Last year, in "How to Prosper as a B2B Distribute", I addressed the urgent need for wholesale distributors to develop. I explained the need to migrate to a self-service digital shopping experience, where buyers can find, evaluate and order products at any time. The experience can include live chat for instant customer service, detailed specifications, comparison charts and even advice and training.
Covid-19 has accelerated that need. Buyers and representatives cannot meet in person. Employees have flooded.
Organizations that have operated in the same way for several years often depend on key personnel who have long served. Procedures and systems are not documented. For example, only a single seller may know which product or price fits a specific customer. Identifying the right product or price is not necessarily complicated, but the process is undefined.
In addition, manual processes lead to inefficiencies and mistakes.
Moving the corporate culture from manual to digital can be challenging at any time. Doing it in a pandemic can seem doubly difficult.
- List the high-level features of your business – e.g. sales, operations, customer service, shipping.
- Identify which functions are bottlenecks.
- Discuss each bottleneck with an employee in that area. Ask her to describe what she does at a web meeting (Zoom or equivalent). Record the meeting.
- Work with the employee to identify steps that can be automated. This can serve as a basis for moving the process to digital.
When should I upgrade?
Old systems can be painful. Apparently no one understands it all. It is expensive to maintain. It limits your ability to integrate with other systems. Yet your business goes away. Employees recognize the need for change, but they are still worried.
How do you decide when to scrap the outdated system and invest in a new one?
Upgrading an entire company program cannot be done quickly. It requires research, as in:
- Reach out to contacts in similar industries and companies of similar size. Ask about their experience with software platforms and implementers.
- Read reviews on sites like Capterra, Gartner Peer Insights and TrustRadius.
- Contact potential suppliers. Request demo. Ask for customer references.
When evaluating potential suppliers, you should consider factors that complicate shipping. For example, real-time delivery bids are difficult for orders that collectively weigh more than 150 pounds. A carrier often requires more information even if a distributor knows the weight, which is not always the case.
In addition, the pandemic has created out-of-stock and is forcing distributors to send partial orders. However, older e-commerce platforms often allow a distributor to charge the customer's credit card only for the entire order, not for partial deliveries.
Here are some solutions:
- Show shipping prices only for orders of less than 150 kg. For larger weights, let customers check in but show a message that the shipping cost will be calculated and charged afterwards.
- Consider a service, such as ShipperHQ, that provides delivery flexibility, such as multi-layered products, prohibited destinations, and exceptions to free shipping offers.
- Customize your shopping cart to symbolize credit card data (store the information securely with the payment gateway) and then charge the card only when items are shipped.
The land is changing for distributors. To survive in the digital age requires innovation and strong leadership. Such changes were necessary prior to Covid-19. They are now urgent. The pandemic will end, but transformations in the B2B market are here to stop.