Omnichannel selling and distributors’ role in the customer journey

How ABB supports distributors to automate buyer experience and deliver a winning go-to-market strategy

Customer expectations in the B2B space have changed and what they want from their buying journey has evolved towards a combination of automated digital services, and face-to-face opportunities.

This hybrid approach is called omnichannel selling and for our industry, it is where distributors really excel.

The change in customer expectations

The digital era has permanently altered human behavior, placing data and communications technology at the epicenter of everything we do. During the pandemic, these behaviors became part of our everyday life, at home, and at work.

Now, in the post-pandemic era, our reliance on digital shows no signs of slowing, with the latest research indicating that on a global scale, online sales are increasing year on year by around 12.2% across all sectors, and it is estimated that total online sales will reach $8.1 trillion by 2026, which is around 56% more than the total in 2021.1

Despite this sharp rise in online buying experiences, face-to-face selling, fields sales and in-person consulting, still play an integral role in the B2B customer journey, with personal support and consultation remaining of key importance, especially for more technical B2B sectors. For this reason, many businesses are now investing in a hybrid approach – or omnichannel sales strategies – as they are known.

In fact, post-pandemic analysis has revealed that those businesses that adopted an omnichannel approach during lockdown have weathered the economic recovery better than their single-channel competitors.

What is omnichannel selling?

Omnichannel selling is the blending of physical and online channels, so that retailers can engage customers in the channel of their choosing, or in many cases combine online and offline experiences according to each customer touchpoint.

For example, in industrial and manufacturing industries, 89% of users research online and 67% of purchases are influenced in some way by the digital buying experience, but most of those will have some form of telephone or face-to-face contact with a representative before completing their purchase.2

Interestingly, 90% of B2B buyers say they now “twist and turn” through the sales funnel, looping back and repeating at least one or more task in the buyer’s journey, and 58% of B2B buyers say their buying cycles are becoming longer2 – something that is best managed by human interaction and holistic collaboration that cannot be achieved digitally.

Meeting customer expectations both on and offline, and serving them how they want to be served, according to where they are in their buyer journey has become the winning go-to-market strategy, and this is precisely what omnichannel selling delivers.

Omnichannel selling for distributors in our industry

Distributors in our industry, through a digital evolution of their original sales model, have begun to epitomize the omnichannel approach to marketing and selling technical products.

They offer digitized research opportunities through websites and digital marketing, plus automated e-commerce functions for simpler purchases, all while maintaining that important level of human intimacy through field sales, or bricks and mortar facilities.

Imagine you are buying an enclosure and several electrical switches for an industrial facility. Because of online marketing you have seen that ABB switches are available from a distributor locally, you research them online using the distributor’s ecommerce website, but you hesitate to purchase them online because you need to be sure that the chosen solution is right for your specific application.

This is where you move from the online experience, back to traditional offline touchpoints, where you can call the distributor or arrange a virtual or face-to-face meeting to iron out your concerns and finalize the purchase.

Let’s evaluate this example. Could the customer have purchased the switches online? Yes. Would they have felt satisfied with their buying journey? Unlikely given the uncertainty surrounding the suitability of the product for their specific application.

The awareness marketing and research aspects of this buying journey were automated, but human input was required at the end to confirm the technicalities of the product. When the buying journey becomes human in this way, distributors can add real value to the sale. They can upsell the switches, enquire about the project in more detail, explore further products that may be useful and meet previously unmet requirements – these exchanges are far more successful person-to-person.

The results

Post-pandemic analysis has revealed that those businesses that adopted an omnichannel approach during lockdown have weathered the economic recovery better than their single-channel competitors.

It can generate a 9.5% increase in annual revenue for companies with a strong omnichannel engagement3, and in our own experience to date, distributors using ABB’s omnichannel tools have reported constant double-digit growth since adopting these strategies.

The role of distributors and manufacturers

Distribution is a team sport. Distributors are investing heavily in optimizing their online customer buying experience, and manufacturers that are willing to support this process will reap the rewards.

ABB is a passionate believer in the omnichannel approach and understands that for our sector, and many others, distributors hold the key to success. This is why ABB has created a range of tools to support our distributors in achieving their digital transformations.

Our Distributors Online Acceleration Program contains a range of tools, solutions and approaches that allow ABB to grow its online presence at the same time as supporting its distributors to grow theirs – this increased joint exposure is of course mutually beneficial when it comes to securing sales through our distribution channels.

Having a toolkit like this has enabled ABB to position itself as a trusted partner and preferred supplier for many distributors seeking omnichannel support.

More about ABB’s Distributors Online Acceleration Program

To create our Distributor’s Online Acceleration Program, we combined skills and expertise from across our global talent pool, including product management, marketing, pricing and more to package together a program of support that would generate a tangible return.

One of the most important solutions in the program is the optimized digital data for the products in our portfolio. This is arranged into batches according to which products our distributors sell, and which countries they sell to. This pre-assorted, fully optimized digital data and related content saves time and money for our distributors when they begin selling our products online. We have defined a process that identifies the most relevant product references for each distributor to make the product assortment and data quality readiness as efficient as possible.

Having this fully optimized data ready, makes the onboarding processes fast for new distributors who can begin selling, safe in the knowledge that their content is already working as well as it possibly can.

Next, we help the development of distributor web shops, shop-in-shops, or brand pages, so that distributors are fully supported in developing an online presence that works for their geographical region, their customer demographic, and their specific platforms.

We offer dedicated digital marketing plans and packages too, designed to drive customer traffic to distributor’s web shops, which creates online browsing opportunities, ecommerce purchases or leads for offline engagement. Again, this solution takes some of the onus off the distributor and shares the responsibility to promote that all important teamwork and a partnership approach.

Lastly, we offer access to the ABB eFinder – an inventory locator system designed specifically to easily support customers to find out where to buy ABB Electrification products from authorized distributors in their region. Tools like this allow distributors to act quickly when a customer requires something that he needs for his project.

To find out more visit ABB Distribution Channel.

1 10 Important Ecommerce Trends to Watch for in 2023 (

2 75+ B2B Marketing Statistics to Know in 2020


Categories and Tags
About the author

Luca Zanella

Luca Zanella is Global eCommerce Distribution Channel Lead for ABB, extensively working and collaborating with a global distributor network and countries. He joined ABB in 2008 and has held a variety of proposal engineering, project sales, marketing roles of increasing responsibility across a number of industries and countries. Most recently Luca was Business Development manager for ABB Italy leading projects on business transformation, innovation and digital strategy and before joining the Global ecommerce team for ABB Electrification, where he supports through his know how and entrepreneurship approach distributors digital sales transformation journey. Luca holds a bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering from Politecnico di Milano.
Comment on this article