New technology is revolutionizing processes while competitive forces are pressuring businesses to transform operations or fall behind. In the New Year, businesses need to adapt and seek alternative opportunities for growth. Decision-makers must prepare for disruption and take advantage of risks that, if ignored, could undermine performance and impact competitive advantage.
Viewed as the leading factors shaking up distribution, the following five sources of disruption could provide the opportunities for success for distributors
RECOGNIZING THE VALUE OF INSIDE SALES
In a competitive market, retaining customer loyalty is vital for business success. Therefore, a key focus of sales reps must be to manage customers to their highest expectations. Reps will need to spend more time on personalizing service and engaging with customers while ensuring they possess the knowledge to answer any queries customers may have. Gaining insight into customers’ preferences will better serve their needs and ensure quality service is delivered while decreasing the likelihood of customers feeling compelled to switch.
To support this focus, decision-makers should consider investing in solutions that free up employee time. For example, automation of incoming purchase orders removes the manual component in data entry — a task that lacks business value and lengthens order cycle times. Implementation would free up sales reps and empower them with the opportunity to display their true value in elevating customers’ experiences. Spending more time with customers could also lead to profitability through improved awareness into which products would be best to upsell or cross-sell.
COMPETING WITH THE E-MARKETPLACES
Seventy percent of manufacturers and distributors view e-commerce as an opportunity rather than a threat. While this is true in the sense that e-commerce giant Amazon presents an additional sales channel for excess inventory, its existence also creates problems for distributors. Amazon has eliminated traditional borders between markets and elevated customer expectations for fulfillment and quality of service. This causes issues for other distributors that aren’t able to keep pace.
Order fulfilment is a vital contributor to customer satisfaction. Cutting down processing times allows distributors to compete by delivering a similar customer experience. Employing document automation, which can process key sales documents accurately at any time of the day, is one way to dramatically reduce order cycle times. This encourages business growth, as customers will be confident that for every transaction they will receive orders quickly and accurately.
FINDING NEW INSIGHTS FROM UNSTRUCTURED SOURCES
Unstructured data refers to emails, faxes, or walk-in transactions. Most distributors tend to overlook or don’t have the time to organize this data. Instead, they turn to e-commerce data points that are easily accessible from online transactions. However, even in today’s digital world, 74 percent of customers in wholesale distribution still prefer to submit orders via email. Subsequently, by only analyzing data received from digital channels, a vital amount of customer insight is being missed.
Distributors need to consider analyzing other sales channels. As an example, automation programs that scan incoming emails can transform data into a dashboard for immediate overview. Email data, combined with key insights from other channels, illuminates a more correct 360-degree view of customer purchase patterns and transaction preferences — all of which can be used to forecast customer behavior and manage inventory to help businesses operate more efficiently.
HOW MUCH IT REALLY COSTS TO SERVE YOUR CUSTOMERS
Distributors commonly observe the total sale or gross margin as a main success metric, but the cost to serve can have a significant impact on margin. A critical growth opportunity that is often underutilized by key decision-makers is improving how each key account is being managed. Given that 20 percent of customers generate up to 80 percent of profit, a crucial area to examine is the cost of serving these large customers.
Insight into the amount of time customer service representatives are dedicating to this 20 percent of customers allows distributors to pinpoint the ones that are within profit expectations and which take up more resources. From analyzing this data, solutions can then be derived to streamline management of the customers that are not within margin forecast.
DIGITIZING WITHOUT UNDERMINING CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
In the race to stay ahead of the curve with digital transformation, organizations prioritize reducing operational costs and increasing efficiency as their major goals for digitization. In the process, they often overlook the potential erosion of customer satisfaction, which could lead to a customer switch. Therefore, it is important for decision makers to invest time in understanding the real implications to the customer experience before implementing transformation solutions. Having the most innovative chat bots in place becomes meaningless if customers have become dissatisfied and gone to competitors. But what more can they do to ensure that they don’t risk customer loyalty for the necessary productivity gains?
Distributors with the goals of both increasing operational efficiency and improving customer service can look to document processing. With hundreds, and up to thousands, of sales orders, invoices, and other key documents waiting to be processed each day, sales staff are burdened with manual, repetitive tasks. Automation of such routines not only boosts speed and accuracy of back-office transactions, it also allows sales reps to devote time to meaningful initiatives, like securing more customers and retaining existing ones.
Ultimately, embracing change is now integral to surviving in the highly competitive wholesale distribution market. Disruption in distribution is inevitable, but there are ways to navigate these challenges that could also pave new ways for growth. Distributors of the future should collaborate with the right technology partners for more opportunities to stay ahead.
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