The Need to Go Digital

Categories: Distribution, Innovations, Trends & Technology, Sales & Marketing

By Bridget Scanlon | June 28, 2018 << Back to Articles The Need to Go Digital

Buyer expectations for digital self-service are propelling the janitorial and sanitation (jansan) resale and distribution industry towards digital transformation.

Much like they do in their personal lives, today’s jansan buyers want to conduct research and interact with suppliers via mobile-based applications and e-commerce sites. This is especially true among the industry’s millennial buyers—a group that is moving into positions of influence as more baby boomers retire.

Amazon continues to play a large role in driving these changing expectations, and many jansan distributors agree. Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) of jansan distributors surveyed in a recent Essendant study believe Amazon has increased customer expectations for fast and free shipping, and 35 percent believe the retail giant influences expectations for lower prices.

Simply put, the industry is primed for digital innovation. As buyers demand seamless digital buying experiences, resellers and distributors who prioritize e-commerce and digital marketing will gain market share in the years ahead. The same is true for other segments of the industry as well. Consider Amazon again, which, finding the model of hiring building service contractors was not working out recently announced the hiring of its own staff to provide “on call” contract cleaning services for its customers. Part of the issue was a lack of digital sophistication within the building service contracting channel that made Amazon’s reputation for fast delivery difficult.

Despite a clear need for digital transformation within the industry, many industry suppliers remain sadly committed to the status quo, relying mostly on phone or in-person sales with little digital in the mix. Some believe their customers do not need or want digital while others aren’t sure where to start. Here’s a closer look.

E-Commerce in the Jansan Industry

The jansan industry has been slow to adopt e-commerce, presenting suppliers with a clear opportunity to gain a leg up by meeting customer expectations for digital buying options. But many of the slow adopters are still hesitant to take the leap.

According to the recent Essendant study, barely more than half (53 percent) of jansan distributors report having an e-commerce presence. Yet those who have invested in e-commerce believe they have fared well; 85 percent of resellers with an e-commerce presence rank their sites as “excellent” or “good.”

Meanwhile, among distributors who don’t offer e-commerce, less than half (43 percent) plan to invest in the next three years. That leaves a significant portion of the jansan resale community completely left out of the digital realm, especially when one considers not all of this 43 percent will follow through on their good intentions. Undoubtedly, a poll of jansan contractors  would show similar, if not far higher, percentages of digitally unengaged vendors.

Many of the industry’s most vocal digital naysayers point to the nature of the industry as a reason to stick with traditional in-person sales tactics. Most argue that jansan relationships are most easily made and nurtured in person, and buyers typically want to consult sales representatives before making large purchases for their businesses.

While these points are valid, it’s important to keep in mind that digital should serve as a supplemental channel to face-to-face sales strategies, not a full replacement. Salespeople can use digital channels to streamline time-consuming tasks like explaining product features and facilitating transactions, and spend more time doing what they do best—maintaining personal relationships with customers.

Digital Marketing Crucial to E-Commerce

If you’re a jansan suppler looking to gain market share, e-commerce should be a priority. However, an e-commerce site is only as good as the digital marketing initiatives used to support it. To boost e-commerce site traffic and maximize sales opportunities, the right marketing mix is vital.

For 37 percent of jansan distributors in the study, the use of marketing to improve brand awareness is their second highest priority. While it ranked high in relation to other priorities, such as being acquired or selling on marketplaces, this percentage should be higher. Especially since for many if not most buyers today, especially millennials, the internet is the first stop for research when looking to make a purchase.

Of the jansan distributors who said they have invested in digital marketing, most focus on social media (54 percent) and email marketing (37 percent). Other digital tactics, like original content and search, rank low on respondents’ list, which reflects the industry’s hesitancy to dive into fully-integrated digital methods to drive leads.

Social media and email certainly play an important role in an effective demand generation program, but without a comprehensive digital marketing strategy, you’re missing an opportunity to maximize site leads and conversions.

Digital Tactics

It’s clear that jansan industry leaders have much to gain from strengthening their digital initiatives. However, digital investment doesn’t simply mean setting up an e-commerce storefront and forgetting about it. You need to invest in the tactics and strategies necessary to streamline the entire process—from lead generation to conversion.

For those new to digital, this may seem like a daunting ask. Starting from scratch is difficult, and it will take some time to strategize and implement an effective program. What’s more, generating a digital mindset internally can also be tricky. Your sales and marketing teams are likely stuck in the status quo, and will probably exert some resistance to change.

Thankfully, there are actions you can take now to sidestep some of these hurdles down the road. To gain a digital advantage in 2018 and beyond, consider prioritizing the following strategies.

  • Hire a digital marketing coordinator. To get the most out of your digital marketing investment, the first thing you should do is hire a digital marketing coordinator who can set KPIs in terms of growth and retention and align them to Salesforce. Without an experienced marketing professional dedicated to pushing the program forward, it won’t be prioritized. This is especially true within organizations that have historically resisted digital change.
  • Work with a partner that can optimize your supply chain. Not having the capabilities to store and fulfill products doesn’t mean you can’t offer e-commerce. Many organizations are available to manage these processes for you. Before you start discussing digital, initiate conversations with third-party partners that have the infrastructure to handle the entire delivery process and meet your customers’ expectations for fast shipping.
  • Boost product discoverability. As more customers take product research into their own hands, your salespeople won’t be present to elaborate on the details of product offerings during this phase of the buyer journey. To capture prospects in that early research phase, and increase their confidence in your business, your site must be intuitive enough for them to easily find what they’re looking for on their own.
  • Develop an integrated marketing campaign. Given the important role relationship building plays in the jansan industry, successful campaigns will always require a traditional marketing component. The key is integrating the right mix of the following touchpoints: your website, sales team, email marketing, catalogs/flyers, and social media. Test combinations of these tactics over time to determine how to best reach your customers with the right message at the right time.
  • Increase the effectiveness of your face-to-face meetings. Most industry leaders will agree that print remains an important marketing component within the industry. It enables sales representatives to showcase product offerings and pricing during face-to-face meetings. But given the growth of digital in the industry and the influx of self-service research options, your print pieces will lose effectiveness if they’re not integrated and consistent with digital campaigns and offerings.

Digital transformation is taking B2B commerce by storm, and the jansan industry is no exception. B2B buyers today expect to research products, interact with sellers, and even make purchases online, just as they do in their personal lives.

The jansan industry has been slow to adopt e-commerce and digital marketing. In many ways, the industry is stuck in the past, relying on traditional sales methods from decades ago. But times are changing, and jansan suppliers need to make the right investments in the right digital channels to gain a competitive edge. That means not only investments in e-commerce, but also a focus on digital marketing tactics like email, search, and social media. And as e-commerce pure-players such as Amazon enter the B2B supply space, there’s no time to waste.

For more information or a copy of the Essendant report, visit:

About the Author.

Bridget Scanlon is senior manager, marketing research and UX at Essendant. She can be reach through the website