Crutchfield Demonstrates How Engagement Provides Critical Edge in B2B Market
Crutchfield Manager of Corporate Sales and Business Development Will Crutchfield describes how a 44-year-old privately held online car audio and home electronics retailer uses classic engagement strategies to thrive in a market decimated by large online and big-box retailers.
Ask Will Crutchfield how a family-owned online retailer of home electronics and car audio competes in the era of Amazon.com, and his answer is simple: A singular focus on all stakeholders that he argues translates into a level of customer service and employee support unmatched in the highly competitive electronics market.
What does this level of service mean in terms of actual practice? “It means that when someone comes to our website to buy, or they call us to learn more, or they need help with a purchase or a problem, they will quickly get to a highly informed advisor and consistently receive a level of knowledge and caring that they certainly cannot get at Amazon, and probably not at most other retailers. We’re happy to talk with people before and after the sale. The information they receive on the website or from our people will almost always be correct, because we verify the information of every item we stock before we put it on our website, including measurements and weight. The advisors our customers talk to have 400 hours of paid training before they handle their first call, and we provide ongoing training to keep them up to date with continual changes in products and the market. And because we’re an authorized reseller for every product we carry, our clients know the authenticity of what their valued people are receiving and that our products are backed all the way to the manufacturer.”
Pre- and Post-Sale Experience Provides Competitive Edge
This level of customer support, Crutchfield believes, helps explain why so many corporations and incentive and gift resellers come to Crutchfield for some of the most price-sensitive products in the field. “When they realize that we have the buying power to provide highly competitive prices, and then that their winners are going to have such a gratifying experience, our advantage becomes clear,” he says. As more companies respect the importance of the customer experience for their winners or loyal customers, “the more our ability to provide customer support stands out,” Crutchfield continues. “Even basic electronics today still have complexities that can frustrate people on set-up. It’s reassuring to people that if they have a question they can quickly get to a U.S-based technical support person who’s able to clearly trouble-shoot and provide solutions.”
That the company is dog-friendly—it’s possible you might hear a dog barking in the background when talking with someone at the firm’s Charlottesville, VA headquarters—is just one sign of what Crutchfield calls a strategic and tactical plan to succeed through a dedication to all stakeholders. “Culture is arguably our most important intangible asset, and people are our most tangible assets. The two are inter-connected; you can’t have one without the other.” How else, he asks, could Crutchfield thrive in an industry decimated by the buying power of Amazon, Walmart and a few others? “Our competitive edge boils down to our ability to create a complete experience for our customers and employees that is hard to find anywhere else.”
The company’s core beliefs, he asserts, explain its competitive edge. Crutchfield feels confident that, if asked, most employees would be able to explain the company’s core beliefs: “Exceed expectations. We respect all co-workers like family. We respect our business partners. We maintain a passion for excellence. And we promote a culture of innovation. We think about how to have a competitive advantage today and down the road.”
Having Both a Foundation and System Are Keys to Success
Does the company have a system for implementing these beliefs? “This is the foundation of the business,” Crutchfield explains. “We’re all informed of these values. We hire individuals based on these beliefs versus technical ability alone. We have reminders of our core beliefs located throughout the building. Almost every employee has them on his or her desk.”
The company’s commitment to the experience of all stakeholders is absolutely systematic, says Crutchfield. “Most sales advisors in many businesses are paid on commissions. We moved away from commissions many years ago. Our system is based on the customer experience. We don’t ding advisors for talking with customers. If there’s a long call with a customer, most likely there’s a reason. The advisor is likely creating a connection with the customer. Our compensation model is based on what is best for the customer. If our customer is happy, the business does well.”
The company employs about 600 people around its Charlottsville headquarters and in a call center in southwestern Virginia. Crutchfield was recently recognized as a “Best Place to Work in Virginia” in a survey sponsored by Virginia Business magazine and the Best Companies Group. “Our call centers are seamlessly integrated to minimize wait times for advisors, and all of our advisors are in-house,” Crutchfield says. “All training is paid. We have lots of products and categories; electronics are becoming more and more complicated. It’s not just about service before the sale. Post-sale service is just as important. Not everyone can set up the products themselves. Unlike most companies, we want people to call us. We’re proud to have earned Bizrate’s customer service award for the last 18 years—no one else in our category that we know of has accomplished that—because we know it means that people are having wonderful experiences that make them want to buy from us.”
Crutchfield says that core beliefs come from the bottom up. “We don’t believe it’s top down. We believe that by having very clear cores values we empower all of our people to promote our culture.”
The Role of Corporate Sales
While most of the company’s sales are in the consumer market, Crutchfield says that “corporate sales are an important and growing part of our business. A lot of our consumer customers also own or work for businesses, education and government institutions that require consumer and professional audio and electronics and car audio for gifts and rewards. At the same time, we’re pleased to do business with many incentive, recognition, loyalty, promotion and promotional products companies who value our end-to-end support and service levels, which in most cases includes free same-day shipping and three-day delivery. To support clients with their own online catalogs, Crutchfield offers a variety of options for electronic feeds.
Companies can buy in bulk or offer gift certificates for redemption by speaking with a Sales Advisor. Beginning in early 2019, Crutchfield will have a dedicated web site for its business customers. Some of the company’s lines include Bose, Canon, Epson, DJI, Garmin, Honeywell, JBL, Kenwood, LG, Nikon, Polk, Sonos, Sony, Yuneec and other top brands.
Crutchfield started making pad-printing technology available two years ago that enables it to address growing requests to imprint company logos or other messages on select products. Depending on the product, there might be some restrictions in terms of product characteristics or restrictions from the manufacturer, but Crutchfueld says that “there are just a few who have rules as to how companies can put their logos on their products.”
So what are the hot products in the corporate market these days? “While we’re best known by car audio enthusiasts for our exceptionally precise process for identifying the right audio devices and accessories for a vehicle and supporting post-sale issues, that product category doesn’t work as well for business gifts and rewards,” Crutchfield says. “So, in the corporate gift and reward market, our portable audio products are most popular, including headphones, Bluetooth and wireless speakers such as Sonos, home audio in general and items that improve lifestyles, such as fitness electronics.
He believes the next big thing is “OLED televisions, which really do bring a new level of the television experience, and the ‘Internet of things’—products like the Sonos speakers, Nest thermostat and voice-activated speakers that connect the home via the Internet. We’re also seeing a lot of interest in drones and have expanded our professional audio equipment selection.”
Manager, Corporate Sales & Business Development
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