How Leveraging AI Can Transform Distribution Sales

Finding the right tools in 2021 and beyond is essential for distributors who want to efficiently transition their sales teams into a post-COVID environment.

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During the past two years, we have seen the world drastically change. COVID-19 forced businesses to shift their operations and transition primarily into digital spaces. Unfortunately, this change has been difficult for many distributors who, until recently, relied heavily on face-to-face interactions and traditional sales tactics.

According to the Distribution Strategy Group 2021 State of Sales in Distribution survey, less than half of businesses surveyed were satisfied with their organizations’ sales performance. The main complaint was “forced changes to sales processes in light of COVID-19.” Their sales teams were suddenly expected to perform their jobs digitally, and many of them did not have the preparation or training to do so.

Fortunately, these changes don’t have to impact your business negatively. Increasing your use of AI and other digital tools will not only help your team be more productive – it will also improve sales, cut costs and help you interact more effectively with your customers.

Finding the right tools in 2021 and beyond is essential for distributors who want to efficiently transition their sales teams into a post-COVID environment.

A recent McKinsey survey of 2,500 B2B companies stressed the need for businesses to “shake up their sales models” by adopting AI and other technologies into the workplace. Here are three ways distributors can improve operations:

  • Emphasize consultative sales strategies
  • Get to know customers at a granular level
  • Take advantage of leading digital tools, such as AI and CRM

What Are the Benefits of Consultative Sales?

Online algorithms and programs are constantly evolving. Every day consumers see digital ads that are tailored to their tastes and interests. The same applies to buyers in the distribution industry. Customers don’t want to waste their time – they want to get straight to the point and find a product that can solve the problem they have now.

The McKinsey survey found that 75 percent of top performers are solution sellers, meaning they consult with their clients to find the best product for their needs before making a recommendation. According to the survey, “Companies strongly or moderately effective at solution selling are 1.5 times more likely to be outperformers.”

AI technology is one of the best resources for distributors wanting their sales reps to improve their consultative strategies. Over time, the AI program will monitor clients and analyze how they interact with your company and competitors. Eventually, it will be able to predict your clients’ needs, offer accurate cross-selling recommendations and proactively remind your team about upcoming re-orders. Compared to competitors, the McKinsey survey states that “Outperformers are 62% more effective in using digital tools.”

AI can help your salespeople improve client relationships, make great recommendations and provide timely solutions.

AI Can Help Your Team Know Clients on a Granular Level

Your clients want to feel like they are important. This sentiment is true for everyone – even your least-profitable customers. Unfortunately, sales reps often get so caught up with large clients that they may overlook the needs of mid- and lower-level accounts. Over time, this can lead to long-term retention issues. To avoid losing clients entirely, your team needs to have the right tools at their disposal.

According to the McKinsey survey, top distributors have learned how to use digital tools to keep track of their clients and improve their understanding of each account. These insights include:

  • Lifetime profitability
  • Propensity to buy
  • Upsell opportunities
  • Company sentiment

Your team can then utilize this data to interact with clients more meaningfully, boosting sales and improving loyalty.

The survey states that “3 out of 4 outperformers apply tables stakes analytics such as sales planning, (vs. half of slow growers).” Additionally, “2 out of 3 outperformers apply analytics use cases to be more granular on deal and account level opportunities (vs. half of slow growers).”

AI can find all of this information for you – so your sales reps can focus on speaking to clients and closing deals, rather than digging through data.

What is the Best Way to Implement AI and Other Digital Tools?

Doing business online is a necessity in 2021. According to the McKinsey survey, “42 percent of outperformers generate more than half their revenue through digital channels.” Additionally, “68 percent of outperformers combine traditional and digital channels in the customer journey.”

Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles distributors face in transitioning to a more digital environment is implementation. Before COVID-19, in-person sales meetings were the norm for most distributors. Distributors were forced to find another way to engage with customers during the pandemic. Now that many teams have taken a hybrid approach to sales, some are struggling to adapt.

A good implementation begins by picking the right tool — one that saves sales reps’ time or helps them make more money — from the right company — one that is committed to making implementation as smooth as possible. When sales reps see “what’s in it for them” they will be more likely to use the tool.

To ensure this transition is a positive experience for your team, it is necessary to educate team members on the importance of digital tools and provide proper training and support. Start by introducing the tool to the management team. Then slowly roll out the technology to the sales and customer service reps. Identify the feature that will provide the most value to the sales team and introduce that first. Once the team experiences the value of using a feature firsthand, they will be more willing to try others. Incentives for using the tool also help to increase adoption rates. 

Additionally, it should be easy for sales reps to get ongoing help from the vendor’s support staff. Ensure sales reps can access resources, such as written documentation and videos, when they have questions. 

AI can drastically boost sales, improve ROI and help sales teams become more effective.

It is important to demonstrate to your sales team that AI can help make their jobs easier while improving sales and commissions. According to an article published by Forbes, “By harnessing the power of AI, a sales team can spend less time chasing down the wrong leads, boosting overall productivity and success.”

Benj CohenBenj CohenCOVID-19 has forever changed the way distributors operate. Although the changes weren’t planned, they can contribute to a positive transformation for sales teams. With the right tools, distributors can take advantage of this new digital environment to become more successful than ever.


Benj Cohen founded Proton to help distributors harness cutting-edge artificial intelligence. He learned about distribution firsthand at Benco Dental, a business started by his great grandfather. He’s on a mission to supply distributors with an innovative technology they need to thrive in modern markets. Contact Benj at benj@proton.ai or visit proton.ai

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