Online or Offline? The Answer Is Both
Back in the early 2000s, industry Top Distributors lists were filled with what I would call “traditional distributorships”—distributorships whose sales teams consisted entirely of independently contracted salespeople. These salespeople differentiated themselves through their creativity, merchandising skills and immense focus on offline interpersonal relationships with clients.
During that time, there was a decent-sized distributor called Nelson Marketing that sold promotional products via direct mail. Nelson Marketing changed its name to 4imprint and developed the innovative idea to aggressively sell promotional products through the internet. Fast forward to 2020, and you’ll find that 4imprint is now the industry's No. 1 distributor, with annual sales closing in on $1 billion. Today, industry Top Distributors lists not only consist of 4imprint, but multiple other online distributorship models relying solely on e-commerce business.
COVID-19 has only accelerated the growth of U.S. e-commerce, with online sales growing 54 percent in 2020 alone and projected even higher in 2021. With e-commerce sales sure to continue to grow in our industry, does that mean the traditional industry sales professional is on the way out?
Not at all. Customers still value creative ideas, they still value personal service and they still value personal relationships.
But make no mistake: Buyers want the ability to go online, shop and purchase at their own leisure. They do not want to track down a salesperson to get an order status. They want to go online to get tracking information on their own. They do not want to wait to get reports on their company spend. They want to be able to pull reports instantaneously.
This is where we find new opportunity for our commissioned industry sales professionals and traditional distributorships. The way people are buying has changed, and we need to service this new method of buying.
At Boundless, we’ve significantly invested in technology to satisfy this change in buyer behavior. Our best investment was hiring and training individuals that form our Mission Control team, whose responsibility is to be experts not only in our proprietary technology suite, but other industry and non-industry licensed technology. Mission Control works with our sales professionals to spec out a client’s technology needs, then proposes and implements a custom solution to fit that client’s specific needs.
Bottom line: Mission Control handles each client’s technology solutions so that our salespeople can focus on creativity, merchandising and building personal relationships that stand the test of time.
The traditional distributorship is not going to create a massive promotional product website and pay millions of dollars on search engine marketing, nor are we going to rely solely on creativity, service and relationships. A distributorship in this new world of buying will excel by combining the personal creative touch with a custom online solution.
Provide your buyers with the beautiful blend of a custom online shopping experience and a personalized offline relationship. That is how you can win.
Pat is currently executive vice president of sales at Boundless. Prior to joining Boundless, Pat was vice president of sales for Toppers, a Top 20 industry supplier. Prior to Toppers, he served as vice president of national accounts for Norwood Promotional Products, one of the largest promotional products suppliers in the industry. In his free time, Pat enjoys drinking a cool beverage while attempting to play golf.