Google Android App Store

We’d just gotten the biggest opportunity in our career – the chance to deliver a distributor mobile sales app to 1000s of plumbing dealers across the US and Canada for the top manufacturer in the industry.

For our fledgling company this represented the largest single purchase of seats in our history.  A great distributor mobile sales app meant huge long-term value to us and our shareholders since 1000s of people would be benefitting from its use.  Failure to create the right tool and this might be our last chance to get such an opportunity again

There was, of course, a catch.  The manufacturer that was contracting with us to build and maintain their distributor mobile sales app expected a minimum of 50% adoption in year 1.

50% adoption?  CRM adoption in year one is often as low as 20% and, has been building sales tools for 19 years!

In the past, I probably would have panicked for three highly logical reasons:

  • First, the manufacturer had little or no direct access to the dealer reps and by extension had little influence over their motives to use a mobile sales app.
  • Second, the manufacturer had no idea what devices their distributor reps owned and lacked budget to buy potentially 1000s of devices to standardize the team.
  • Third, and most important, the manufacturer had no idea how their distributors’ reps used the collateral they produced when talking with architects and facilities managers in the field.

In short, we were tasked with generating a mobile sales app for end-users that we could not directly communicate with and whose bosses might even resent us trying.

These days I think 50% is a pretty low adoption rate.Distributor Mobile Sales App on iPhone and iPad

We’ve seen adoption as high as 85% in the first year and approaching 95% by year 2 in many instances and across a wide variety of verticals from plumbing to hockey sticks.

Our secret is a simple system developed over many mobile sales app deployments for manufacturers and their distribution channels.

So just follow our four steps and, you’ll get a heck of a lot closer to maximum adoption when you launch.

(Word of caution – This system is intended for the design and launch phase of creating a mobile sales app for distributors only.  Post-launch and subsequent years requires a completely different approach).

Step 1 – Ask your distributors directly about what mobile devices they currently use (phones, tablets, etc).

These days all your distributors are using smart mobile devices whether they are company supplied or, they bring their own.

Furthermore, they expect information about the products they sell to be always at their fingertips.

So the first critical step in engaging your distributor is to find out what device(s) and apps they currently use in the field.

For example, one of our customers recently found out that 4 of their 10 biggest distributors had already deployed iPads for close to 300 reps and were anxious to get apps from their suppliers.  Boom!

The bottom line is ASK THEM.  It’s an easy question – right?

Most companies have partner managers and regular communications with their distributors.  They’ll know the answer right away.

Step 2 – Run a two-phased pilot program with internal Account Managers and a few top distributors

Recently, one of our customers sent a mass email to their distributors asking for volunteers to pilot a mobile sales app for their engineers and tech support people.  The response was so overwhelming that they almost had to pull the rip chord and bail due to not understanding the potential ROI.

Yikes, that sucks.

Once you know the devices your top distributors are using (Step 1), a better approach is to run a short two phased pilot with your internal account managers followed by a second pilot with their best distributor partners.

Here’s why.

You will find immediate champions on your internal team as well as apathetic non-users during the internal pilot.

To achieve maximum adoption, you must prevent the apathetic ones from ever talking to their key accounts about your mobile sales app and remove them from the process of the pilot.

The power users on your internal team will suggest changes to both the content and user experience BEFORE they give the tool to their key distributor partners and be excited to co-create an app that  will drive revenue in their territory.

If you decide to go the other route with all internal reps piloting your distributor mobile sales app, the apathetic ones will hinder the process and will not have enough faith in the tool to promote it’s use to their key distributors.  In which case, your project is doomed to mediocrity.

Phase 1 – Pilot your distributor mobile sales app with internal Account Managers to weed out the losers and find champions.

Phase 2- Pilot your distributor mobile sales app with your internal champions key distributor accounts to gather more feedback and stories of successes.

Distributor Mobile Sales App Pilot

Step 3 – Update your distributor mobile sales app regularly

Simply put, if you arm your distributor sales team with the right collateral and product information, not only will they have happier prospect clients and more sales, but you can learn a lot about what collateral is working and what isn’t just by looking at the numbers.

What this means is that you can use real data to determine what collateral works best with all your distributors in different regions and “geos” in the field and you can control and adjust the content easily, recognizing trends with real time data and supplying only the best collateral.

So, your distributors will have the the latest and best possible sales materials available at their fingertips and you can streamline communications with this knowledge and save time and money, empowering their sales teams.

The worst thing a manufacturer can possibly do is never update their mobile sales app.  This is sure sign that you do not care enough about the tool and surprise, your distributors won’t either.

Step 4 – Nurture your distributor mobile sales app users regularly

It isn’t all roses.

Groups of distributors may respond very poorly to the pilot.

For example, on a pilot last year, we determined most of the distributor reps were using WiFi-only iPads and believed they could not use the mobile sales app at all in the field.

Result – really crap adoption.

To prevent randomness, manufacturers should treat their mobile app users like prospects.  They need nurture emails, training demos, and the occasional phone call to get on board and up to speed.

A good cadence might be;

Day 1 – Online training and launch

Day 2 – Email with video link to the training

Day 5 – Repeat online training for those that missed it

Day 10 – Online call with questions

Day 12 – Email with two features

Day 15 – Email with a success story

Regular nurture will produce outstanding results and push people to adopt a distributor mobile sales app that might have never even turned it on in the first place.

As opposed to launching the tool and hope it works strategy most manufacturers use, this simple methodology will almost guarantee success.

Download the Successful Distribution Channel Sales App Deployment Playbook.




About J. Rusty Bishop, PhD

I've spent the last 5 years helping great brands create amazing experiences for their sales teams during one on one sales interactions. Helping sales people do their job is my passion. When I'm not working, I am on the ocean fishing in San Diego, Ca.