How Jan/san Distributors Can Groom Top-tier Customers

Times are changing for jan/san distributors. It’s no secret that distributors are encountering more and more customers who shop primarily on price. The rise of e-commerce and big box stores, as well as the influx of millennial workers, who are comfortable purchasing online, have all contributed to this trend.

“About 54 percent of the people we call on are millennials, so they’re going to be transaction-based customers,” says Greg Truitt, president of Sikes Paper Co., Atlanta.

And these so-called transactional customers, or “come-and-go customers,” often prove challenging for distributors looking to build long-term relationships with clients. Transactional customers can be flighty and more likely to jump ship the moment a competing distributor offers them a better deal.

“If you win your business on the lowest price, you’re going to lose your business on the lowest price, because the next guy’s going to beat you by a penny or a dime,” says Anthony Crisafulli, president of ATRA Janitorial Supply Co., Pompton Plains, New Jersey.

Investing time and resources in a come-and-go customer may seem like a waste of, well, time and resources. The problem, however, is distributors typically don’t know up front what type of customer they’re dealing with. In fact, some in the industry suggest that every customer starts out as a come-and-go customer.

“Some sales people and sales experts act as if the loyal customer comes to you fully formed,” says sales consultant Troy Harrison, owner of Troy Harrison and Associates, Mission, Kansas. “The thing is if we send distributors out looking for customers that are going to be long-term customers from the get-go, we’re sending them on a fool’s errand.”

To develop successful, long-term customer relationships, distributors need to look for opportunities to convert come-and-go customers to come-and-stay customers — a process that takes time, effort and a considerable amount of patience.
Jim Smith, executive vice president of HP Products, Indianapolis, says he has never known an account that started at the top of the sales chart.

“Certainly there are smaller customers that come and go,” he says, “but it’s the amount of discovery that is done up front and over time that determines the potential of the account.”

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Loyal Customers Are Made, Not Born