Historically, wholesale operators have not invested many resources in technological innovations. At the same time, traditional CRM solutions have not responded to their needs. With the evolution of wholesale-oriented CRM and the embracing of new solutions by wholesalers and distributors, that reality is rapidly changing.
The value proposition of CRM has enabled it to penetrate most industries, with both large and small businesses leveraging its benefits. However, it has been hard to find enterprise-wide CRM implementations in the wholesale and distribution sector. This is largely due to the fact that sales reps in the field need to perform tasks that require special information and processes, making standard CRM systems unsuitable to service the wholesale industry.
In most industries, the sales team is focused on prospecting and qualifying new customers. Generic CRM systems provide tools that log and manage the prospecting and qualification process. This leads to an optimally managed sales pipeline.
However, the main task of sales reps in the wholesale industry is to educate existing customers (retailers) on new products, present these products in the most compelling manner, and help them maintain optimal stocking levels of the best-selling products. For this, ideally, they need a smart e-catalog ordering application that is integrated with their ERP and provides critical real-time sell-through and inventory information. No generic CRM provides this type of information.
Furthermore, in addition to the standard marketing features offered by generic CRM systems, wholesalers need the ability to discern and control how third-party retailers are presenting the merchandise. What they need is a display management solution that allows their sales reps to take pictures and file them automatically when they visit retail outlets.
Needed: a customer-centric focus
Traditional CRM solutions have centered more on the "M" than the "C" in CRM. As the interface between the wholesaler and retailer, sales reps are primordial to the wholesaler's success. Yet, CRM models have typically been geared more toward management than to the customer-facing road warriors and the retailers they serve.
Driving this point home, a report by Forrester called "Beyond CRM: Manage Customer Experiences" talks about how "well-intentioned CRM efforts that focus on internal processes and objectives have largely failed to serve the most important stakeholder: the customer. Customer experience leaders need to drive an outside-in focus into these efforts by defining the desired experience, understanding customers' behaviors and needs, focusing on data rather than systems, and building a customer-centric culture."
Meeting the needs of the sales rep
The good news is that there are finally mobile CRM solutions that serve the unique requirements of sales reps as well as management. These apps empower sales reps with valuable insight into the performance and needs of their customers, the retailers, helping to serve them better. Furthermore, information can be made available to the entire sales team, enabling the sales reps to collaborate and share pertinent data.
Some of these solutions have capabilities such as:
- Syncing with calendar, emails, contacts, and tasks, allowing reps to easily schedule and manage calls, meetings, and correspondence
- Assigning and managing action items, tracking and reporting visits, and scheduling reminders (one-time and recurring)
- Generating customized reports and dashboards displaying the performance of products, customers, and sales reps, bringing important sales information and trends to the forefront
- Display management of products in stores, with picture-taking enabling wholesalers to check on and document customers' compliance with display requirements and contractual terms regarding fixtures, signs, and placement of items, and to stay informed about competitors' displays
- GPS integration allowing reps to plan the most logical route for the day in order to see the maximum number of clients
- Offline mode, so that sales reps can access data about their customers when Internet access is limited or unavailable
- Ability to view pertinent information about a customer, such as debt and sales history
- Attaching documents, photos, and videos to an account
With features such as these, sales reps have a solution geared specifically toward their and their customers' needs. It also effectively serves management by keeping sales managers updated about the activities of their sales reps.
Reaping the benefits
Jonathan Lewis, managing director of General Optical, sums up his experience with the new CRM paradigm for wholesalers: "We now have a truly collaborative platform that is easy to use and has made our reps much more organized and productive. Our sales team has a more customer-centric structure; this has shown immediate ROI due to the increase in sales and productivity and reduction in administrative tasks."
For wholesalers who leverage the opportunities offered by the latest CRM solutions, the benefits can be substantial. Those who don't keep up with the latest tools of the trade run the risk of being bypassed by technically savvy competitors.
Ofer M. Yourvexel has been the CEO of WRNTY since 2009. Before joining WRNTY, he served as vice president and head of information management products at Amdocs and managing director of international operations at Jacada Ltd.