Many independent resellers are finding themselves in a situation where, not only have they fallen behind the technology curve, they may have also relinquished significant elements of control over their business to third-party providers, some of whom are instinctively more likely to act in their own best interests rather than those of their clients.
Furthermore, adding insult to injury, many of these providers are also well behind the technology curve, so their services often don't provide the solutions the resellers need to be successful. However, with most independent resellers continuing to be dependent on them, they [the resellers] have become trapped on second-rate systems and, as technology assumes an ever-increasing role in business operations, are continuing to fall further behind.
Falling further behind translates directly into increased customer churn and lower customer acquisition rates. Furthermore, as these key business performance metrics deteriorate, the resellers' attempts to stem the decline usually results in price reductions that reduce profitability. Reduced profitability means the ability to invest for the purposes of upgrading technology systems and fix the root cause of the problem becomes even less likely. These circumstances combine to create an ongoing downward spiral.
What do we mean when we say the resellers have relinquished an element of control?
Below is a list of the main elements of a technology structure necessary to operate a business in today's digital environment. While it's okay to utilize third-party services for the backbone of the infrastructure, it's important for the reseller to have enough control of the system to achieve its own desired outcomes rather than those of a service provider.
- Product catalog and promotions
- Supply chain and logistics
- Integrated email marketing
- Social Media
- Audience development
- Audience engagement
- Local Listing Directories
- Product review acquisition strategy
- Company review acquisition strategy
- Customer satisfaction (Net Promoter Scores)
- Analytics and Business Intelligence
- Content strategy
- Search Engine Optimization
- Traffic development
- Visit-to-lead conversion strategies
- Technology and customer communication channels
- Systems integration
For most independent resellers, this is an overwhelming list of requirements, many of which are outside their typical skill set as well as their financial resources to independently implement. This means these services must be obtained from third-party providers if they're to be provided at all.
While even the largest enterprises may retain outside help for some of these elements, usually, they have enough knowledge of what they need to adequately identify and select providers that have the necessary skills. Furthermore, they know that failure to do so leaves gaps in their system and compromises their entire setup.
This is where the problem starts to exhibit itself for smaller businesses where decision makers often lack sufficient knowledge of the individual components. This, in turn, means they usually lack the skills necessary to qualify those who claim to be capable of providing the technology for the services they need.
Many times, resellers end up paying for services that cover certain segments of the requirements, but rarely the complete solution. Furthermore, even the segments they're able to obtain are often on legacy platforms which are no longer optimized for today's requirements.
Where has all this gone wrong?
Most of the office products and business equipment industry has fallen behind the information technology curve, with the resellers usually in the weakest position. This is ironic because the success of the manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers is contingent on the success of the resellers.
1. This dilemma is broadly understood by each of these suppliers, a situation which individually motivates them to come up with programs designed to help the reseller become more successful.
2. However, unsurprisingly, these programs are designed to only help the reseller become more successful selling the "program-providers" products.
3. The resellers' individual vendors are not incentivized to provide a solution that may (incidentally) help the reseller become more successful overall because this may, in turn, mean they sell more of the products they source elsewhere and perhaps even less of their own.
4. So, a reseller who sells products from multiple suppliers is likely to be offered different incentive programs from each of those suppliers. It is unlikely these different incentives will combine well to provide a solution that covers the list of requirements detailed above.
It can only be an integrated "vendor-agnostic" full-service platform that ultimately serves to fulfill the resellers' needs. In this environment, the resellers' and their vendor partners offering the best value proposition will be the ultimate winners.
Resellers have not implemented platforms with the necessary capabilities, and over which they have enough control, to operate their businesses according to their strategies and objectives as opposed to someone else's.
By control we mean:
1. Freedom to choose which vendors to buy from and the types of products it prefers to purchase from different vendors.
2. The ability to calculate and set new market-driven prices on demand and without restriction, regardless of which supplier they are purchased from.
3. To optimize prices according to profit objectives and to minimize costs (including freight and handling) that maximize its profit while optimizing its customer service.
4. To transact with vendors and customers in a seamless, efficient way.
5. To have full control over product promotions and content.
6. To provide stakeholders and employees with permission-based access to activity records by contact and to ensure, regardless of who talks to a customer or prospect, all relevant information about that contact, their website activity, email activity, and transactional history, is shared knowledge, freely available to help improve the overall experience.
7. To provide a means to reliably transmit all transactions into a robust accounting system without the need to perform manual, double-keyed, data entry activities.
8. To be able to seamlessly survey customers according to best practices, and to use the information gathered from surveys to remove friction points and continually improve the overall value proposition.
9. To ask customers for reviews and testimonials when they are warranted, and to use this feedback to help win the confidence of new prospects as they complete the journey toward becoming a customer.
10. To utilize technology in a fashion that dynamically updates contact lists, thereby facilitating contact segmentation to ensure delivery of the right marketing collateral, to the right person at the right time.
11. To be able to seamlessly assess the impact of vendor cost changes on vast product catalogs and to adjust purchasing decisions in accordance with their own profit objectives rather than those of their suppliers.
12. To be able to communicate with customers and prospects according to the channel they prefer, whether it be emails, phone, chat, website forms, or social media, and to record communication activities seamlessly into the individual contact records.
It's unlikely to be worthwhile investing funds for the purpose of updating websites or social media accounts unless there's also a plan for deploying the integrated information technology platform. Only then, once such a platform is combined with a content and marketing strategy designed to increase levels of awareness for the overall value proposition, can an exit route from the downward spiral be established, thereby making it possible to grow a business once more.
However, even once the platform has been established, resellers must recognize the process for developing sustainable and relevant traffic to their websites remains a long-term, ongoing project.
More important in the short-term; in providing a platform that adds value for its existing customers, retention rates will improve, and resellers will position themselves for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities into their existing customer base. In parallel, for the longer-term they will also be positioning themselves for developing relevant traffic and, in deploying best-practice visit-to-lead conversion strategies, will start to acquire new contacts, a portion of which may ultimately be converted to customers.
It must be clear that resellers cannot rely on "silver bullet" solutions from their traditional product vendors to provide them with the platform necessary to operate successfully in the digital world. It is instinctively against the best interest of these companies to provide what is needed because a solution of this nature would, at least partially, serve to assist their competitors.
Instead, resellers must improve their understanding of all the elements necessary to make up a full-service platform by turning to qualified independent third-party providers, providers who are only motivated to help develop and sustain resellers without attempting to influence or restrict what products they sell.
Once this has been accomplished then, and only then, may attention be transitioned to the task of developing the relevant web traffic that's necessary for the long-term survival of a business.
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