Office Products Resellers and How to Fix

As I conclude this seven-part series of articles, I'd like to remind you it started with my argument that the aftermarket Office Products Industry has failed both itself and the independent resellers. The industry has failed to transform itself for the digital age, and it has been unable to provide a leadership position for the resellers to accomplish the same for themselves. As a result, the aftermarket share of the $25 billion market for ink and toner in the United States has been static for a decade and, even worse, is now positioned for the double whammy combination of a share loss in a shrinking market.

The Series Index & Links to Access

As explained in our recent article, The Transfer of Commerce with B2B e-commerce set to grow 45% and eclipse $1.1 trillion by 2020, it's simply too big a deal to ignore.

Before I go any further, and because this topic is so crucial for the future of the aftermarket and, in particular, the office products reseller community, let's look at a definition of just what B2B e-commerce is. As provided by Wikipedia, with italics added for emphasis:

B2B e-commerce (also written as e-CommerceeCommerce or similar variants), short for business-to-business, electronic commerce, is selling products or services between businesses through the internet via an online sales portal. In general, it is used to improve efficiency for companies.

Suppose office product resellers fail to deploy the systems necessary for participating in this transfer of commerce. In that case, they will necessarily miss out on a share of the business they may otherwise have been eligible to compete for.

Simply deploying a shopping cart site is not enough to satisfy the requirements for B2B commerce. While it may theoretically permit an online sales transaction, it does nothing to improve the efficiency of a business considering a trade. So, even in the remote chance a reseller's shopping cart is organically [accidentally] located from out of the depths of the internet, a transaction will be unlikely to occur because the options available from the site fail the test for improving efficiency.

Any reseller can quickly and relatively easily deploy an office products shopping cart site. Numerous options are available to support this, and, as a result, over the last decade or so, hundreds of these essential "cart sites" have been deployed, and many subsequently retired.

As I've gone to some lengths to explain in this series and many other blogs, deploying a website and operating it to develop relevant traffic is not easy. A few examples of successful office products and e-commerce-enabled websites within the reseller community exist.

Option 1, the easy option, doesn't work and Option 2, the hard one, is mostly beyond the skillset and resources of the typical office products reseller.

There's considerable complexity in accomplishing a digital transformation, and clearly, few office product resellers are currently on the right path. Given the complexity, effort, and specific skill sets required, we aim to explore what tools and mechanisms could be deployed to help facilitate and incentivize resellers to start a concerted effort to go down the digital path.

First, we must identify the nature of the primary change that needs to occur for the subsequent sequence of changes (that make up a digital transformation) to take place.

As you may be unsurprised to learn, the first step in the solution involves money! Unfortunately, nothing else is likely to successfully motivate the required changes at the reseller level. This requirement for funds (of course) represents a problem, but it can be overcome as it doesn't necessarily need to be provided for from additional funds that the industry cannot afford.

Money that already comes into the reselling community via the Tier-1 manufacturers rebates needs to be repurposed and paid according to newly negotiated metrics based on digital key performance indicators.

Repurposing Existing Funds

Unfortunately, it's not sufficient to recalibrate the calculation of rebates from a volume-driven plan to an alternative digital strategy. Part of the bargain that needs to be driven (if the Tier-1 manufacturers understood the concept of eliminating volume-driven rebates in favor of a suite of digital metrics) must also include a demand by the manufacturers for their resellers to implement radically different compensation plans for their sales personnel.

New key performance indicators for the reseller's sales team must be established that align with a series of new digital metrics negotiated by the manufacturers for resellers to qualify for their rebates. Everyone here (manufacturer, distributor, reseller, and reseller sales teams) must be dancing to the same tune!

In this series, I've explained all the essential components necessary for a digital transformation elsewhere. Now, I'll present a framework for how a rebate plan could be structured to help incentivize resellers to transform their businesses into the digital world.

1,000 resellers tweeting 5 times each per day to a relevant Twitter audience of 2,000 each, can collectively be expected to generate 100,000,000 impressions per month!

The Twitter example above highlights the power of amplification and opens some eyes to the potential of an orchestrated marketing (i.e., OEM conversion) plan at this level of audience magnitude. Note this example applies to just one social media platform, so think about the additional audience amplification leveraging multiple platforms such as Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn alongside Twitter!

Performance metrics can quickly be established for each significant element necessary for a digital transformation. Certifying the performance's validity and accuracy for calculating rebates is a little more challenging but, technically, not that difficult to accomplish.

Just imagine how much improvement a small to a medium-sized reseller of office products (with, for example, four salespersons) may be capable of if each of the salespeople carried a quota structured along the lines of the one shown in the table below.

Audience Development Quota - Four-Man Sales Team
ChannelStartMth. QuotaAnnual Quota4-Man Team+ 12 Mths.
Twitter Followers150506002,4002,550
Google+ Followers1010120480490
LinkedIn Personal8008963841,184
LinkedIn Company10560240250
Facebook Followers75560240315
Facebook Likes25560240265
Email Contacts500253001,2001,700


Just imagine if 1,000 resellers were all aligned in their goals and launched similar strategies, and achieved similar results. This would result in a combined [relevant] audience of nearly 7 million!

Now, that's an audience of sufficient scale to make a difference so long as it's targeted with an orchestrated campaign with clearly defined objectives. One reseller is working its socks off in a local market, and generating industry momentum is impossible. Another matter is a thousand resellers working their socks off in their respective local markets, backed by a consistent and orchestrated marketing message to educate consumers on the aftermarket value proposition. It should suffice to say a lot more possibilities open up regarding increasing general awareness of the aftermarket value proposition when leveraging a combined audience of 7 million!

Once the sales team is aligned with a compensation plan for achieving audience development goals, the manufacturer (or payer of the rebates) must demand the reseller set other top-level corporate objectives such as web traffic, domain authority, and social shares. The manufacturer, now knowing the reseller's sales reps are aligned with the digital plan, can then restructure the old volume-based rebates far more heavily toward the digital components of the program.

These digital components may be combined to form the weighted part of a compensation plan that can still be structured to include elements of the traditional sales and profit plans. For example, maybe 70% of the compensation plan is structured toward digital goals, and the remaining 30% is tied to sales performance versus quota.

In this compensation plan structure, an intelligent salesperson will quickly be motivated to focus on developing their relevant social audience and start to understand how to use the power of social platforms' ability to research prospects and their key decision-makers well before any direct contact is made.

Take a fresh read of the blog I wrote a few months back on a fictitious office products reseller and its value proposition which explores a scenario for how these tactics may be made to work in a real selling environment.


Nothing's plain sailing, and there are always issues and problems to overcome with developing and deploying new ideas.

  • Unfortunately, the existing sources of cash [Tier-1 manufacturers] and the potential new sources [Chinese manufacturers] required for this concept are currently not likely to be dispensed by an entirely new set of digital metrics because, as we've seen, the cash dispersers themselves haven't mastered the digital world. How can they negotiate a new rebate plan with resellers based on something they clearly don't understand?
  • The aftermarket manufacturers, on the hook for paying the rebates, will incur short-term risk because there's an unavoidable time lag between audience development, engagement, and the subsequent conversion into new customers and revenue.
  • Changing reseller compensation plans will be resisted. Although the rebate payers have leverage, the proposal and implementation tactics must be carefully developed and presented. 

I don't believe these issues are impossible so long as good positive thought is applied to overcoming or mitigating them. We're at a pivotal point in the development of the office products industry, particularly for the future of independent resellers. For a sustainable future for the aftermarket segment of the office products industry, we've reached a tipping point where there's no alternative but for the industry's leadership to step up and assume its leadership role for its own sake and that of the resellers. 


It's complex, it's difficult, and it takes time. Unfortunately, none of these three characteristics are good omens for more minor, relatively unsophisticated resellers to deal with. One thousand independent resellers (or five thousand or five hundred, or two for that matter) should not be expected to solve each issue (necessary for a successful digital transformation) independently of each other.

While staying with the one-thousand-unit sample size, let's assume for a moment that there are twenty significant issues or roadblocks before a successful digital transformation. A "go-it-alone" approach by one-thousand resellers would require them to solve a collective total of twenty-thousand problems. Of course, that hasn't happened, and it will never happen unless something else changes to facilitate it.

A concerted top-down approach from the industry leader in providing a turnkey solution that solves each of the twenty issues currently blocking reseller's transformations, combined with a set of financial incentives designed to motivate the resellers to go down the digital transformation path, is the only realistic way the required change can be achieved.

These actions would form the foundations for change necessary for the beginnings of a digital revolution in the office products reseller community. In establishing these foundations, suddenly and quite simply, a viable path forward would be available!

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