Why offer digital sales?
The better question might be: Why offer digital sales now? Online ordering options are standard in every industry except for the wholesale green industry, so you might not feel a big rush to get started. However, with the massive generational shift taking place, and longtime business owners and managers retiring, online ordering will become the standard for the green industry.
Reason One: Longevity
Early adopters that can help their customers comfortably and efficiently order online will have a huge leg up on companies that wait to implement a digital strategy. In the long run, that will pay off.
Reason Two: Customer retention
A well-organized ecommerce platform makes it much easier and more efficient for your customers to order, and if you provide that solution, they’re much more likely to order from you. What would you choose? Six hours on the phone to different suppliers or thirty minutes clicking around an online catalog?
Reason Three: Increased profits
Well-built digital sales platforms allow for efficient order processing and handling, which increases profits and grows capacity. (The less time spent processing orders, the more orders that can be processed.)
Current, digital availability also allows customers to consolidate orders they might not otherwise have thought to consolidate with you. Actually being able to see the supply chain (what we call surfacing upstream inventory) gives customers confidence and informs future purchasing decisions.
Requirements for offering digital sales
Knowing that you need or want to offer digital sales to your customers and actually implementing a digital sales strategy are two different things. One reason why our industry has lagged behind other industries in offering digital purchasing options is that the requirements can seem insurmountable. We’re happy to report that is absolutely changing! Options are opening that would have previously been out of reach, mainly due to funding constraints.
Here’s what you need if you’re thinking about going digital, and some new options on the table for you.
Buy-in from suppliers and staff
The biggest obstacle to going digital is not actually technology. It’s buy-in from staff and suppliers. Buy-in starts with key stakeholders, including owners, large suppliers, and large customers, but for a digital sales strategy to truly be successful, everyone in the organization has to be on board.
The secret to getting everyone on the bandwagon instead of jumping ship? Demonstrate how digital is going to make their lives easier. Be specific: make your case for different job types and areas of the business. Digital strategy will affect suppliers in a different way than it will affect in-office order processors or staff pulling product from the field.
Knowledge and training
Knowledge and training absolutely lead to buy-in. When users truly understand how to get the most out of a digital strategy and the associated tools, and the tools help them instead of increasing their workload or their frustrations, the strategy will absolutely succeed. If you’re going to go digital, you’re going to need to either invest in creating your own training or use a platform that offers help and training as part of its package. Again, the training will need to encompass all users, from suppliers providing inventory to buyers writing orders.
While technology is the actual conduit for transactions, without buy-in, knowledge, and training, all the technology in the world won’t make a digital strategy successful. Clunky or incomplete software, or a mismatch between technology creators and users can trickle down and stymie enthusiasm for a strategy. (Shameless self promotion: that’s one of LandscapeHub’s biggest strengths: we’ve paired longtime green industry “boots-on-the-ground” experts from all levels of the supply chain with marketplace ecommerce specialists to create a digital sales tool built from bottom to top with the challenges and opportunities of the green industry in mind.)
Yes, you will need some kind of digital sales platform as part of your strategy. These are also called ecommerce platforms. The platform needs to be able to receive accurate inventory from suppliers and display that inventory to buyers. Buyers need to be able to efficiently build orders, which are then processed (product removed from inventory, invoices generated, product pulled and delivered or fulfilled) and closed out.
Companies used to have to build their own platforms, but now out of the box solutions, from standalone shopping carts to online marketplaces. LandscapeHub is a marketplace because consolidating inventory availability and streamlining the supply chain is where we think we can make the biggest difference in the lives of our customers.
Download our marketplace whitepaper to learn more.
Once you’ve settled on your technology, your digital platform, you’ll still need to hone your own company’s own digital strategy.
Converting customers to digital
The classic digital marketing funnel is: Traffic > Leads > Conversions
Traffic: people visiting your ecommerce location
Leads: potential customers giving you a way to stay in touch with them (signing up for email marketing, creating an account, following you on social media)
Conversion: potential customers turning into actual customers by making purchases
Building Traffic: Education and Awareness
This whole funnel starts with education and awareness. To get traffic to the platform, people need to know it exists. In a marketplace, there’s some level of traffic built in. The marketplace, itself, is building awareness, as are all of the participants in the marketplace. When you have your own website, you have to do all of the traffic generation yourself.
Even when you participate in a marketplace, you’ll need to let your existing customers know that digital is now an option. There are multiple ways to do that:
Postcard marketing: old school but effective. Announce the arrival of the digital option and provide the website address.
Paid advertising: it can be surprisingly low-cost to run specific paid ads from Google to your website where you can collect email addresses.
Word of mouth: When on the phone with customers, tell them that you have digital options available and ask about sending them some information about how to use the tools.
Social Media: B2B social media can be a little tricky, but with every project or plant you showcase, you can remind customers that digital ordering options are available.
Tracking and Communicating With Leads
The traffic should result in leads, or people added to your contact list or email list. You can then communicate with customers, explaining how going digital will help them grow their business.
The important part of handling leads is to stay consistent. Contact them at least once a month to remind them of your tools, give them tips, or check in with them to see if they need help.
Eventually, well-stewarded leads will turn into sales. With the right, well-maintained platform, put in front of the right customers, who have been helped into adopting the platform for ordering, sales will convert. All of the pieces and parts have to work together, though. The good news is that once someone has spent a dollar with you, they’re much more likely to spend many more dollars with you!
Digital Sales Strategy is more than Technology
We can’t stress this point enough: you need a good match with technology, but you also need to build the infrastructure around it for the technology to work. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to be organized and consistent and include these pieces:
Buy-in from all levels of the organization
Knowledge and training for staff
Communication and education with and for customers
With the right platform and partner, digital can be dynamite for your business, leading to the good kind of blow-up: growth.