Hill & Markes, a family-owned wholesale distributor of food-service, office, janitorial and industrial packaging supplies, worked with its customer service reps and a new website to persuade many of its customers to purchase through self-service e-commerce.

Hill & Markes Inc., a family-owned distributor of food-service, office and industrial products in business for more than a century, is heading toward new commerce horizons with a new e-commerce site and mobile app.

But not every customer is ready to place more orders online, either through mobile devices or desktops, B2B e-commerce and digital marketing manager Mike Powers says. Hill & Markes is developing programs to onboard them into the digital world.

Hill & Markes is moving along with other e-commerce-based efforts to save up to 25% of customer service as well as other operating costs.

The distributor, with under $100 million in annual sales, receives about 20% of its customer orders via self-serve e-commerce, 32% via field sales reps and 48% through customer service agents. But it’s taking a multi-pronged approach to shifting more customers and orders online.

One of its first efforts focused on its customer service team, the source of nearly half of customer orders, says Powers, who spoke about the program during a presentation at the B2B Next conference in September in Chicago.

For several weeks in the fall of 2017, it ran an incentive program—called SPIFF, or sales performance incentive funding formula—that rewarded customer service agents when they persuaded a customer to place an order through HillnMarkes.com instead of through the agent.


Sparking online orders, cutting costs

Michael Powers-Hill Markes

Mike Powers, manager of e-commerce, Hill & Markes

The incentive rewards replaced the typical compensation agents received for manually entering orders received from customers. For the first order a customer placed online, an agent received $10; for each of three subsequent orders by the same customer, the agent received $5.

By extending the program to four consecutive orders per customer, Hill & Markes figured on a frequency that would get customers well-accustomed to ordering online. “We felt confident that the customer would be comfortable with placing orders online after their second order placed,” Powers says.

The incentive program worked well, he notes. About a fourth of the customers that participated in the SPIFF program converted to online ordering, bringing tens of thousands of orders online since the program started and putting Hill & Markes on a pace to save about 2,000 hours per year of customer service time, he says.


Now, the company is moving along with other e-commerce-based efforts to save up to 25% of customer service as well as other operating costs, and increasing both the number of customer leads and the volume of revenue, Powers says. These include developing a mobile app to complement the e-commerce site it launched early last year on the CIMM2 technology platform from Unilog Content Solutions, which includes a built-in product information management system to maintain consistent product descriptions across marketing and sales channels.

Hill & Markes is also providing its customers with “punchout” connections to its e-commerce site from their procurement software applications, providing them with purchasing features on HillnMarkes.com while also letting them control spending according to the parameters set in their procurement systems.

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