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What Happened to the Middleman:
The Decline in Relationship Selling

As eCommerce customers don't have personal relationships with VARs, distributors or salespeople, customers do their own product research. Online vendors can only provide impersonal electronic suggestions. As a result, customers are less loyal. These changes have affected many businesses, including software and electronics companies and appliance stores and book stores. Here are some steps that your company can take to compensate for the missing human touch.

What Happens When the Channel Shrinks?

When the channel shrinks, customers often exchange convenience for pre-sale and post-sale service.

  • In offering electronics and appliances, Amazon is now challenging Sears, Best Buy, and local appliance stores. However, Amazon has replaced service departments with manufacturers' warranties and repair manuals that customers can order from Amazon!
  • Online mortgage companies help people get mortgages but are less likely than individual mortgage brokers to craft solutions that consider a customer's total financial situation.
  • eBay and craigslist are vehicles for selling everything from window air conditioners to vintage china, creating markets for items that were previously unsalable. But, service is minimal.

How to Respond to a Shrinking Channel

To compensate for the shrinking channel, provide more customer assistance before and after the sale.

  • Research which segments buy from your company, and provide targeted content for each segment.
  • Provide realistic product demos that differentiate your products.
  • Guide customers to make suitable product choices. Then, check if customers are satisfied. Apply insights gained to future customers.
  • Let prospects ask questions to real people. An FAQ section that answers a few generic questions seldom meets customers' needs.
  • Think long-term. A local appliance store builds loyalty telling customers how to fix simpler problems by themselves.
  • Design your web site so that customers can easily find the information they need.
  • Track what competitors offer, and learn from their successes.

Whether you follow an eCommerce or traditional model, differentiate your company from competitors by providing outstanding customer education and support at all stages of the purchase cycle. A customer-centric web site is another differentiator. Many of the above steps involve research and analysis. We can help you identify ways to respond to the challenges of a shrinking channel.

Copyright 4/12 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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