandon the experience. So 100%. I mean, I think the other thing too, is in many of the verticals, the actual, not always, but the individual product cost is high. I mean, you're making an investment often in equipment and tooling. So it's not like ... It can be in business to business, but it's not always just a commodity purchase. It's an asset and so absolutely making sure you're getting the right thing and hey who as a distributor wants to return?

We've all been there in that situation, returns are a nightmare. So it's really critical and actually you mentioned something else, Matt, which we see statistically too, which is the most skews a distributor can have on the site. Maybe it's obvious, but if the data truly proves the breadth of offering truly drive sales and it's kind of why we all go to Amazon because we know we can find what ever we're looking for.

So if you're in electrical plumbing, whatever it is or gas, welding, if you can be the one-stop shop, because you've got the breadth of offering, even if the supply chain, the delivery model is different across the skew base, knowing you can get it from one site is huge. So it's breadth and depth as well as quality.

Quantity AND Quality Are Important

Matt Johnson:
So before I met Matt at DDS, I used to recommend that if you were a distributor and you were going to tackle this on your own, that you really should start with the 80:20 rule where you're essentially going out and you're finding the 20% of the product information, that accounts for 80% of your revenue and building your site there first, and then slowly adding additional product lines and brands to supplement what you have there.

But I found it interesting, you guys do something different than that. When you go get content, you're not getting the best sellers, you're getting everything, right?

Matt Christensen:
Yeah, I mean we figured early on that if we go get X number of products from a manufacturer, we're going to get asked for all of the other stuff at some point. So it was always best for us to set up a relationship with the manufacturer, get everything they have, everything they want their channel to have, not just one distributor, not just what one distributor has, but really what they're selling across our channel.

We've kind of taken it a step further where it's surprising that a lot of distributors want advice from their manufacturers. What should I show online? What should it at a minimum, maybe I'm not ready or maybe I don't have the pricing to display everything, but what are the core 5,000 products, 10,000 products that I should absolutely start with day one.

So working on getting the recommended products from the manufacturers that they really should have, because the manufacturers are stocking those items, a lot of distributors are stocking those items. It's better for both sides to at least day one start with that. We actually saw I think it was last year where one of the bigger manufacturers, they did a ... And I don't know if it was for all of their wholesalers, but they did a rebate, an extra rebate where if any of the distributors had their core ... Theirs was 5,000. They had a core 5,000 products.

Any of distributors had those core 5,000 on their website, by the end of the calendar year, they gave them an extra ... I don't know what the percent was, but quarter percent, half percent, whatever rebate in the total sales for the year. So that kind of interesting approach and I know that it really pushed some of the distributors because we had calls in December. I need these products up on my site and so yeah that one's kind of all over the place too that some start with the 80:20, they don't feel like they have their pricing right for some of the rest.

Maybe they don't have them in their product file yet, there's a couple things that play into that but yeah back to your point, when we ask for the content from the manufacturer, we ask for everything and we just feel like we want the distributors to have access to everything, every product they're authorized to sell. And it shouldn't be limited based on cost or per ... That's the problem with the per skew models.

If they can only afford $20,000 or whatever for X amount of skews, 5,000 skews or whatever, that's not really what their customers are going to want because they're going to go and they're not going to find everything they're looking for. So right away, they're handcuffed day one because they just ... The spend, the model isn't right for everything they actually want on the site.

How Role Should Buying Groups Play in eCommerce Product Content?

Matt Johnson:
When you said a rebate, it made me think of buying groups and we're obviously members of several buying groups. I think a lot of buying groups are trying to solve the content problem for their membership. I mean, it just seems logical right there. They're standing in this place of influence and it seems like if anybody could solve the problem, it'd be buying groups, right?

So can you maybe talk a little bit about what things you've seen that are wrong and what things they could do better to serve their membership?

Matt Christensen:
Yeah, first of all, I think they are pressured by their membership to do something. Just kind of like why they exist in the first place is they negotiate pricing with the manufacturers on behalf of the entire group. So if there's 500 members of a buying group, then they collectively get to take advantage of the pricing and the rebates and things like that. And they have different programs that they have brought out over time. We saw one recently that did a kind of an insurance offering.

So imagine all the sheer quantity of employees in one of the bigger buying groups and they can negotiate rates and things like that. So I think that the buying groups are always trying to deliver programs that offer value for the entire group. And really it should be kind of a quick win and a smart way to do it. I think that some of what we've seen over the last couple of years, while it may have been a great idea five years ago, six years ago, where there was really no other option. I think what we've seen over the last few years is that it's a one size fits all.

I take this in terms of content. I take this content, I make it all the same as every other manufacturer, which by the way, manufacturers don't love that they're altering their content. And then I give it to every member and every member then has the exact same content. So what we hear is, some that was a good place to start. Others have not wanted to be like their competitors even within the group.

I think some have evolved where they really want to be different. the differentiator. I think there's other ways to deliver the content today. But I think it really comes down to the one size fits all. It's limited too, it's limited by the manufacturers because only the manufacturers that participate in that buying group are delivering content. So as the distributor is still going to have a limited percentage of your overall manufacturers that you can even get from a buying group. What about everything else? What about the other 70% or 60% of all the manufacturers you sell?

So then you're going to have to go back to what we talked about. You're going to have to go to each manufacturer direct to get all that other content, because those other manufacturers don't participate in the groups. So I think part of the problem you're facilitating limited number of manufacturers, limited number of products, content's the same. Overall, it sounds like a good idea, but I think the satisfaction level on the distributor is going down every year.

So I think A, they're either spending millions of dollars still trying to do the same thing which we see, or they're looking for alternatives for ways to serve the distributor directly instead of through the group. Is still sponsored by the group but having companies work directly with the distributors that they can then fulfill their own unique needs I guess.

That's a great point.

An Omnichannel Customer Experience

Dave Bent:
I think the other trend that's happening is eCommerce took off in B2C really right. People were buying commodity products and then B2B it's the same commodity products took off business products, products but I think everybody now and COVID drove this even faster. We know those people in B2B buying fairly sophisticated systems solutions, right?

Multiple products that kind of get assembled at the installation point. And so we just see configuration of product is a growing need and it can be anything from furniture, the desk and which part of the desks goes with the other part of the desk all the way through to complex electrical installations. And so again, the content has to be ... I'll just use the word perfect to work in a configurator. It's got to know this product can go with this product.:

And so again, it really has to come from the manufacturer because it's so hard to think through okay how do I get all the components that can be configured and built? It's not a theoretical solution, it's a practical solution. So we're seeing more and more configuration and we actually just launched a product configurator for the website. And there's some manufacturers provide configurators that we build into the website to where they are offering complex solutions. But it's absolutely critical.

And then just one more thought is if you have awesome content too, it actually helps service the customer. So they can come back when they're installing the product and look at the installation guide, the installation video or troubleshooting video. So you become a real source not just a buying but support but with limited interaction. And then the one I really like is I honestly don't believe in most distribution companies.

It's just eCommerce. It's an omni-channel experience. There is still salespeople as expertise, but we've seen some of our customers do really nice work where they're actually creating blog articles that link to the content. So when you do the search, you can see the blog articles and the thing I'm really passionate to see but it's still under adopted I would say is find an expert. So you can actually search for an expert in the distribution and the distributor who is hey engage in a chat or even a phone call because some things are complex.

So it's kind of bringing expertise and contents and just comes full circle to me as you create the best customer experience. It's people, it's data, it's information. But really as we've gone through COVID, we just see people honestly desperate to buy sophisticated products online, and it is impossible without content because you talk to anybody you can't meet. So that's going to change again now, but still it's super important.

How to Build a B2B eCommerce Webstore that Actually Sells

Matt Johnson:
So we're going to be doing a webinar soon. And the title of the webinar is how to build a B2B eCommerce web store that actually sells. The premise being there's lots of, I think a lot of people have come to understand they need to adopt eCommerce, but they're not seeing the results they might expect out of their web store. And a lot of that comes back to content. And so we in this webinar, we're going to talk about three areas, content, commerce, and communication.

Content being the first and obviously most important part of a good performing website. So when you think about that, if you think about that's what makes a good B2B eCommerce store? How did we paint the picture? Because I know somebody is out there thinking, well, I get it's important, but how to all these things work together and what does it look like? Give me a vision of a high performing distributor web store that's got the content, that's got the commerce, that's got good communication.

Maybe we can each maybe take a stab at that. So maybe Matt, you can talk about how does the content work together and how does it flow between different software systems and maybe we'll keep it in the context of since what we're familiar with Evo X and DDS. So maybe you can think of an example where a customer is utilizing both the DDS services as well as the Evolution X platform.

Matt Christensen:
Some of my absolute favorite sites where our content looks amazing and shows amazing and delivers the best experience really is Evo X. I think that we're able ... There's no limits, I think that was day one. There weren't any limits as to okay we see this all the time. We see this with PIMS, we see this with everywhere we're delivering data where there's so many limitations, there's limitations in how many images they can display or they can only have 128 characters in their short description.

By the way that's what a lot of sites are searching off of primarily. And so the beauty is we just never had any limits with the ES Tech and that's ongoing. So for us that's great. We just throw all the content that a manufacturer has at it. Really we don't have to make each manufacturer look the same because they really shouldn't. We don't have to make each segment different. The lighting content really should be very different than industrial automation.

It should be different than circuit breakers, should be different than wire. So I think with that, the flexibility of that platform is that it's great for us. I mean, it just makes us look amazing. So the customer's happy with the content and then just it's future proof. Anything a manufacturer has, there's things coming down the line, like as distributors get online, they're doing unique manufacturer landing pages. So they're SEO plus, they're showcasing that these are my top 20 top 25, however many key core manufacturers that we're really trying to push.

So having kind of that unique page with their products even segmented by we've seeing types of segmented by contractor or segmented by MRO and so different products, even within the manufacturer's segmented depending on what end user customer type. So that that's been fun. Anytime we show kind of comparisons for art stuff, it's nice to show before and after, or here's bad and here's good. We always use the Evo X customers to showcase the data. I don't know if that's kind of what you're looking for but I think that makes Dave feel better.

Dave Bent:
It does. I'm just thinking of a couple of things actually though. So you could be sitting watching, standing watching in a pub maybe, but you could be sitting watching and thinking, well, "Hey, if everybody has the same content and everybody's got a great website, how do I differentiate?" So there's still a huge differentiation. It's what you wrap around it from a customer engagement, marketing promotions, reward campaigns and honestly bringing special insights that you as a distributor have expertise, connect with an expert.

Maybe you offer training, some products require training. So we see distributors offering online training or actually classroom training and signing up for all of those things. So I think there's a ton of ways to still differentiate and it's actually, we see that too. The distributors dealers who run the best campaigns they excel.

But I do think there's one thing that is of growing importance that goes beyond then the basics, which is back to really the manufacturers maybe wholesalers, but it's the supply chain because we have an expectation that the is coming today or tomorrow. So obviously distributors may be stocking products and they have control over that part of the supply chain and the delivery expectation.

But I think we're moving to where fundamentally actually our mission is to support independent distributors being successful against the Big Boxes and the Amazons. That is actually in our mission and I'm looking at Matt here on the video, we just actually readdressed that and truly stated that as our mission. So I think it's helping the independent distributors with the supply chain. So we as a platform, as manufacturers can share inventory and delivery, lead time expectations, we can put it on the website and have it ... I'd say the can come via the distributor will be drop shipped, but the next horizon is giving independent distributors awesome supply chain, and the manufacturers can play a huge role. And we would love to take inventory feeds as well as the content.

Matt Christensen:
That's something we're also in discussion with both sides, distributors, you guys, manufacturer sitting in the middle of that because it's so much easier for a platform to consume an API with that information from a single source than trying to get .... I mean, one of the problems trained to consume a manufacturer's API is we've seen it take a year.

That's not the development time, that's the audit and compliance and security that you have to go through to to hit some of these API. So that part, we're also excited about that. We see that as really the distributor being strategic partner with their manufacturers and just delivering more than just product content. But yeah you're definitely right.

Dave Bent:
I think actually I won't name them because they might be frustrated that I'm giving away that competitive goal, but we're come with one distributor who is truly traditionally been regional on the east coast. And they're figuring out working with the manufacturers, how they can, not for all products but for a lot of products, start to ship nationwide and create a nationwide web presence and not be restricted to the local geography.

I think it's an awesome opportunity to collaborate with the manufacturers. It's definitely ... What's great is it's that ... I come back to the community, it's the manufacturers, the distributors. We're trying to sit in the middle and help with content and commerce but it's bringing it all the under buying groups actually. It's bringing it all together and getting information to end customers. That's what it's all about.

Matt Christensen:
I think we're really, we look at it more as trying to improve those relationships. We've seen over the years the way some others have done it. Ended up really kind of creating friction between the manufacturer and the distributor, because as the customers came to the site, they were saying, "Well, this manufacturer's data is poor." Well, it actually wasn't, it was that whole back to the whole delivery and consumption part of it where the manufacturer had phenomenal content. It's just not getting delivered and then the time constraints and whatever challenges that the distributors face too. So we're seeing that improve, trying to help with that.

eCommerce is Table Stakes

Matt Johnson:
When I hear you guys talk, it makes me think about how most traditional distributors had no idea what was going to happen to their business over the last 10, 15 years with just the complexity, it's already a complex business model B2B distribution. It's enough to think about inventory and purchasing and pricing and then managing your customers. But then you throw in this added burden of, well, now I have to make everything connect with each other. Now I've got to make everything, I got to worry about content.

I've got to worry about training my staff how to use this new technology. And then on top of that, they have to be marketers now because now we're digital. That's why I talk about sometimes when I talk about what Spinstak does is we help non non technical, non digital marketing experts become competent.

That's huge because if you cannot communicate ... It doesn't matter how great you are at relationships, it doesn't matter how many handshake deals you've done. If you can't communicate online today then you're losing not only your existing customers, but future customers that expect that sort of experience.

So sort to kind of put a bow on it in terms of creating this vision of what success online looks like for a B2B distributor, it's really about communicating and staying on top of and keeping your brand in front of your customer because customer loyalty is at an all time low. It's so easy for them to shop around. It's so easy for your customers to go out there and maybe go rogue and buy things that they're not contracted to buy and buy from your competitor because they've got a better experience than you.

So it's no longer a nice to have. I think it's truly becoming the importance of communicating online, digital marketing, eCommerce, product content, next generation, product content, it is now what we would call table stakes. It's sort of the expectation to be able to compete in today's economy.

Matt Christensen:
I think that's very well said. I think that's the beauty of what you guys have done. Dave and I both have seen distributors that they can have the best content in the world. They can have the best website, but the problem is what happens after. What happens after they go live. And I think that's the beauty of what you guys have done is you're then you now have a machine that can actually help them, which is the most important part, is okay well, now that you're live, now that you have the content, you have the commerce, you're integrated with all your systems and everyone says, "Okay, well now what?"

It's the whole, I think you said it, if you build it they will come is not a thing. Especially as you have more competition, especially as more distributors come online, you really need to get your existing customer base. You've got to get your ... It has to be a corporate buy-in, it has to come from the top. You have to get your customers to continue to do business with you online.

You have to show them why, you have to show them how it makes their lives easier. I think one interesting thing, we work with several distributors in Europe and Dave does too. We see several cases where they're doing 50, 60, 70, 80% of their business online, and they're in the same industries. And so why is that? Is that ... I know we always like to say we're different here. Business is different, but why is that? Or do they ... Have they just kind of changed the expectation of their distributorship, of their companies or their customers, and look this is how how we're going to interact.

This is how we're going to do business in the future. I think it's more of that than ... I think that's cool, that's what you guys are going to bring in. So this whole where everyone was hoping to get to 5%, 10%, 20% online, we've seen some customers big distributors go 50%, but it's not the normal here, but we have seen in Europe where the normal is above 50%. So how do they do that? I think that'll be cool. What you guys can bring and help with that. I think that's desperately needed.

Dave Bent:
I agree, Matt I don't know if we have time for one more thought, but I have another thought now, building on one that you said, which is something that we see so often which is distributors are very nervous, or basically do not open up their site to guest, maybe even guests browsing, but certainly not guests procurement. I say procurement, because I don't want to put the B2C's spin on it, but we, again, statistically can see, and this is especially true during COVID, the distributors dealers that had opened sites where you could go in and procure product actually thrived in some cases, because they were closed sites, they couldn't talk to their normal supply chain partner.

So what drives that? Well, one it's awesome content, but two it's awesome content that works in search engine optimization because you can be found when somebody is just I can't get this product I'm Googling. So this is probably another topic for another Pubcast Matt, but why open sites and not being fearful of getting the pricing wrong and feeling like maybe you're conflicting with existing account customers and open sites I believe is critical, but an open site does require awesome content combined with awesome SEO tools where somebody's going to find you, but it it's been a game changer in the last 12 months.

I would say it's ... I don't want to exaggerate, but maybe a differentiation between distributors who've actually grown during COVID versus those who've kind of lost their way honestly, and not visible. So again, it's kind of content is the foundation combined with a great website and SEO tools.

Matt Christensen:
It seems not long ago. I think it's interesting to hear that point from the manufacturer side where maybe some of their biggest distributors have historically taken the we're B2B only and that's fine, but in order to see a single product, you have to have an existing account and log in.

I think when the manufacturers go to some of their biggest distributors and say, "I don't see any of my products." I think that from a manufacturer side is like they don't get it. I don't think you have to have your pricing on your non-stock items or it's a choice maybe to have it on anything until you log in. But to showcase that look, this is one of my best distributors. I'm a great manufacturer to this distributor. I don't get why they're not showing my products and showing that they support me as a manufacturer. That's interesting to hear from a manufacturer side on I don't know if they understand why.

The Benefits of Product Content to a Distributor Sales Team

Matt Johnson:
It makes me think of, and we didn't even touch on this part of product content, but a lot of distributors have this tribal product knowledge among the sales team where it's just they're experts in a certain channel. And they know every manufacturer, they know all these products, they've got great relationships with them, but they're limited.

I mean, they're only human. They're limited to the amount of time in a day and they can only handle so many customer accounts and answer so many questions. And the website is essentially taking that tribal knowledge and making it available 24/7, 365 days a year to their customer base. I think a lot of distributors sales reps feel sort of intimidated by that, that it sort of makes them feel like well, what am I going to do now if a customer can just go to the website and find all the answers they need and how does that affect my role in the future?

I always tell them like, because you'd see it truly as a complimentary relationship, it should not be a conflict. It really should be a tool in your toolbox as a distributor sales rep to go out there and truly deliver meaning and value apart from answering basic questions about products, and taking orders for goodness sakes. I mean, so many sales reps are just well-paid order takers. Really the website should be doing that. And what they should be doing is working on relationships, networking, visiting that customer, God willing when we can actually do that. But doing those kinds of things and staying out of the weeds of product information and education and ordering. Right?

Matt Christensen:
Yeah. I think that the distributors gotta be making a mistake if they're adjusting the commissions any way on a sales person or the pay anyway on a salesperson, whether they take the order over the phone, email, or via the web. I mean, it's a lower cost to the company in general. So the salespeople really, the successful companies I've seen doing it, they don't mess with their commissions. They still get paid, so they can go out, get more business, help more customers and let the website take the orders. That's my probably naive vision of it.

Dave Bent:
No, I think it's true. I mean, I think we see the best companies are actually rewarding. One of the roles of the sales person is to engage the customer in the website when it's appropriate and engage in conversation directly when there's extra assistance required, but the sales person should be fully remunerated and maybe I too would argue bonused for driving online sales, and does at another level of expertise and it frees up time to go look the new customers and all those things. Absolutely.

Matt Johnson:
So guys, we talked about a lot of cool things today. I love that we kind of finished up the Pubcast today talking about the vision of what a great high performing web store looks like. I'm sure there's people out there listening thinking I'm so envious right now. I want that. I need that and if content is the most important thing, Matt, how can a distributor learn more about DDS and what you guys do and how would they work with you? Can you maybe talk a little bit about that and where they can find you guys?

Matt Christensen:
Yeah, I mean, they can go to our website, kind of see what we do, who we work with, who we work with on the distributor side, who we work with on the manufacturer side. Just reach out to us. One nice way with you guys, with the Evo X platform, it's kind of you're getting the best of both and they just work so well together. So for the distributors who don't have a platform today, it's just a phenomenal solution. They're integrated with some of the most common ERPs as well.

So it's really kind of a packaged solution. And then with the addition of Spinstak, not even just the technology and everything involved, it's the ongoing making sure they're successful. That's a great solution. I think that's probably why we're all here to show how well we work together and kind of packaged type solution. We view every distributors a little bit different. They all have different areas of focus. They have different needs. We again kind of don't really believe in the one size fits all. We really haven't seen it very much on the manufacturer side, on the distributor side.

We want to understand what they're really trying to do, where they're at, what are their long-term goals. So that's probably why I hesitate to answer it because it's not just kind of a generic answer for everyone. We really try to work with an individual distributor on what are they trying to do. I just can't tell you how different distributors are even of the same size.

They just have very different needs and what they're trying to accomplish. So that's where we really try to start off on what do they want to do first? We like you guys are a long-term partner of theirs. So why I hesitate and pause on that.

Learn More About Distributor Data Solutions

Matt Johnson:
You really don't want to do the sales pitch. I teed it up for you. It was good though, Matt, I'm just joking, that was good.

But I think it's ... Because like you and Dave and I were having this conversation earlier, it's like why don't we publish pricing and it's like well, because every distributor is so different and it's important to match the solution to the distributor and to ensure that they're happy for the longterm. We want people to have something that's going to be the last eCommerce platform, the last product data solution they're ever going to need.

This isn't a stepping stone, right? This is enterprise, and this is what they're going to be for the longterm. So I totally get it. And and this was a great conversation for the first episode, I think you guys knocked it out of the park and I'm ready to open up a bottle of whiskey with Dave and celebrate.

Matt Christensen:
Well, a great job teeing it up and very happy to be on the first one. Loved working with Dave. Definitely going to love with working with you too, Matt. So just excited for the future. There's a lot of good we can do. There's a lot of help we can give distributors, manufacturers and we're the right ones to do it. So excited for it.

Dave Bent:
Matt I'll have one last thought too. If any manufacturer managed to sit through all of this, we're super excited to engage with manufacturers through the distributor. How can we make the distribution channel way more effective for the manufacturers? And it's all tied into how we get supply chain information.

Matt Christensen:
The pitch I will make is the blog we just released today. The second part in a three part series where we've looked at some pretty scary stories of what has been allowed to become the norm for the exchange of content in some of these or lack thereof, exchange of content in some of these industries.

We see manufacturers that say I'm delivering my data and have been forever 10, 20 years to this one location that is the industry choice. And I find out and I survey my top 20 distributors and find out that two of them have downloaded the content more than zero times in the last year. So there's some pretty shocking things. So you say, "Okay, well, why is the content bad on a distributor site?" Well, they're not even using it.

So again, conversation for another time, but maybe it's the supply chain of data that we need to kind of coin but there's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of manufacturers, many manufacturers we talked to that say, "Well, this is just how I've always done it. Didn't know there was another solution." But the market's changing, there's a shift happening and there's better ways to do this stuff just like there is with eCommerce.

Thanks for Joining Us!

Thanks for joining us on episode of the Distributor Pubcast, we hope you enjoyed the show. If you did, we'd love for you to leave us a rating and review on the podcast player of your choice. You can learn more about us at distributorpubcast.com. This show is presented by ES Tech Group. We're here to help you grow. Until next time, cheers to your growth.


Topics:Distributor Pubcast