Distributors still see power of face-to-face sales meetings
Buying of components via the websites of distributors such as Digi-Key, Farnell, Mouser and RS is now common practice.
Online purchasing of components is fast and efficient, but is it killing the possibility of face-to-face sales meetings which some suppliers believe still has an important place in the market.
“I think it will be a sad day for all if the human element is removed from the sales process,” says Nigel Watts, managing director of Ismosys.
“The development and maintenance of strong relationships are a critical element of strong and successful businesses. Build the relationship, establish the ground rules, design and deliver the solution and let the computer transact. The “build, establish, design elements” are better driven on a peer to peer basis using online facilities and resources as the delivery mechanisms,” says Watts.
Clearly the Internet has changed the way engineers search for components.
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“Customers can use manufacturers’ websites, dedicated blogs and datasheet websites to narrow down their search or find alternative products, ultimately arriving at the manufacturer part number they need,” says Jane Loveday, global head of search relevancy at RS Components.
“They can then use comparison sites or Google shopping to compare prices across a whole range of distributors before even arriving at a distributor’s website. This huge increase in the availability of information has resulted in a fundamental shift of power away from distributors and towards customers,” says Loveday.
Loveday sees the distributor’s role as helping customers navigate the choice of products available online and in providing confidence that they are getting reliable, quality products backed by a solid supply chain.
For Chris Shipway, country director of Avnet Memec UK, customers expect to find product information quickly on the internet, but they still like to speak to an applications engineer if they can.
“Sales and demand creation is still about sitting down in front of people,” says Shipway.
“On a website you can get an app note or data sheet, but sometimes that is not enough, you may need a more detailed discussion,” says Shipway.
“I find customers still appreciate the personal touch,” says Shipway.
Avnet Memec does not make sales via its own website, but it will direct potential online customers to Avnet Express transaction website.
“We don’t have access to that inventory, but we will direct customers to them,” says Shipway.
“But the needs of our customers, which are large and middle-tier OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), have not changed and they still want a personal service, such as onsite face-to-face technology workshops,” says Shipway.
But workshops and roadshows must offer the designer valuable face-to-face discussions about product or design issues which are not available online.
Undoubtedly, the major beneficiary of the online revolution has been the so-called “high service distributor”, which focuses on stocking an array of products, ex-stock and without the encumbrance of minimum order quantities, reel or tube sizes.
But high service distributors also recognise there can be benefits from having personal business relationships with customers and this may not always be achieved online.
Online distributor Digi-key has been adding local sales staff in UK and in other parts of Europe to support a new area of business. This was the supply of components to manufacturers for small order production.