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Top Talent to Bottom Line: 6 Benefits of B2B Digital Transformation for Wholesale and B2B Companies

Wholesalers' internal systems are almost uniformly up to scratch - but in many cases the customer interface over the Internet is a major weakness. Here are six major benefits of digital transformation for your entire B2B or wholesale organisation.

Graham O'Rourke (CEO) Written by Graham O'Rourke (CEO) 28 Sep 2017 in Wholesale and Distribution

First - a disclaimer. This blog is definitely not about listing out the ways wholesalers have been doing things wrong. 

In so many ways B2B companies, and wholesalers in particular, have always been exceptionally well run organisations. You just can't run a massive warehouse, processing thousands of orders and managing hundreds of thousands of product lines, without being very efficient and organised.

Indeed, it’s fair to say wholesalers were way ahead of the curve when it came to investing in technology.

Just a couple of examples:

  • ERP and stock management: This software has long been a central element of any large wholesale business
  • Fleet management: Many wholesale businesses have invested in sophisticated vehicle tracking fleet management solutions such as logistics software and route mapping

The best wholesalers have always invested in information technology early and wisely. They are extremely efficient companies - they just wouldn’t survive if they were not.

But here’s the thing.

That focus - ERP, stock management, logistics, accounting software and lots of other areas of IT where wholesalers have traditionally invested well - is mostly internal. It relates to how they run their operation inside their four walls.

Now, though, there's a massive opportunity that, I believe, many wholesalers have yet to grasp: understanding how the Internet and cloud technology might fit into the future of their organisation.

This blog is all about how the Internet and cloud technology — all under an umbrella of "digital transformation" — might allow them to scale their business significantly: by (1) making further improvements to efficiencies, (2) reaching new customers in new markets and (3) attracting, retaining and empowering the best talent to help them grow. 

Internally, their systems are almost uniformly up to scratch and performing well. But the interface to their customers over the Internet is, in very many cases, a major weakness.

In the last three years with Aphix, in developing a dedicated B2B eCommerce and digital ordering platform, we’ve seen many wholesalers who face a real struggle to deliver digital transformation for their business.

It's an area where for so many companies there's room for improvement … and the good news is that that's where the growth opportunity is too.

So investment in digitally transforming your B2B customer experience will almost certainly provide a quick and sustainable return on investment.

What are the key drivers of B2B Digital Transformation?

The three major benefits for wholesalers in transforming their business by investing in digital are:

  • Customer expectations and satisfaction
  • Profitability
  • Speed to market

Let’s talk about each of those in turn.

Benefit 1. Customer expectations / Customer satisfaction

A survey in Germany by Roland Berger, in conjunction with Google, found that 60% of sales managers believe digitising sales is critical to the success of their business. From other surveys we also know that more than half of the B2B purchase process has already been completed by the time the decision maker contacts the sales rep.

So customers are doing their research online - researching product fit, price, value, service. That applies to B2B now just as much as it does in retail. In the majority of cases, only after all that research has taken place do they approach the supplier to start a conversation.

Everywhere you look, customers these days have higher expectations for their buying experience. This is almost exclusively because of the rapid advances in online retail. They see how easy it is to order from Amazon, for example, and they expect that same smooth experience in their business lives.

And importantly for B2B companies out there: customers will make no allowances if they’re dealing with a B2B company. Give your customer a smooth digital experience and they're likely to stay. Do not, and you risk losing them to a competitor who will.

Benefit 2: Profitability

B2B companies have always faced the same challenge: how do we scale our business and increase profitability without having to scale the number of sales reps, retails outlets or order takers?

The good news is that this is exactly what a digital business can achieve.

On one side, it could be as simple as allowing customers to self service online through a B2B eCommerce portal or website.

On another, for sales reps, a cloud system makes a fully synced digital catalog available at all times, allowing reps to better educate the customer on the range of products the wholesaler offers, offering them added value across the board and perhaps transitioning into new product lines.

Reps can answering customer questions on the spot, which further reduces the amount of interaction required - over phone, text, email or in person - with the operations team back at head office. (That, in turn, allows operations to be even more efficient with fulfilling orders and managing customer accounts.)

Internet technology also allows wholesalers to reach entirely new markets without having to increase the number of sales reps on the road.

The upshot of all these efficiencies is inevitable: increased profitability, across the board.

Benefit 3: Speed to market

When wholesalers are looking at potential growth areas for their business, they must now ask themselves a question: do we take the same traditional approach to reach that market, or do we consider a digital approach?

While the impact of Brexit is still a quandary for wholesalers in the UK and Ireland, what is not in doubt is that our increasingly globalised world, with so much of the planet speaking English and comfortable doing business online through English, means that there are potential new markets for wholesalers everywhere.

With every passing year it’s getting easier and easier to ship products around the world.

Other Benefits of Digital Transformation for B2B and Wholesale Companies

So those are the three key drivers of digitally transforming your wholesale business, all geared towards moving the needle of efficiency, profitability and scale.

But it would be a mistake to overlook other benefits of a digital transformation exercise — particularly relating to your workforce.

Benefit 4: Your sales team

Good sales people in any organisation need tools and support in order to perform to their best, and the reality of a forward-thinking 21st century sales environment is that digital offers massive benefits.

Those tools could be something as simple as a premium LinkedIn account or access to Sales Navigator. Or they can be more sophisticated software solutions that allow sales team to serve their customers more powerfully and generate better results across the board — both in the customer experience and the company's bottom line.

With so much customer research happening before the conversation even starts, sales teams must now sell in a different way because they know customers are much more informed.

So they need accurate, up-to-date reliable information - about product specs, or pricing, or availability, or buying trends, or shipments - in the palm of their hand at all times.

Increasingly, sales reps become consultants for the customer - and digital allows that to happen.

Benefit 5: The rest of your staff

The rest of the workforce also get a huge amount of value from a digital transformation journey.

They know they’re part of a well run, efficient company where customers are getting good customer service and able to service themselves.

That can take a lot of the drudgery out of the job for order takers, so staff hired to manage accounts find that they no longer have to spend so much of their time doing repetitive, mundane tasks. They're not answering telephones as often or generating and sending reports, statements and invoices to customers.

That allows them to do deliver work that's more valuable both to their own role and to the company, such as driving further efficiency to increasing marketing activity.

And that's certain to deliver a whole lot of job satisfaction, ensuring major benefits for the wider organisation in the long run.

Benefit 6: New talent who haven't even applied yet!

It's fair to say that the best candidates want to work for the leaders in their sector.

To be with a company that seems to be forward looking is investing wisely in technology, digitising and modernising the company and achieving results with that, is a company that will attract good applicants.

For some potential job candidates, that might be an important factor in whether they even choose to apply for a job or attend an interview.

We've found that wholesalers who invest in digital technology in their businesses can better attract and retain the best talent rather than seeing good staff choose a competitor who may have been more proactive in investing in new technology.

Further Questions about Digital Transformation for your B2B or Wholesale Company?

Okay, so I’ve given you the six major upsides for your workforce in digitally transforming your business - from your profitability to your customers’ satisfaction, from speed to market and new markets to the wider benefits to your entire workforce.

I’m sure you have some questions so let’s hear them!

Reach out for a demo and we'll be very pleased to talk you through all of them.

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