A lot of people view distribution as just a middleman. But we know you’re far more than that.
Distributors help keep businesses running smoothly by ensuring they have the right items in the right place at the right time. And if you’re doing your job well, the public doesn’t even see you.
You need the right tools to adapt to a changing environment and its uncertainty. According to the International Monetary Fund’s July World Economic Outlook Update, “gloomy developments” and rising risks characterize 2022. Global growth is expected to decline to 2% in 2023.
That slow growth opens the door to new risks and uncertainty for your operations if you don’t act now. Technology can help you get ahead — and stay ahead — in turbulent times. Technology designed for the way distributors work will help you better connect with your customers, meet and exceed your sales goals and grow your bottom lines.
So, how does that look?
THE DISTRIBUTION PROBLEM
Distribution companies are complex. They operate across multiple channels, offer tens of thousands (or even millions) of SKUs and often have messy and disorganized data.
Sales reps can’t be knowledgeable about a whole product catalog, often missing out on lucrative upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Customer service reps have difficulty tracking customer interactions across the company to ensure effective service.
If you think an off-the-shelf solution for other types of businesses can handle this complexity, you’re in for a rude awakening. You’ll waste more time trying to fit your operations into their box instead of the other way around. And we all know time is money.
For example, distributors need visibility up and down the supply chain to function efficiently. You’re the linchpin between the suppliers and contractors/retailers/etc. It’s your job to adapt when there’s a kink in the chain.
Investing in the right tools — made with you and your job in mind — can improve your efficiency and profitability.
Is there a delay from the manufacturer? Your systems can help you find and manage an alternative supplier to meet your customer needs.
No alternative supplier for a specialized product? You can look at the connected records to prioritize delivery of limited supply or construct a reasonable quota system.
The list goes on.
How can the right software help you meet needs that are unique to distributors’ complex operations? In addition to distribution-specific ERP solutions as the backbone for your business, embrace solutions that target areas of your business for quicker returns. Many of the newest tools available on the market today also integrate artificial intelligence (AI). Software platforms and sales tools that use AI generate an immediate ROI for distributors when they adopt them in sales, operations, inventory and products.
Here are a few examples:
Distributors can leverage AI-enabled software tools to figure out what each customer needs and when they need it, driving upsell and cross-sell opportunities across sales channels. Distributors who use AI from providers like Proton can personalize the customer experience to increase sales by helping sales reps prioritize accounts, predict churn, and personalize the customers’ experience. Other ways sales technology can help is optimizing prices at a customer level (PROS and Zilliant are two examples); and maximizing the efficiency of a sales rep’s route (such as with Badger).
Many large distributors are focused on using AI-based technology on the product side to compete with companies like Amazon and The Home Depot. Using AI, distributors and customers can find and order products by image and voice; enable semantic search for products and spec sheets; and categorize products. Once deployed, this technology enables easy ordering of products, especially from mobile devices. Look at vendors such as Proton, Amazon Web Services and Elastic.
Companies like Backbone.ai use AI to understand product catalogs and harmonize them across different distributors and manufacturers.
We’ve seen significant growth over the past 10 years with solutions for warehousing and inventory management. Distributors can leverage technology to predict supplier lead time; efficiently run warehouses with autonomous mobile robots; pick products through voice command; and optimize based on predicted demand.
Other solutions exist to improve operational efficiencies, including order entry automation (DataXStream) through optical character recognition (OCR); warehouse automation (such as Autostore); safety (Modjoul, which makes it easier to monitor employee behavior through wearables); and route optimization to minimize lost time on the road (DispatchTrack).
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT SOFTWARE PARTNER
You shouldn’t invest in just any software solution; chances are, an out-of-the box solution isn’t going to meet your expectations. You must select the one that fits your operation’s needs, and that means partnering with software providers that get your business. And several solutions, including Proton, were explicitly built to support distributors’ businesses.
Make sure the software provider will give you the service levels you deserve. The right partner will be with you at every step, from training and testing to deployment and post-implementation support.
Approach the selection process like any relationship you want to build. Ask your potential partner what level of support they offer. If they aren’t willing to work with you after implementation to ensure your solution works for your company, they aren’t worth partnering with.
Ask about how they communicate and their response time to requests for service or assistance. Find out if you’ll have a dedicated rep or if it’s a general helpline. Either way has benefits and drawbacks, but you need to have the information up front to make an educated decision.
Other questions you should ask include:
- What does the implementation process look like and how long does it take?
- Will the process disrupt my daily operations?
- How complicated is the training process?
- How long will it take for my team to learn the new system?
- How can this software solution grow with my business?
- And, most importantly, ask for guidance on how their software will help you reach your business goals — and make them get specific.
WHY DISTRIBUTORS DESERVE GREAT SOFTWARE
You play a critical role in the local, national and global economy. You keep the supply chain moving.
Yet, you do all you do in relative obscurity. You don’t make flashy waves like Apple or Target.
You deserve a top-notch tool to help you achieve your business goals and grow. Don’t settle for something less than the best.
Focus on finding a solution that will help you overcome future instability — and a partner that will walk beside you to ensure that solution continues to meet your changing needs.
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