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Click and Buy: Ecommerce Revolution Gaining Traction Among Dealer Community


Article: enx Magazine - June 28, 2023

If there’s one thing the office technology dealer community is good at, according to Robert Woodhull, it’s the ability to tell a compelling story in convincing clients that a certain technology is vital to their success. On the other hand, the vice president of business development for Springboro, Ohio-based Woodhull LLC, also believes the same dealers are absolutely terrible at heeding the advice they dish out.

Frankly, he adds, “We’re also very scared of our own shadow sometimes.”

The subject at hand is ecommerce. When it comes to dealers embracing an online ordering system that can walk customers and prospects through a cradle-to-grave buying journey—often without the need for a sales representative, telemarketer or any other “live” person to guide the process—it’s the dealer community that ironically raises objections.

During the past 20 years, we’ve witnessed how Amazon has set the standard for B2C and B2B acquisitions through your phone, tablet, laptop/desktop or any other device with a web browser. Advances in technology and platform enhancements continue to simplify the online buying experience. And there are scores of ecommerce platforms that are both general and industry-specific, the latter including MPSToolbox and, more recently, Keypoint Intelligence’s UVERCE (see story on page 28).

Our July State of the Industry focus takes a look at the burgeoning movement among office technology dealers to implement ecommerce solutions, fueled in part by the UVERCE platform. With numerous dealers recently going live with their platform, perhaps this story would be best told a year from now. At that point, many ecommerce advocates will have a larger sample size to provide more in-depth feedback as to their journey and experiences. While this subject has a significant “to be continued” component, it’s not too early to begin addressing some of the main objections that have been bandied about by skeptical dealers. Here’s a sampling:

Objection Overruled

I don’t want to put pricing out there. Well, it’s already out there, for the most part. Google any low-end copier or printer, and you’ll find reams of pricing examples. Plus, it wasn’t long ago that automotive dealers had the same apprehension. Today, you can go online, use a manufacturer’s configurator tool, “build” your own car, take it to a local dealer, get a “best and final price” and drive away with your new auto. As office tech dealers test the waters, they can include as much or as little content online as they prefer, including a configurator and pricing. But omitting pricing leaves you susceptible to the dealer across town who does include it.

Robert Woodhull,
Woodhull LLC
I don’t want to undermine my salespeople. While the ability to put larger units, service contracts and managed services in an ecommerce platform is fast becoming a reality, a lion’s share of the goods offered online are more commoditized. Do you really want your reps chasing down $800 copier sales? Some dealers don’t want their reps burning up valuable time on sub-$3,000 deals. Whatever the threshold, an ecommerce platform can answer a ton of preliminary questions while providing analytics and leads that enable reps to latch onto clients and prospects that are far along in their buying journey.

We’ve been successful at belly-to-belly meetings for 30 years. Why change now? Good point. But your ecommerce solution can be what you want it to be—it need not be the full end-to-end buying experience. For larger deals or ones that involve managed services, you can introduce a rep into the process. Or let the platform handle virtually all the time-consuming preliminary work. The flexibility of an ecommerce platform is already considerable and will continue to flourish with enhancements.

If a purchaser or prospect is already 80% into the buying process and is ready to engage with me, I’d be foolish to start the process over again.

– Robert Woodhull, Woodhull LLC
Finally, there’s this. Millennials and particularly Gen Z—which is now in its mid-20s—have grown up with online ordering. There’s a portion of the buying public, B2C and B2B, that simply doesn’t want to deal with a live person. They want to do all the research and buying online, and when it involves relatively smaller business purchases, they don’t need four quotes or have the time/desire to do extensive product vetting. Turn your back on this segment at your own risk.

Rules of Engagement

Which brings us back to Robert Woodhull. His journey began as a quest for a digital proposal playbook to aid in drumming up more value-based conversations with clients and prospects. It evolved into quoting and configuring tools, which led him to Keypoint Intelligence’s UVERCE. In the post-pandemic era, he noted the evolution of the buyer and their engagement proclivities and sought to make his dealership more diverse in how people can engage and buy from his dealership.

“There’s always going to be someone who’s looking for that value play, turning to us as the professionals, the authorities in the space, and we can always have that conversation,” Woodhull said. “Then there’s the handful of people who don’t want anything to do with anybody. They simply want to do a Google search and make quick decisions that affect their day to day, and they aren’t too concerned about spend. The question became, are we doing a good job at providing those different paths and avenues for prospects and customers to purchase from us?”

Woodhull sees ecommerce as an inevitability, and he sought to be an early adopter who could work out the bugs in the process and grow as the platform evolves and improves. The system cost and time outlay is weighed against what it costs to onboard (and sometimes lose) a new sales rep, and the ecommerce platform succeeds in helping the dealer accomplish more with fewer resources. While the dealer’s system was only live for two months (with a phased rollout planned), Woodhull already sees the benefits of ecommerce as a deal facilitator.

“If a purchaser or prospect is already 80% into the buying process and is ready to engage with me, I’d be foolish to start the process over again,” he noted. “We can pick up the conversation where they want to start. We’ll make sure that we’re doing our due diligence to cover details and that we’re still providing that ‘Woodhull Way’ experience.”

One of the most important aspects to Woodhull was the user experience provided by the system. It needed to walk hand in hand with the standards the dealer had long established for client engagement. He credits Keypoint Intelligence for collaborating with dealer clients to help identify areas where the platform can be tweaked to bolster the user experience.

Driving Force

It wasn’t long ago that Tim Renegar strolled into a BMW dealership, toting a build sheet that he’d configured online, and asked for a price and how long it would take for the dealer to order the new wheels. The president of Kelly Office Solutions in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is neither a millennial or Gen Z—that distinction belongs to his sons, Brice and Blake.

Tim Renegar,
Kelly Office Solutions
Desiring the ability to configure a product to one’s particular tastes isn’t relegated to the younger set. And the elder Renegar, who began his quest to add UVERCE 10 months ago, wants to have an online buying system that boasts the same level of sophistication as the buying experience that landed him the new bimmer.

It was Brice who broached the idea of implementing an ecommerce solution that would enable clients to reorder items from Kelly’s pure water technology division (which includes ice, air and coffee). As they dug deeper, the idea gained more traction, and Tim Renegar relished the opportunity to be among the early adopters in the office tech space. Plus, he doesn’t envision widespread adoption by a large segment of the dealer community, certainly not in the foreseeable future.

The ultimate goal is, I don’t care what product it is as long as we can furnish the information to help build this product out completely, price it and put a lease on it.

– Tim Renegar, Kelly Office Solutions
“I think this makes us more of a transparent company, which will help people view us differently from our competitors,” Renegar said. “The ultimate goal is, I don’t care what product it is as long as we can furnish the information to help build this product out completely, price it and put a lease on it. If the buyer has a lease file with us, we’ll get the representative involved at that point. The only thing we’ll ask for is a ZIP code, so we can make sure we’re able to service what we sell. If we can’t, we’ll refer [the buyer] to another site.”

The system itself asks all the questions a rep would in order to guide the buyer through the process. It’s not just for commoditized items, either; managed network services and other advanced offerings are either available already or in development. Kelly’s solution currently pales in comparison to where it’s headed, with the end goal of clients having one big contract that entails recurring revenue. Pricing, needless to say, is a must for Kelly.

Claudia Coleman,
Kelly Office Solutions
“If we don’t put pricing out there, people will think we’re hiding something,” he said. “We’ll always say, for your best and final offer, you may contact a sales rep and they’ll be in touch with you shortly. Eventually, we’ll include an AI-type chat function.”

If the buyer chooses to have a rep involved, that will be the equivalent of business falling into their lap, according to Renegar. If a current client is using the system, it’s an indicator that the territory rep needs to keep closer tabs on their accounts. In the future, major accounts will have their own portals that enable end-users to configure and have access to special price lists. Commission structures are different; then again, the reps are having business handed to them, with most of the leg work already done.

[Ecommerce] makes their job a little easier and faster when they
already know what the customer is looking for and have already answered the five questions.

– Claudia Coleman, Kelly Office Solutions
“It makes their job a little easier and faster when they already know what the customer is looking for and have already answered the five questions,” notes Claudia Coleman, director of marketing. “The reps don’t need to travel to meet the buyer. It just makes things go a lot faster for them, and the flow is easier.”

Different Roadmaps

Not all dealers share a vision for what an ecommerce site could or should be, but those who’ve gone down the road of making it a reality agree on one thing: it’s a necessary tool to ensure a dealership maintains a competitive edge, and those who ignore the opportunity do so at their own peril.

Chip Miceli,
Pulse Technology
Take Chip Miceli, for example. The president and CEO of Pulse Technology in Schaumburg, Illinois, doesn’t feel ecommerce is a good source for lead generation; he believes that honor belongs to the website itself. Nor does Miceli seek to include large copiers and MFPs on the platform, as he doesn’t see ecommerce as the appropriate vehicle for aligning clients with these units.

Before you admonish Pulse Technology for any missed opportunities, consider this: the dealer offers more than 22,000 products online through its shop, among them office supplies, paper, cleaning supplies, break room supplies, laptops, computers and small printers, among other office-centric needs. The ecommerce portal has reached $5 million in annual sales, making it a significant contributor to Pulse Technology’s overall revenue.

“Our ecommerce platform has proven very successful for us in the sale of commodities,” Miceli noted. “We’re strategic in what we add to the platform. Our ecommerce program is structured so we can easily add or remove products based on their performance and our customers’ needs.”

Flexibility within the SSI interface allows Pulse Technology to easily update pricing and model number configurations
What’s most fascinating is Pulse Technology entered the ecommerce game in 2016 as part of its acquisition of McShane’s, which offered online shopping capabilities. While Miceli ultimately didn’t keep that platform in place, it provided his company with a solid frame of reference. He turned to SSI’s offering, which ties into S.P. Richards, the supplies arm for the products Pulse sells online.

We’re strategic in what we add to the platform. Our ecommerce program is structured so we can easily add or remove products based on their performance and our customers’ needs.

– Chip Miceli, Pulse Technology
The ramping-up experience was reasonably flaw-free, according to Miceli. “The biggest issue we faced was tying it into our enterprise resource planning software,” he said. “Overall, we’re pleased with how ecommerce has helped with the growing of our business.”

One of the keys to success in Miceli’s estimation is the platform itself needs to have flexibility in order to perform well. The ability to easily change pricing is critical; the SSI interface enables Pulse to access pricing and model number configurations. Absent that convenience, managing the program will become time-consuming and the platform won’t deliver the desired results.

Early Adopter

As in the case of other dealers, Advanced Imaging Solutions (AIS) of Las Vegas tapped into its market development funds (a.k.a. co-op funds) to help with the implementation of an ecommerce site driven by MPSToolbox. According to Keven Ellison, vice president of marketing, AIS vetted the solution a manufacturer was using in the United Kingdom for enterprise sales as a back-end system, but the dealer sought the ability to have a cross-section of the OEM lines it carries. Its site has been live for about three years.

Keven Ellison,
Ellison had the support of CEO Gary Harouff to move forward. AIS was quick to overcome the fear of price-sharing, buffered by the knowledge that one of its manufacturers is standardizing ecommerce pricing across the board for all dealers. The dealer developed its pricing strategy and decided to offer free shipping, a staple in online offerings. After securing MDF funds and green-lighting the project, it took approximately 60 days for AIS to have a live ecommerce site.

Ellison also provided an online configuration tool that highlighted the ease of customizing, choosing and ordering a product. Product availability has been a temporary issue; during the global shortage, A4s were cannibalized for their chips in favor of A3s, although he expects it to be fully remedied by mid-summer. It’s interesting to note that if one manufacturer lists pricing and another doesn’t for a certain level device, that tends to favor the former. The entire shopping process is easy and seamless, guided by the configurator.

The cart function is powered by Shopify, making AIS’ solution a multi-vendor provider, which allows for credit card purchases or other Shopify-compatible merchant processors. For larger MFP purchases, shoppers are guided to a landing page that asks for contact information, with a pledge that users won’t be spammed.

We have created a learning center built into our website so you can get unbiased educational information to make an informed buying decision.

– Keven Ellison, AIS
“It’s a lead-gen mechanism for our staff,” Ellison notes. “On the lower end, there’s no need to have a sales rep in the buying process, especially since there’s not a lot of profit in these products. It’s easier for a buyer to make their own decisions like they would on an online retailer’s website.”

AIS turned to MPSToolbox for its ecommerce solution, driven by a Shopify back end
AIS isn’t limiting its options for the future. Whether it’s the Unlimited Plan it piloted in conjunction with Kyocera that speaks to the subscription-based economy or self-selection/self-service tools for IT services and other products, the key is providing shoppers with educational information that helps them make decisions while replicating the dealer’s level of customer service and engagement. While managed services are too nuanced for configurator-based assessing and are best left to a consultative conversation with reps, Ellison and Co. are letting clients drive the future.

“We have created a learning center built into our website so you can get unbiased educational information to make an informed buying decision,” he said. “We’re finding that based on the service business, the consumers and decision makers are actually looking at or driving subscription-based buying.”

Changing with Times

Sam Stone gets it. His company, Stone’s Office Equipment of Richmond, Virginia, is 53 years old, and he understands that the method of doing business isn’t as important as providing clients with options for the way they interact with the dealership. Some clients like hearing a live voice on the other end of the phone, while others prefer the automated system. And he appreciates that some clients value the face-to-face engagement for buying while others want the ease and convenience ecommerce offers. The personal touch that made Stone’s the success it is today isn’t going away anytime soon.

Sam Stone,
Stone’s Office Equipment
It was around 2019 when Stone began to give deep consideration to implementing an ecommerce solution, but the pandemic relegated the project to the back burner. He opted for the UVERCE platform, and again Keypoint needed only 60 days to get the dealer up and running; in this case, this past January (a major update by Stone’s was slated for after Memorial Day). Stone’s is taking a more measured approach; it doesn’t have pricing for all products (instead using a starting internet price), and he isn’t ready to have customers check out and pay online. However, full functionality is the end game.

“We wanted to crawl before we entered the marathon,” Stone noted. “Some of my younger people pointed out that we’re going to be held against Amazon’s standards, and if we’re not ready for that, or if the experience isn’t seamless, it’s probably the only shot we’re going to get with a given customer. Amazon has set the bar, and I wanted to be comfortable with it.”

It’s a great outlet to start listing products such as a $1,900 scanner, a $1,200 laptop or a $2,000 interactive whiteboard or color printer. We can also set up customer portals so that some of them will have logins with pricing shown.

– Sam Stone, Stone’s Office Equipment
Stone’s site contains the MFP/copier offerings from two of its manufacturers with starting-at prices (other items such as scanners, laptops, water, displays and interactive whiteboards have “request quote” radio buttons). Newer products and refurbished models (along with using the configurator to build out tailored solutions) and maintenance agreements are helping, now and in the future, to bolster the site’s value proposition. It’s just another tool to complement Stone’s salesforce.

“I don’t want to replace my sales team, but I don’t want them chasing items under $3,000, either,” he noted. “It’s a great outlet to start listing products such as a $1,900 scanner, a $1,200 laptop or a $2,000 interactive whiteboard or color printer. We can also set up customer portals so that some of them will have logins with pricing shown. Our goal was, let’s take some of the low-hanging fruit so reps are focusing on larger-ticket items. The smaller items we used telemarketers to sell will be on the site. Our telemarketers can even send customers links to the pages for items they’re seeking.”

Stone’s Office Equipment employs the UVERCE solution from Keypoint Intelligence
The configurator tool is a valuable asset for Stone’s sales reps who use it while crafting proposals in person or by phone. They walk clients through all the options to show them the differences among OEM lines, configure the buildout and provide a quote—all in less than 10 minutes, which would be a fraction of the travel time required to visit the client.

“Not every customer is going to be on board with doing deals through ecommerce,” Stone said. “Some will still call the rep or email them, because that’s about as tech savvy as they want to be. And the ones who are tech savvy don’t want to talk to people—they want to go through the process online anytime day or night and be done with it. But we can cater to all. I’m excited to see where this will take us.”