Sales for the future will depend largely on how you as a rep, or your vendors as companies, are able to comply with the demands of the online retailer. Whether it’s an account that is strictly online, without brick and mortar stores (like Amazon.com) or if it is an older brick and mortar/mail order institution that has a healthy online presence (L.L.Bean or Wal-Mart), there are certain things that you have to be prepared to do in order to get their business.
Think of your own experiences in shopping at the local mall, strip center, downtown, or mass market discount store. How many times have you been looking for something specific like a battery for a slightly aged digital device only to be told by the sales clerk “You have to buy that online, either our own website or the manufacturer’s”?
This fact ought to drive the point home to you as a sales rep, and by extension, your vendors. More and more of what we buy is only available online. If it is difficult to put your stuff into a retailer’s online system, you are not going to make the sale. Add that all up, and you are going to go out of business.
Personal experience recently has me amazed that when I have asked for some of these things we’re about to share, some vendors claim, “None of our existing accounts ask for this kind of data”. The point is, if this kind of vendor wants to grow in the future, they had best prepare for doing business with new accounts because the odds of their existing contacts lasting long without any sort of web-savvy techniques is pretty grim. Many new accounts will be online retailers that are going to demand all or at least some of this kind of data. Accounts that want to move forward will surely be demanding this data as well.
So, here are eight things you should have ready to provide any sort of online retailer:
· UPC codes. This is gone over in detail in my book, The Independent Sales Rep. And it is still amazing there are whole industries out there that haven’t jumped on board (apparel is one of them). Each time you come up with a new sku, a new line of goods, whatever…assign UPC codes to them! Find me a brick and mortar store that does not have a UPC-scanning cash register, and I’ll show you a store that will likely close in a few years if not sooner.
Likewise, there are many online retailers that simply have to have this identifying code and while it may be possible for the account to assign one of their own codes to your product, it’s better if you show you’re playing ball by having your own already assigned. While it may not be a requirement for every web retailer, bigger accounts will want EDI capability too, and that’s heavily reliant on UPC codes. To learn more about EDI see my book…
You can go on about how sterile & commercial the UPC makes the product, but they probably said the same thing about price tags centuries ago. Get with the program. UPCs do far more than identify an item. They enable tracking of sales results without fudging data, can locate the item in a warehouse, tell you the pricing, and more. Prepare for QR codes too—those square looking barcodes that you scan with your smartphone. Think of the QR as a UPC code on steroids. The QR can include pictures, testimonials, all kinds of extra data on a product that used to go on a paper brochure—maybe. But now with the QR code, “brochuring” any product for the consumer is possible.
· Web-Friendly Images. An online retailer will want to show your product on his or her own website. Don’t expect them to order first, take a picture of the item in their showroom, and post it on their site. They want to be able to show the item in the best possible image, and if you or your vendor can’t do that, I have to wonder what kind of pride, if any, you have in your own product. Besides, don’t you want that kind of control over your product as much as possible?
Make individual images available on your site to be easily “copy>paste-able”. If you have a PDF catalog as the sole means of showing product images on your site and the best one can do is right click and “copy” a whole page…with that page containing images of 15 skus, it’s impossible for the online retailer to segregate that one sku they want. Besides, the online retailer may not be carrying some of the other images on that page.
If your vendor has an image FTP site or is able to pop a CDRom or thumbdrive with individual images in snail mail, that is a workable solution too. Keep in mind; many online retailers may want to post some of your product on their site first before they actually order it. They get the orders from their customers, then they will order from you. This leads to the next thing you need to be able to do:
· Fast(er) Turn Time. The web retailer is going to want to receive your goods and turn them around fast. True, with the best sellers from your company, he/she will likely keep some stock on hand…but those items that do not fall into the “80/20” rule (80% of sales come from the top 20% of skus) are going to be ordered and reshipped in rapid fashion.
If you and your vendor can’t get the product to the account within whatever your industry standard is, or better, this web retailer will not bother ordering from you. In my particular industries, average turn time used to be 2-3 weeks. It has now become 10 days to 2 weeks, or less! Guess which vendors I seem to be getting more orders from, especially when it comes to online retailers?
· E-invoices and Tracking Data. When that order ships, hopefully in the time window just described, the smart vendor is now providing all accounts, especially web retailers, an email invoice and tracking information so that the account will know the whereabouts of their goods.
This was something only large accounts demanded a few years ago (EDI does it automatically with ASNs-advanced shipping notices). The web retailer wants the comfort of knowing he/she will be able to satisfy their customers with your goods in a timely fashion.
Vendors that need to be reminded of this, by by being called and asked for the info, are fast falling out of favor. This is a process that should be automatic with all vendors. There are numerous systems a vendor can use for this purpose, but one line I sell uses simple text documents with the tracking on the invoice—a program that looks to have been created in house. Insist that your vendors comply with automatic e-invoices and tracking.
· A Web Description. Even though you’ve provided a really good photo image, it helps to have a good verbal description of the item for the web retailer to post. Things like weight and dimensions, texture, color, what materials the product is made of and so on, help the ultimate customer get a better idea of what it is they are about to buy, or not buy. When assigning UPC codes to a product, an official web descriptive text—one or two short sentences, is a really good idea. Think of it as the “30 second elevator pitch” for the item.
· Weight and dimensions. If not included in the web description, knowing these is still a good idea. Some web retailers need to know these and have separate columns on a product setup form just for this type of information. It also helps the web retailer determine how much shipping this item will cost them, so they can make a decision as to what costs will occur and how profitable the item will be for them should they pitch it on their site.
· Legal, Ethical and Safety Issues. Is the product you are trying to sell the web retailer made in a sweatshop in Samoa? You may have to provide country of origin in every step of your manufacturing process and those countries better have a good reputation. Can you provide a certificate of liability insurance for your vendor that removes any risk to the web retailer should anything go wrong whether some consumer files a lawsuit, frivolous or not?
It’s not a good idea to try to slip something over on your web customer, because if word gets out, he or she will be the one who takes the flak from advocacy groups, the press and eventually the public at large. Don’t make your customer look bad. Be prepared with this info.
· Can You Drop-Ship? What if the web retailer gets an order for your product and asks you to ship it to the consumer direct? Can/will your vendor comply? This has been a contentious issue with some of my own vendors in the past. They reason “Why should we be doing this when we have our own retail site, and now we’re basically supplying our competition?” Well, if that "competition" (ie, prospective web retailing customer) gets more hits than your site does or gets a few more hits yours doesn't, that’s reason enough to take up the drop shipping option. Increasing possibility of hits online is not a bad idea!
I would compare this drop-ship scenario more to a cross promotion in brick and mortar retail, where one retailer puts some goods on consignment with another retailer across town, who has a market Retailer A would like to crack but can’t because of his location or clientele type. Your vendor may not be used to selling B2C (business to consumer), but if they take up this challenge, and thoroughly research how much it will cost per item (smaller boxes, labor costs, paperwork, etc.) it could be a winning situation.
Most web retailers will have the vendors use the retailers shipping account (UPS, Fed Ex, whatever) and ask that the packing slip be not priced (so consumer is unaware of costs). Consumer often pays the web retailer before retailer pays the vendor for the goods since they may have Net payment terms with the vendor.
In conclusion, if you as a rep are prepared for these eight things and can find vendors who are willing and able to do all, or most of them, you will find more and more business in the future…simply because: more and more future business will be on the web.
NOTE: Because of recent feedback from some followers of this blog, I got motivated enough to add 10 pages to my book that concern agreement letters and contracts—some of the same material you see in the two prior blog posts. Many thanks. The new edition of The Independent Sales Rep containing this info should be ready by mid Feb ’12…and expect a Kindle version of the new edition shortly after that.