Heart of the Matter: Why Dealers Need to Care About E-Commerce

I grew up believing in the power of relationship selling and I still strongly believe in it. Shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye, that’s how I’ve long thought that a relationship is forged with a client.

But I am not one to put my head in the sand like an ostrich and ignore the facts, either. E-commerce is not new (Amazon has been around for over two decades, for instance) — we are a long way away from it reaching critical mass in the traditional print industry, though. Adoption has been OK, but it is most certainly increasing.

Mind you, I understand the reasons for not wanting to deploy an e-commerce solution: You do not want to put pricing online, it will kill your margins, it will annoy your reps, and you will distance yourself from that personal touch that you pride yourself on. I get it, but the reality is that 80% of people will go to a website and if you don’t have what they are looking for or they cannot understand what it is you really do, they leave — it’s that quick, that immediate. And if they even review your content again, they might do so as many as five times prior to actually contacting one of your reps. You must also realize that many people don’t want to talk to someone to close the deal.

There are other staggering statistics on the e-commerce front. By the end of 2022, 65% of B2B companies across industries were fully transacting online. And for the first time, B2Bs are more likely to offer e-commerce over in-person sales (McKinsey & Company). In 2021, online sales on B2B e-commerce sites, login portals, and marketplaces increased 17.8% to $1.63 trillion (Digital Commerce 360). In 2022, 18% of B2B revenue was coming directly from e-commerce, which is higher than phone, email, and video conferencing (McKinsey & Company).

This is a challenge, of course it is, but it is also an opportunity. We are still at the ordering appetizers stage of e-commerce in the office equipment industry, which means there are plenty of available seats at the table. Your competitors might already be at that table, or strongly considering an e-commerce and sales enablement platform. But in order to truly embrace the whole idea of e-commerce, you first have to realize that it’s 2023 and the way we accomplish tasks, regardless if it’s in the office or at home, is constantly evolving.

I already know what you are saying. “That is not how I built my business, and my clients do not buy that way.” You have been heard, but here’s another fact you should be made aware of: At least 70% of the people looking at your website are millennials and — news flash! — they like e-commerce and do not need to speak with a salesperson. They do not feel like that’s part of the process, and some might even claim that human intervention in these cases just adds time and confusion to the proceedings. Perhaps not the way I would handle it, but my three daughters would likely laugh at me for it.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States in March 2020, the typical “face to face” conversations with clients came to a halt and trying to sell or educate customers on what you had was near to impossible.  Additionally, “diversification” quickly emerged as the leading buzzword of the year. What we were talking about back then was diversifying your portfolio — adding new products, that is, ones that you did not previously offer or those that might even sit outside the wheelhouse of the office equipment dealer channel. Today, however, it is not just about that. We need to not put all our eggs in one basket on the process front as well, especially when it comes to how customers are making purchasing decisions and how their buying patterns and habits have now changed as well as driving sales and fueling revenue growth. 

Here’s a question for you: Why would you not want to reach every potential customer you could? And another: Why stop yourself from procuring new business? By ignoring the population who prefer buying through e-commerce, whether because of convenience or habit or preference, you are limiting your company’s potential. Period. We can disagree about the size of this audience, which has happened over and over in conversations I have had in the last couple of years, but one thing I do know is that new clients are hard to come by.

And you, like me, will do just about anything to bring new logos into your organization’s family. No doubt.

It does not matter if it’s through email or on a call or in person at an event, e-commerce continues to be as ubiquitous of a talking point in the traditional print industry as cybersecurity and sustainability. Here are several reasons why:

• In my 35 years in the industry I have never seen a job market as bad as this for employers. At times it can be exceedingly difficult to not just hire but also to retain talent. Thanks to e-commerce, though, dealers gain the opportunity to cover their traditional territory and expand their footprints, too.

• As a lead-generating tool, your website has to be the hub of your business. Period. You need to drive existing and potential clients to your site 24/7/365. Again, people nowadays simply want to consume, educate, and make purchasing decisions on their own, in a self-service environment.

• You are in control. You can design an e-commerce site however you like it, based on your vision. Whether pricing is displayed or not and what products even go on the site are just two things to contemplate in developing your unique customer experience. I understand that it goes against the grain for a lot of dealers, but it’s clear that there is a need and there is room in our industry for e-commerce. Customers should have a choice between human interaction or not — they want options, so best to give them exactly that.

I keep hearing that e-commerce is coming, that it is right around the corner, but I am here to tell you that the here is now. This very moment. We have arrived. In the last six months alone, messaging from prospective clients has shifted from “maybe” to a “must have.” It makes no difference if a dealer just needs an online catalog, or requires a sales-enablement assist, or is intrigued by the full boat of e-commerce. More and more dealers are waking up to the new reality—and at a stunning pace. 

Keypoint Intelligence | Posts

Anthony Sci is President and CEO at Keypoint Intelligence