Food Service Distribution: What if Your Products Could Find Your Customers?

This post was contributed by Zilliant Business Development Representative Tim Powers based on his conversations with B2B food service distributors. 

I recently had the pleasure of attending the IFDA Smart Conference, held July 22-24 in St. Petersburg. Overall, it was a convergence of leaders in the food service distribution industry that offered rich presentations and discussion on the challenges of accelerating profitable growth.

Throughout the course of the conference, I overwhelmingly heard two points of pain from these food service distributors:  a shortage of distributor sales reps (DSRs) and building an eCommerce platform that offers the right products at the right time.

Food Service Pain Point No. 1: The DSR Shortage

Industry-wide there seems to be a shortage of DSRs; it’s a common pain point across the larger B2B industry. Sales reps are quickly aging out of the talent pool – and taking decades of industry knowledge with them. By 2020, it is estimated that approximately 50 percent of the workforce will be made up of the millennial generation. Take a look at this whitepaper, which offers up some eye-opening global statistics about how the workforce is rapidly changing, delves into how this workforce transition will impact sales teams in particular, and explains how companies can take proactive steps to address these challenges.

Food Service Pain Point No. 2: eCommerce Platforms that Serve Up the Right Products at the Right Time

According to Grant Movold, IT manager at Marks Supply Inc., “Many distributors I speak with focus 95 percent or more of their eCommerce efforts on the site itself and give little thought to the product content. We think that’s wrong. In our estimation, content is equally important. That’s how we provide true value to our customers and fend off the big-box competition. In short: Better content drives more customers to your site, which translates into higher revenues and greater profits.”

This opinion certainly rang true with the distributors I spoke with at the IFDA Smart Conference. Proper digital loading of their product catalog so customers can find new products easily with different search criteria was a major hurdle to their eCommerce success. How does a customer know if their supplier offers something? For example, if a customer searches for Gluten-Free Lava Cake they won’t find it, but if they search Lava Cake they will get a result that has a gluten-free option. It’s a negative customer experience and not one that it’s simple to fix. Imagine this problem at scale in your business, with changing products, etc.

This eCommerce challenge got me thinking: what if your products could find your customers?

It’s a given that your customers want the consumer-like ease of shopping online with you, and there are solutions that can capitalize on the data you already have to make it happen. AI-driven solutions already exist in B2B that serve up upsell, recovery and complementary product recommendations. These can be seamlessly integrated into any eCommerce system, ensuring that the products customers want, need, and stopped buying from you are accurately served up each time they log on to your eCommerce system. Best of all, this same guidance can be delivered to your DSRs, ensuring consistency across channels that’s actionable and designed to accelerate profitable growth.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn and hear your opinion on these challenges.

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