These five key elements are emerging as the foundation for omnichannel excellence and should be executed by distributors, according to NAW – the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors:

  • Define how your services are differentiated. Customer experiences are delivered through services that are common across all distributors and include helping customers make decisions, taking orders, delivering products and driving business results. Careful planning is required to offer services differentiated by capabilities, performance or customer experience. Manufacturers differentiate their products on physical features and benefits. Distributors can do the same, but services are often defined by intangibles. That makes differentiation difficult, but still essential.
  • Allocate customer activities. Once differentiated services are defined, distributors can create an inventory of critical activities performed for customers across presale, transaction and postsale phases, with differences noted by customer segments. Activities are then mapped to field, inside and digital channels. Accounts may be aligned with one channel or shared across two or more. Customer activities assigned to a channel point to required capabilities, processes, rewards and metrics.
  • Innovate brick-and-mortar facilities. Online shopping and disruptive online marketplaces have negated the traditional value offered by brick-and-mortar facilities. Customers no longer expect to place orders with a local business and receive deliveries from a nearby warehouse. Innovating brick-and-mortar facilities is not about shinnying down to remaining roles. It’s about offering new experiences that can’t be offered online. Retailers are currently working through this challenge. Distributors must do the same.
  • Achieve breakthrough value chain efficiencies. While individual distributors may be able to eke out yet another round of cost reduction and profitability enhancements, collaborating with suppliers to better manage combined inventories and logistics will offer the opportunity to address untapped gains. Success requires mutual real-time visibility, advanced analytics and new supplier incentives.
  • Redefine business processes and culture. The days of hiring tenured salespeople and leaving them to make their own decisions for serving customers on their own without guidance are over. Rather, omnichannel strategies require a high degree of collaboration and precision. Customer experiences are improved, but the many moving parts of an omnichannel strategy will not function without well-defined business processes, attentive first-line management and a culture focused obsessively on customer excellence, continual improvement and innovation.