The Distribution Blog

How AI-Powered Tools Can Help You Retain Your Sales Reps

October 23, 2023

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Cleaning supply distributors have a hard enough time finding and hiring qualified sales reps — what about keeping them around?

Jan-san distributors have product catalogs that are large and diverse even compared to distributors in other industries, and their customer base is diverse, too; hospitals, factories, schools, and office buildings will all have different cleaning needs. Expecting a new sales rep to quickly become an expert in the field will only lead to disappointment. But what else can you do?

There’s actually a pretty simple answer to that question: You can equip your sales reps with AI-powered tools.

AI sales insights help your reps get acclimated quickly

Your new sales reps probably don’t want to stay up all night studying diamond polishing systems and paper towel dispensers. They want to get out there and sell! With the right AI-powered tools, they can get data-driven recommendations for who to call, when to call them, and what products to talk about.

If you’ve ever watched football, you’ve probably heard a commentator talk about what teams do to help a young quarterback build confidence. They’ll call plays to give the quarterback quick, easy completions that help them get used to the pace and rhythm of the game. AI-powered sales tools have the same effect. The AI knows when a customer is due for a reorder or out of stock, and this information can give your reps “easy wins” that will boost their confidence and help them hit the ground running.

Prevent churn with a 360-degree view of your customers

A jan-san distributor recently told us that his sales reps are good at winning new customers and growing new accounts, but they struggle with customer retention. Often, the company is late to notice when a top customer has stopped purchasing a specific product. And by the time a rep realizes it, it’s too late – they’ve switched to a competitor.

It’s easy to assume that a customer switched to a competitor because of poor service. But it’s often not that dramatic. Sometimes a switch can happen because your customer forgot to order something in time and was forced to shop with your competitor because they could deliver something they needed faster or in a larger quantity.

You can imagine how this plays out: Your customer forgets to order toilet paper for a commercial building in their most recent order. They realize this after they are out and contact you to place a rush order. “We can get it to you in 4 days,” your inside sales rep says. But that’s too long. So the distributor is forced to shop around, evaluating other distributors who have faster delivery times. Maybe they turn to Amazon with same-day or next-day delivery.

Still, when it happens, it hurts your bottom line — and your rep’s confidence.

For jan-san distributors especially, it’s imperative to have a “smoke alarm” system that alerts reps when a customer’s purchase behavior has been disrupted. When their spending in a specific category starts to dip, or when they stop ordering a product they reorder all the time, they need to know as early as possible so they can act accordingly.

For example, we shadowed a field rep with an AI-powered mobile sales app on sales calls. The app showed the sales rep the customer we were visiting likely needed to order more cleaning solution. This customer had historically ordered cleaning solution every month but hadn’t purchased any for the last six. AI identified the broken pattern and alerted the sales rep to the purchasing change.

When the sales rep suggested adding cleaning solution to the order, the customer was surprised because they didn’t even realize they had stopped purchasing it. After some investigation, they determined it was a problem in their system and thanked the rep for proactively reminding them to order more.

By giving your reps visibility into customer spending and product insights like inventory, pricing, and substitutes, they’ll find more opportunities to upsell and cross-sell, thereby growing wallet share and enhancing your reps’ success.

Spotting gaps in customer spending

A lot of jan-san distributors also sell products for packaging, like Hill& Markes, for example.

With such a breadth of products, unless your rep proactively asks customers about their needs, the customer will never know about all the categories you carry. New reps simply won’t know what categories to bring up that are relevant to a customer. Their lack of confidence will prevent them from having those conversations, which means they’ll stick to selling the products the customer already buys from them. Even veteran reps often aren’t having consultative conversations to go deeper with customers.

The beauty of an AI tool is it analyzes data from all of your customers and can flag when similar customers have different purchase behaviors. Instead of a rep looking at gap reports on a spreadsheet, they can receive a mobile notification letting them know that a customer is underspending in packaging compared to similar customers. The rep can then ask the customer where they’re getting their packaging from to win business over from a competitor. We’ve shadowed many reps who use Wallet Share Sales Plays to win new categories of business they had no idea their customer would be interested in.

Automation lets your sales reps spend more time selling

Another factor that contributes to sales rep burnout is tedium. Your sales reps don’t get excited about data entry, so when it takes up too much of their time, they may start looking for a job that involves less of it. And tasks like manually following up on quotes are not only boring, but inefficient for your business. With the right AI-powered sales tool, you can automate many tasks, allowing your sales reps to focus on more meaningful work.

Technology can be a boon to jan-san distributors

The labor market is tough right now. Turnover is high, especially in sales. With the Great Resignation and large numbers of distributors’ sales reps set to retire, it’s becoming harder to fill open sales slots. People with sales experience are willing to wait for the perfect opportunity rather than jumping onto the first decent job that comes along. By embracing AI technology, you can distinguish yourself in the jan-san space, keep your top-performing salespeople longer, and expedite the onboarding process for new hires – regardless of their prior experience in the jan-san sector.

To see what Proton can do for your jan-san business, request a demo today.

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