As the world of distribution continues to shift to digital, the way that customers want distributors to communicate with them is shifting as well. To gain a better understanding of these changes, Real Results Marketing has surveyed more than 10,000 of distributors’ customers across diverse sectors and geographies. The goal of this ongoing Shopping and Buying Survey is to gain a fuller understanding of how customers want to shop and buy by asking the customers themselves.

One of the most stunning shifts we continue to see is in how and when customers want to receive communication from distributors. About 57 percent of customers surveyed are OK with getting email alerts at least monthly, and some of those want email alerts even more frequently. About 30 percent want a new product flyer at least monthly.

And the biggest swing: Many customers don’t want an in-person connection. Fifteen percent of the customers in our survey never want a sales rep visit; 20 percent want a visit just once a year.

And 29 percent prefer a visit just once a quarter. The days of donut deliveries are gone. Customers don’t want to talk to somebody to just shoot the bull anymore. Either you provide them with value, or don’t come by.

How often end-users want to hear from distributors, by channel.

How often end-users want to hear from distributors, by channel. (Copyright: Real Results Marketing)

Because field sales has always been an important part of the traditional distribution model, distributors are frequently surprised to see these numbers. But it’s important to remember that while field sales are changing, the role is not going away. And there are other ways for a field sales rep to connect with a customer that may be more meaningful. A visit from a field sales rep, which can be a considerable cost to a distributor, takes time from the customer’s day. Instead, a well-timed and purposeful phone call or an email that outlines key value to a customer such as ways they can save time or money may be the more effective route.

Or it may be better to dedicate an inside salesperson or customer service rep to the customer. That customer can then pick up the phone for five minutes rather than spend 30 minutes in person with a sales rep.

That’s not to say that customers never want to hear from you. Trust that your company has value to offer and make sure to ask your customers about their communication preferences. Every distributor’s customer base is different. There are some customers that absolutely love their field salesperson. They couldn’t do without them. And then there are other customers who couldn’t care less about seeing a field sales rep. Know which is which, and adjust accordingly. It’s critical to get this resource allocation right because field sales reps tend to be a distributor’s most expensive resource.

Shift field salespeople to where they can truly make a difference. Understand how field sales reps add value and use them as support for accounts in which they can really make a difference. If they’re a top-flight consultative salesperson, they’re going to add value.

Interested in reading more about what your customers want? Read “What Customers Want,” based on a survey of more than 10,000 of distributors’ customers. If you’d like to conduct the survey for your own customer base, contact us today.