Overview and Need
As technology rapidly advances, the sales process is quickly being transformed. Consumer habits are changing due to these advancements and social selling has become a very common practice across all industries. For distributors, the use of digital tools to enhance, supplement, and/or replace different components of the sales process is becoming more and more commonplace.
Digital sales processes are becoming less expensive, more prevalent, and increasingly preferred by the next generation of purchasing specialists. To become more digital, the distributor needs to address some issues: What processes should be digitized? How much will the new processes cost? How and at what time will the firm recoup the investment? What challenges will need to be overcome (how difficult will implementation be)? How will the new processes interface with remaining ones? How will the sales force evolve? What new service and product opportunities will emerge? Distributors need to create and implement a digital selling strategy that guides the organization as a whole and ensures that technologies are well aligned with other business processes.
Digitizing the Sales Process
Digitizing the sales process does not mean replacing people with technology. Rather, it is the implementation of digital tools that will allow the organization to utilize its people more efficiently, making them better salespeople. Using digital tools allows companies to save time compared to traditional methods and allows them to invest in other areas of the business that have not yet been explored. These tools will also improve communication among teams and increase clarity throughout the organization. Tools from social media to CRM and mobile apps will also reach more customers and allow for greater retention of current customers. As customer buying patterns change, so must selling strategies change. If distributors want to keep up, they must train their teams to better understand the power of digital tools and technologies for generating leads and driving sales. These tools give salespeople a greater capacity to be creative and enable them to reach out to customers in a variety of different ways. The sales process consists of the fundamental steps for taking a customer from discovery as a prospect all the way through to managing their experience, then maintaining and enhancing the relationship. The potential for digitizing these processes is significant since all sales processes are information based and can, in theory, be digitized. That said, many processes will be difficult to digitize for quite some time due to a lack of data or the complexity associated with system implementation. More complex processes will logically be handled by a human sales force until such time as data are available and/or systems become sufficiently efficient to implement and operate.
The Sales Force of the Future
Logically, the sales force will continue to support processes that cannot be digitized for the foreseeable future. As processes are digitized, the tendency will be for them to become commodities. Commoditization leads to price becoming the dominant factor in customer decision making. Distributors will respond by creating new value-added processes that support margins or offer the opportunity to charge directly for those services. The sales force will likely be the driving force in designing new services and sustaining value in relationships. Both distributors and their supplier partners will need these highly competent sales professionals to control customer relationships, drive new product and service introductions, and sustain the customer relationship.
Digital tools will be thoroughly integrated into the sales process. The sales force will be digitally supported allowing for specialization of tasks and solution selling based on sophisticated customer information. The process is depicted in Figure 2 and is based on a compilation of many best-inclass distributors. No one distributor has completely achieved what the figure suggests so no one is yet fully leveraging the vision of a digitized sales process and digitally supported sales force. Many distributors, however, are already pursuing the vision and understand where they are going next. That said, even as distributors achieve the broad vision, different channels, different customer types, different supplier relationships, different industry verticals, etc. will lead to many different ways to compete and configure the tools. The fundamentals are that transactional sales will be handled through an online version of sales order processing (currently called e-commerce). These transactions could be anything from low value customers not meriting sales force activity to large, important customers engaging in routine purchasing activity. The information from the e-commerce processes will be analyzed, packaged, and passed to the inside sales force. The systems will provide analytics like account gap analysis, share of wallet estimates, customer stratification, etc.
- Current best practices in leveraging digital tools across channels, customer types, industry
vertical environments, and relationships.
- Comprehensive documentation of current technologies and resulting processes being used
in the distribution industry.
- An assessment tool for digitization of the sales process that a firm can use to develop and
sustain its digital strategy.
- Process Mapping and comparison to best practices for implementation of new distributor
- Processes to determine what digital tools will best support the sales team and which would
be most efficient for different customer types.
- A design of differing conditional models for a digitally supported sales force.
- Processes to develop business plans for launching new digital tools and achieving return
- A Framework for designing the Digital Sales Process and Digitally Supported Sales Force
A team consisting of professional researchers from Texas A&M’s Global Supply Chain Laboratory and Talent Incubator Program led by Dr. F. Barry Lawrence and Dr. Esther Rodriguez Silva analyzed growth opportunities with consortium members to determine how to optimize the sales process through the use of digital tools. Best practices in this area were included in the analysis. The consortium meetings provided an opportunity to discuss initial findings from a variety of sources as well as allow for discussion of the key benefits from digitization of each step of the sales process. The meetings also allowed for discussion of the implications for these technologies. Ultimately, the consortium created a community with shared knowledge that will together work to move digitally enhanced distributor models forward. Consortium members first met at Texas A&M on the kick off date, October 10, 2019, to discuss initial findings from the background research conducted by the research team, understand the research process and priorities, and direct the research team on topics of interest and desired outcomes. The final meetings were held on June 12, 2020 and August 20, 2020 to present final results and individual company assessments. In between the meetings, each company also had an individual two-day meeting with Texas A&M researchers for process mapping and an initial assessment of the firm’s digital strategy
Value to Consortium Members & Deliverables
Consortium members guided the research study and specifed which alternatives, best practices, technologies, and services were of interest to them. These studies focused on the digitization of the sales process to increase efficiency and drive profitable growth.
- Each member has had the opportunity to work with the research teams to map their current sales process and strategies.
- Each member has engaged in the creation of a digital social selling strategy that will guide organizations as a whole and ensure digital tools are aligned with the sales process.
- Members have learned best practices and understand where their organization stands compared to the rest of the industry.
- Members have learned how to leverage digital assets.
Members have been able to build relationships with other participants and continue communication post consortium.
- Members have been given access to a shared knowledge base that is created from the consortium.
- A Digital Assessment tool that compares the distributor’s digital strategy to best practices has been applied to each firm. Specific findings will be provided to individual members.
- Overarching findings on best practices (observing confidentiality for individual firms) have been delivered to all.
Dr. F. Barry Lawrence, PhD
Leonard and Valerie Bruce Chair in Industrial Distribution,
Program Coordinator of Industrial Distribution,
Director of Thomas and Joan Read Center for Distribution
Research and Education
Industrial Distribution Program | Texas A&M University
3367 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843-3367
Phone: (979) 845-1463 | Mobile: (979).571-5513
Dr. Esther Rodriguez Silva, PhD
Director of Talent Incubator Program,
Director of Global Supply Chain Laboratory,
TEES Assistant Research Professor
3367 TAMU, Texas A&M University
118F Sbisa, College Station, TX 77843-3367
Phone: (979) 845-3146