How to Scale Consultative Selling Through Engagement Commerce (Engagement Commerce Series, Part III)

6 min read

The customer familiar with easy-purchasing through Amazon does not notice the buying experience when they shop, it’s merely a process of a few clicks, and they are done.

They don’t notice the transaction, they are participating in the process. It’s a delight for them to buy, not a hassle.

When we started this new series on engagement commerce, we asked ourselves a few questions:

  1. How do we do the consultative sale at scale?
  2. How do we leverage technology to take that very cumbersome process of handling projects for customers and make it easier?

The hallmark of a successful distributor is someone who has a great amount of consultative mojo, who delights customers with their ingenuity, but also someone who streamlines their purchasing process with the same ease as a shopping cart experience.  

To be clear, most B2B buyers, with complex needs, do not want a shopping cart experience, they have problems that need to be solved, and that cannot be done through a shopping cart. So the question that remains for today’s progressive distributor is, “Do I have the right tools to make engagement possible?”

We’ve come up with a list of eight tactics, tools that you should be using to make the process+partnership part of the buying experience easier, a way to bridge the gap between consultation and transaction:

  • Having a strong social presence: Engagement commerce begins long before the sale, and a robust social presence is often the beginning of a rich consultative relationship. The key is to share stories with beautiful images that compel them to learn more. Use your digital real estate to invite customers into a conversation, intriguing customers and prospects with ideas that evoke emotion. Remember that social media is a great way to both inspire and inform and is the gateway to future projects.
  • Collaborative, social presentations: B2B buyers buy by consensus, whether it’s a consensus of two people or an entire department. And presentations today are no longer static PDF’s. They are now social interactions that invite quick engagement, allowing interaction right on the form back to the salesperson, which should also include a way to invite their colleagues into the discussion, (on the same presentation), making the conversation one seamless, easy dialogue as opposed to fragmented emails.
  • Share successful stories: Case histories are a thing of the past, but stories that place the customer and their objectives at the heart of the narrative are ways to engage intelligently around a product that is intended to solve a problem. Make the customer the hero of the story, and you can easily enchant your audience with a compelling hook.
  • Start a project button: What’s the antidote to a shopping cart? A “start a project” button. A “start a project” button on your website allows your customer to submit their business challenge and to begin the engagement process. It sounds simple but, to combat the ease of a shopping cart and to kick-start a consultative conversation, every distributor should have a “start a project” button that begins with the “why” not the “what.” This also allows you to “begin with the problem, not the product.” Every engagement (product request) that begins with your customer starts with a problem they are trying to resolve. Discover the problem, what objective they are trying to achieve, and you’ll uncover the right solution via a product.
  • Order approvals, online order confirmations, and proof processes. We’ve talked about the challenges of most distributors’ frustrating ordering processes in a previous post entitled, “KO’d by 4Imprint?” These administrative processes should be simplified and unified through an easy-to-use online tool that allows your customers to respond to projects and then quickly get back to their busy lives, from order approvals to easy-to-use proofing processes. Remember that a customer who is familiar with the ease of a shopping cart wants the purchasing process to be invisible, barely noticeable.
  • Open feedback and dialogue: Just like Slack, that allows easier communication with your colleagues, your ordering process should include a quick-reply open feedback channel that promotes quick and healthy dialogue about a project. Have you ever considered how many emails you trade with a customer on one simple order? With tools like Slack and Drift that allow for quick chatter and fast answers, email is an antiquated form of processing. Drift calls their chatbots “conversational marketing” and just as chat is an accelerated form of communication, your projects should allow for an expedited conversation as well.  
  • Dealing with those irksome invoicing problems: This one might be controversial, but it’s time we stopped aggravating customers with surprise freight costs and overages. Some distributors are now billing the exact quantity ordered and also have incorporated freight estimates on the front end so that there are no surprises at billing. Some of the most frustrating ordering experiences that your customers have involve incorrect (or questionable) billing. There is nothing more aggravating to a customer than to have to deal with unexpected surprises.
  • Collaboration with the supply chain (distributor to supplier): Due to the speed and demand from customers on quick replies to project requests, suppliers and distributors need to collaborate on projects in real-time and minimize the time spent on flipping supplier ideas and curated collections into client presentations enabling faster responses through the ideation process. Engagement commerce allows the whole ideation process to be completed with a few mouse clicks, from idea to supplier suggestion, to client, with feedback provided all along the way, with no rekeying or multiple emails to jam the process!

Many distributors buy into the illusion that they must compete with the 800# gorilla and build an e-commerce site to save their business. When the reality is, the vast majority of sales in this industry are drop-ship (custom) sales, sales that are still being won (and will still be won in the future) outside of the shopping cart, through consultative selling via an easy-to-use digital process. Drop-ship, consultative sales are also higher average margins than online sales, so, why build an expensive platform to chase lower margin orders for a much smaller piece of the $23+ billion pie?

Custom sales (drop ship sales) are still the biggest, most profitable part of promotional product sales and engagement commerce scales the consultative process, allowing you to grow your business, and capture the largest part of the market-share opportunities.

Lastly, to enhance engagement, distributors must fight the order-taker mentality and boost their consultative prowess with tools that allow for quick dialogue and streamlined processes. Instead of the distributor being behind the sale with an order-taker mentality, the engagement process enables a distributor to get in front of the sale, to become an order-maker by providing solutions which ultimately lead to bigger orders, bigger margins, and a much easier process!


Also published on Medium.