The Distribution Blog

Sales Challenges Industrial Distributors Face (And How Proton Helps)

December 22, 2022

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Industrial distributors are no strangers to sales challenges. From digital marketplaces that disrupt the industry to rising customer expectations and manufacturers bypassing distributors in favor of direct-to-consumer sales, there are always obstacles standing in your way.

But you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all sales strategy. In today’s market, it’s essential to equip your sales team with the right digital tools. By doing so, you can retain your top salespeople, improve their performance, and make it easier for new hires to succeed. Don’t let the challenges of the industry hold you back – take control of your sales and drive your business forward.

Salesperson Retention in Industrial Distribution

Your salesforce is aging. Your most experienced salespeople are getting ready to retire and will need to be replaced by younger sales reps who don’t have the same level of industry knowledge. Unfortunately, ongoing labor shortages and the Great Resignation make it challenging to find reps familiar with (and willing to work in) industrial distribution. Hiring roadblocks and early retirement both contribute to employee deficits.

What Can You Do?

To overcome this challenge, you have to make it easy to onboard new reps and cultivate a more engaging work environment.

Learning about thousands (or millions) of products can be intimidating for new reps. With the right tools, you can ramp reps more quickly and make it easy for them to become product experts – even when working with a vast product catalog. Streamlining your onboarding and training process is the best way to make your company more appealing to job hunters.

To retain current employees, you may need to re-examine how they do their jobs. Sales reps don’t want to spend all day on manual administrative tasks – they want to engage with customers and close sales. Automating tedious tasks is a great way to engage your reps and make their jobs more enjoyable.

How Proton Helps

Proton improves engagement and employee retention because, unlike most CRM tools, Proton is built with sales reps in mind – not just their managers. Sales reps like Proton because it’s intuitive, easy to use, and helps them sell more (with zero guesswork). Proton’s AI-powered platform guides reps through customer interactions and provides helpful sales suggestions. In addition, because it doesn’t require reps to enter a lot of data, Proton frees them from busy work and manual tasks so they can focus on winning more sales.

With Proton’s AI solution, industrial distributors can take advantage of:

  • Rich product data: Searchable product data within your sales dashboard enables sales reps to identify product substitutes and complementary products in real-time during sales calls.  
  • Robust search: Reps can find contact, customer, and product information within seconds using an AI-powered search engine.  
  • Click-to-log sales pitches: With a click, reps can log everything they’ve pitched, whether it’s a single item or a collection of products.

With the right tools in place, distributors unlock peace of mind that, even as mature reps retire, hiring and training their replacements won’t be a nightmare.

Sales Execution in Industrial Distribution

B2B customers expect more than an impersonal sales pitch – they want a tailored, helpful buying experience. McKinsey found businesses that personalize sales to individual customers gain significantly higher market share than those that don’t. To compete, industrial distributors must bring value and personalization into every customer experience.

What Can You Do?

As B2B customers increasingly expect the same level of personalization in their buying experiences as they do in their personal lives, it’s more important than ever for sales reps to have a deep understanding of their customers. This means knowing everything from their purchase history and online browsing behaviors to open support tickets, pending quote requests, and reorder needs. It also means having a good sense of what items customers are most likely to buy. However, keeping track of all this information can be a daunting task for even the most experienced sales rep. That’s why it’s important to provide them with the tools and support they need to succeed.

How Proton Helps

Proton’s AI models use years of transaction and customer data to find patterns. The more data it has access to, the more effective it will be.

After integrating Proton with your ERP, ecommerce site, and other data sources, Proton’s AI models analyze transactional data from each system and generate sales insights for your teams. Proton highlights accounts that need your attention and determines which customers are most likely to buy something. Proton will surface wallet share gaps, recommend add-ons, predict reorder needs, and generate sales pitches so your reps can take the right action at the right time.

Connecting Proton’s AI solution to your ERP and ecommerce site unlocks valuable insights you can use to drive personalization and enhance sales execution.

Educating Reps in Industrial Distribution

With product catalogs containing hundreds of thousands or even millions of SKUs, it’s impossible for sales reps to know everything about every product. Experienced reps are often most valuable for their deep knowledge of a company’s products, but this knowledge can be lost when an employee leaves or retires. Can you afford to lose years’ worth of insights every time an employee retires? Even if a rep could memorize every SKU, they would still need to be aware of constantly changing information like stock-outs, shipping delays, and backorders. Customers expect sales teams to be experts on their company’s products, and if a team can’t meet their needs, they’ll simply look elsewhere. To avoid losing valuable knowledge and customers, it’s important to provide sales reps with the tools and support they need to succeed.

What Can You Do?

Your sales reps have to become product experts. If your SKU count is in the thousands, you can’t rely on sales reps to remember every item detail or be aware of unforeseen inventory challenges. Consider a software solution that arms reps with information they need to sell, without committing your product catalog to memory. Technology like AI can turn even the newest sales reps into product experts.

How Proton Helps

Proton’s AI solution puts product information at your reps’ fingertips. If a product is out of stock, a substitution recommendation will be auto-generated. Proton’s AI also analyzes buyer behavior across sales channels, so your team knows which accounts need to reorder and what to pitch on their sales calls.

With AI, reps can search for product information on the fly. AI-powered semantic search tools crawl through PDF sell sheets, documents, and product descriptions to find relevant information so your reps can address complex questions without scrambling to find an answer.

Scaling Your Salesforce in Industrial Distribution

Scaling your salesforce doesn’t have to mean hiring more people. With ongoing hiring constraints, you need to increase revenue and expand margins without adding employees.

What Can You Do?

The best way to scale your salesforce without adding more people is by:

  • Assigning more customers to each rep
  • Eliminating inefficient sales visits and purposeless calls
  • Removing time-consuming busywork from your reps’ daily workloads

Unfortunately, these are easier said than done. After all, if you simply give more customers to each rep without a plan to minimize disruption, they will feel frustrated, and their productivity will suffer. That’s why you need the right technology.

How Proton Helps

Proton’s AI solution prioritizes accounts in real-time, so reps know which customers need attention and what products to pitch for the best results. Proton makes sales reps more proactive and profitable by supplying relevant, personalized customer information during each interaction.

In addition to sales, Proton transforms customer service into a profit center by turning order-taking customer service reps (CSRs) into order makers. With Proton, CSRs can pull up a customer’s account information and see what they’re due to reorder, as well as relevant upsell and cross-sell opportunities. This allows CSRs to make helpful and profitable suggestions during service calls. On average, Proton’s CSR users generate $35K in incremental annual sales.

The sales landscape is changing rapidly, and it’s up to you to ensure that your team is ready to meet the challenges of the modern market. By introducing AI into your sales strategy, you can give your team the tools they need to succeed in the face of digital disruptors and marketplaces that threaten to shake up the industry. Don’t get left behind — take control of your sales and drive your industrial distribution business forward with the power of AI.

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