Posted by Steve Brooks, Guest Blogger
The US wholesale distribution(opens in new tab) market is estimated at $7 trillion and is growing at a rate of 5 percent per year. Every distributor wants a bigger slice of that pie but many struggle to retain existing market share. They need to constantly improve the efficiency of their operations just to maintain revenues.
A recent Deloitte report found that to address the challenge of flattening revenues and falling profits, wholesale distribution companies should focus on cross-selling and upselling. This was backed by a report produced by MDM.com that revealed 63.3 percent of wholesale distributors plan to grow revenue from existing customers in the next year.(opens in new tab)
To improve business interaction with customers they must achieve three goals. They need to understand their customer, make doing business with them easy and anticipate what those customers want next.
Understand the customer
Do you put yourself in the shoes of your customer often? Do you understand what each channel of interaction looks like? For example, how long do your customers stay on hold? How many communication channels do you support?
Your CRM software(opens in new tab) should understand all these channels, not just the traditional ones. The CRM system should collect the data that you need to understand not just how you interact with them but how they want to interact with you. Those data streams should combine to create a single source of context accurate data. Customers will connect across multiple channels and you must have all of that in the same conversation thread inside the CRM package. Once collected that data needs analyzing and insights for understanding and improvement delivered.
The CRM system should also be available everywhere, not just on the desk in the office. The adoption of software is successful when it works simply wherever the user is. A recent study in Europe showed that mobile enabled sales automation tools improve revenue in wholesale distribution.(opens in new tab)
The CRM system also needs to be integrated throughout the organisation. In the modern organization, every employee is a salesperson, from sales and marketing and customer service right through to accounting. Each touches the customer and adds data to the CRM system that can be used by everyone.
Making business easy
Distributors can no longer depend on sales reps putting in the miles, building relationships and taking order after order. There is a place for building up the personal relationships but customers expect to interact through different channels. Business customers now expect the same experience when dealing with their suppliers as they do when they buy online. It is not enough just to have an online presence. Customers want a full ecommerce platform that they can search and purchase through.
That platform is no longer just servicing desktop users. As the business world becomes more mobile many buyers will be out and about themselves using laptops, tablets and mobile devices. The ecommerce platform therefore needs to be available through all channels and devices that a buyer might use.
Ecommerce also cannot stand alone. It needs to be integrated with the back office systems such as inventory and warehousing as well as marketing and CRM. While sales reps can communicate the identified upsell and cross sell opportunities the Ecommerce platform needs to do that automatically.
If every person in the business touches the CRM system, then every business system should do so as well. This is not about making the CRM system do everything. It is integrating the different elements of the business operation onto a single platform. Every transaction involving a customer is recorded in one system or another. Those systems include ecommerce, service, marketing, sales orders and CRM. They also include the applications that support the business such inventory and warehouse management.
The ability to analyze that data, delivering insights into customer behavior is where differentiation can happen. Understanding that customer satisfaction levels are higher when goods are shipped from a specific warehouse can open up sales opportunities. Perhaps there are other goods that can be stocked at that warehouse.
Trend analysis will enable the sales team to start selling proactively. Perhaps there is a seasonal drop in shipments to a customer. This opens an opportunity if the sales team can find out what the customer is buying instead. This 360-degree view of the customer can also deliver insights into new services that customers want. If after sales calls to the service department are high for specific products, then perhaps a new service can be offered.
New services bring new challenges. New skills are required by employees and new business models may need enabling. Those new business models also need the support of invoicing that does not fit the traditional wholesale distribution industry. Service contracts, subscriptions and costs based on usage can all be considered.
Choosing the right technology
Industries today are evolving quickly. Manufacturers are becoming retailers and wholesale distribution is not immune to this trend. Selecting the right business solution is key to success. Distributors need a business solution that supports more than the traditional front and back office functions. They also want functionality that is traditionally seen in other industries such as retail, services, consulting and even manufacturing.
To learn more about succeeding in wholesale distribution, watch this free webinar on Three Winning Strategies for 2017(opens in new tab) with Oracle NetSuite, EpaCube and Modern Distribution Management.