So you have a customer website. Now what?

So you have a customer website. Now what?

Self-service portals are increasingly common in the building materials industry. Allowing customers to look up pricing and place their own orders improves efficiency, grows revenue and attracts new business. But there’s one problem with these portals: customers don’t always use them. If you’re struggling to bring customers online, or simply want to improve your numbers, here are three strategies that can help.

Get everyone on board
If employees don’t see the value in your portal, customers will pick up on their lack of enthusiasm. Build support among your team by emphasizing how it benefits them. Explain how it will make their jobs easier by reducing call volume and time-consuming tasks. Williams Distributing uses PartnerView, an eCommerce solution from DMSi Software. “It has helped our staff tremendously,” said Tim Hartley, vice president of technology. “They’ve been freed up to spend more time helping in areas beyond simply taking orders and answering questions.” When your team appreciates how the portal can help them, they will willingly promote it to customers.

Offering incentives can increase enthusiasm. When Wurth Wood Group launched their eCommerce site, they took extra steps to motivate their team. “We ran internal contests that rewarded the sales agents with the most web-buying customers,” said Theresa Liscinsky, IT manager at Wurth.

Improve visibility
If you want customers to use your portal, they need to know you have one. Advertise it like a product: have signs in your showroom and flyers at the front counter. Add a message about it to the bottom of sales docs and delivery tickets. Include a link to the site’s homepage in the signature block of company emails. It may take a few visits before customers are comfortable, so keep encouraging them. Wurth Wood Group continues to promote its portal well after the site’s launch. “To entice our customers, we have web promotions like discounts, free shipping and giveaways,” said Liscinsky. “Our biggest hit was a helmet autographed by Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Who knew we had so many racing fans!”

As with any advertising, you must emphasize the value proposition. Customers need to understand why the portal benefits them. (Hint: “You’ll call us less” is not a compelling benefit.) Theresa Cole, systems manager of Monsma Marketing Corporation, said, “We have had a great response to PartnerView by focusing on the many features it offers: access to search inventory, invoices, open orders and pricing. There are images available now, which is an added benefit.” Keep in mind your customers may have different priorities and may only be interested in some of the features you offer. Williams Distributing’s customers use their portal for a variety of reasons. “Some use it for checking item availability and pricing. Others enter their own orders,” said Hartley. “All customers really appreciate the fact that the system is available 24/7.” Find out which features your customers value most and promote them accordingly.

Make it familiar
People resist the unknown – it’s just human nature. Making your portal a familiar presence will go a long way towards improving adoption. Liscinsky describes it as “getting customers out of their comfort zone.” Create a setup where customers can watch employees check available inventory, get pricing, and place an order. Have your outside sales team sign on and look up account information during site visits. The intention isn’t training customers to use the portal as much as letting them see it in action. When customers do express interest, have plenty of training resources ready. Create step-by-step guides, cheat sheets, and how-to videos. Find out if your vendor has materials you can use.

It’s crucial your sales and support teams become comfortable with the portal. If they stumble through or can’t answer questions, it will discourage customers from trying it. Allow plenty of time for employee training. It may also help to appoint one person as the “specialist” who can help with more advanced issues. “We did dedicate one person to work with each customer, usually on site,” said Hartley. “Our trainer spent 30-60 minutes with each customer, showing them the basics and any additional features that might not have been immediately evident. It has been very successful for us. Within 18 months of rolling out PartnerView, we had 280 registered users representing 139 companies.”

If your customers are slow to use your online resources, don’t worry or second-guess yourself. Promoting your portal is an ongoing process. Continue to market your resources and customers will start to take advantage of them.

“It has helped our staff tremendously. They’ve been freed up to spend more time helping in areas beyond simply taking orders and answering questions.” -Tim Hartley, Vice President of Technology, Williams Distributing

This article originally appeared in the 2014 Special NAWLA Edition of Softwood Buyer.




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