The Distributor’s Guide to Going Direct to Consumers

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Isaac Herman

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The Distributor’s Guide to Going Direct to Consumers

26/05/2020 Categories: ARTICLES

The outbreak of COVID-19 has starkly illustrated the need for digital and remote capabilities in many distribution companies. Suddenly, distribution companies that have been putting off technological upgrades find themselves in a situation in which they need to support a remote workforce, and fast. Going past this issue, upgrading your digital capabilities provides massive value because companies can leverage their data effectively and provide customers with reliable online options. The solution to these issues is what everyone calls “digital transformation”. You’re probably sick of hearing this buzzword, so let’s change it up. Let’s call it (drum roll please) “digital evolution”. Super different, right?  To us it is because you’re not simply transforming your business; it will still run in essentially the same way, just with faster communication, remote capabilities, and more options for your customers. The benefits of enabling a digital sales & revenue channel include risk mitigation and revenue diversification. Digital evolution directly addresses the challenges that 2020 has given all of us.  We’ve created this Digital Evolution guide specifically tailored to the distribution sector. There are 3 major steps we believe are key to digitally evolving your business, each of which adds a ton of value to your operations: Organizing and preparing your online and offline data. This step entails centralizing and cataloging your shipping, product, and customer data to one digital location.  After data organization and prep, its time to build an online customer portal.  While you are focusing on customers and products, it’s important to simultaneously look internally and see what you need to support remote workers and operations. This means looking at your ERP or back-office management software. Older, legacy platforms were not built to support a remote workforce.  COVID-19 has pushed digital to the top priority, but you may not know where to start. Thankfully, we do - by contacting Kensium.  Kensium's Unique Value to Distribution Companies Kensium is 100% committed to the wholesale/distribution sectors. We understand the unique challenges that distributors face, from changing customer expectations to the importance of worker safety (and many in between). But we are technologists at heart, so we also know the steps involved to accelerate projects and drive down implementation and support costs. We believe that leveraging the right eCommerce technology to reduce operational costs means connecting back-office operations to a customer-facing portal, or even multiple portals.  We’ve worked with multiple distributors that were stuck on legacy ERPs and needed something more flexible. We provided them with tech that integrated their ERP with eCommerce & CRM systems and allowed them to run multiple customer portals from a solitary inventory.  These experiences have given us the inside scoop on how distributors can maximize efficiency and get the biggest ROI possible. That’s why we wrote this guide; to share that inside info with you, and show you how digitally evolving your company is the right decision to make now. Without further ado, here is the first step:  Step #1: Organizing and Preparing Your Data There’s a reason why people always say we’re living in the “Information Age”; it’s because data is king. It is one of, if not the single most important resource businesses can use to gain competitive advantages. However, it has also been our biggest initial hurdle on multiple projects we’ve worked on. Distributors work with huge supplier networks that contain 1,000’s of SKUs. Oftentimes there are hundreds of catalogs detailing these SKUs, all in different formats, and many of them paper-based. Contract rates, terminology, and field mapping can vary from supplier to supplier. Sometimes catalogs are even in completely different languages! Getting all this online and organized can be a hefty task to contemplate, but once you do, the value gained is extraordinary. Modern customer expectations have risen dramatically; they count on things to “just work”. Meaning, if there are gaps in information, if something they receive doesn’t correspond to what they see online, or even if the customer experience takes too long, they will lose patience. Having high-quality data is now the status quo for online distributors, and not prioritizing data quality can spell trouble in the future.  Here are all the advantages you can have by tightening up your data management: Improved user experience, customer loyalty, and retention. Better search capabilities so customers can find what they want ASAP. Increase in conversion rates. Fewer returns/exchanges. Better cross-sells and up-sells. It’s a lot, right? Kensium knows these advantages because we have a dedicated team and proven methodology for handling B2B data, particularly converting raw data to machine-readable form, then preparing it for import into eCommerce and ERP systems. We can also help with best practices for maintaining data organization by providing your team with training modules and templates for use moving forward. All this data preparation is the foundation for our next step:  Step #2: Building an Online Customer Portal Buying habits have been changing for years, and one of the biggest influences on them has been the rise of Amazon.com. Amazon’s buying process and customer experience have led to what we call the “Consumerization of B2B”: B2B buyers want to have complete agency when they make purchases, buying when, where, and how they want. And they want it all to be as easy as possible.  A website with a virtual shopping cart is no longer enough; distributors sell multiple brands, in multiple countries, using multiple warehouses, and multiple 3PL providers. The only way to handle all this is to build a comprehensive customer portal. You might think that a “customer portal” is just another word for going to a website, clicking on a product, filling in shipping info, and clicking Buy. But there are significant differences in what makes up an online customer portal compared to an eCommerce site.  For starters, customer portals let distributors create company accounts for their customers. You can add sales reps to these accounts, set payment options, set

distribution worker

in a situation in which they need to support a remote workforce, and fast. Going past this issue, upgrading your digital capabilities provides massive value because companies can leverage their data effectively and provide customers with reliable online options. The solution to these issues is what everyone calls “digital transformation”. You’re probably sick of hearing this buzzword, so let’s change it up. Let’s call it (drum roll please) “digital evolution”. Super different, right? 

To us it is because you’re not simply transforming your business; it will still run in essentially the same way, just with faster communication, remote capabilities, and more options for your customers. The benefits of enabling a digital sales & revenue channel include risk mitigation and revenue diversification. Digital evolution directly addresses the challenges that 2020 has given all of us. 

We’ve created this Digital Evolution guide specifically tailored to the distribution sector. There are 3 major steps we believe are key to digitally evolving your business, each of which adds a ton of value to your operations:

  1. Organizing and preparing your online and offline data. This step entails centralizing and cataloging your shipping, product, and customer data to one digital location. 
  2. After data organization and prep, its time to build an online customer portal. 
  3. While you are focusing on customers and products, it’s important to simultaneously look internally and see what you need to support remote workers and operations. This means looking at your ERP or back-office management software. Older, legacy platforms were not built to support a remote workforce. 

COVID-19 has pushed digital to the top priority, but you may not know where to start. Thankfully, we do - by contacting Kensium. 

mask worker

Kensium's Unique Value to Distribution Companies

Kensium is 100% committed to the wholesale/distribution sectors. We understand the unique challenges that distributors face, from changing customer expectations to the importance of worker safety (and many in between). But we are technologists at heart, so we also know the steps involved to accelerate projects and drive down implementation and support costs. We believe that leveraging the right eCommerce technology to reduce operational costs means connecting back-office operations to a customer-facing portal, or even multiple portals. 

We’ve worked with multiple distributors that were stuck on legacy ERPs and needed something more flexible. We provided them with tech that integrated their ERP with eCommerce & CRM systems and allowed them to run multiple customer portals from a solitary inventory. 

These experiences have given us the inside scoop on how distributors can maximize efficiency and get the biggest ROI possible. That’s why we wrote this guide; to share that inside info with you, and show you how digitally evolving your company is the right decision to make now. Without further ado, here is the first step: 

data organization

Step #1: Organizing and Preparing Your Data

There’s a reason why people always say we’re living in the “Information Age”; it’s because data is king. It is one of, if not the single most important resource businesses can use to gain competitive advantages. However, it has also been our biggest initial hurdle on multiple projects we’ve worked on. Distributors work with huge supplier networks that contain 1,000’s of SKUs. Oftentimes there are hundreds of catalogs detailing these SKUs, all in different formats, and many of them paper-based. Contract rates, terminology, and field mapping can vary from supplier to supplier. Sometimes catalogs are even in completely different languages!

Getting all this online and organized can be a hefty task to contemplate, but once you do, the value gained is extraordinary. Modern customer expectations have risen dramatically; they count on things to “just work”. Meaning, if there are gaps in information, if something they receive doesn’t correspond to what they see online, or even if the customer experience takes too long, they will lose patience. Having high-quality data is now the status quo for online distributors, and not prioritizing data quality can spell trouble in the future. 

Here are all the advantages you can have by tightening up your data management:

  • Improved user experience, customer loyalty, and retention.
  • Better search capabilities so customers can find what they want ASAP.
  • Increase in conversion rates.
  • Fewer returns/exchanges.
  • Better cross-sells and up-sells.

It’s a lot, right? Kensium knows these advantages because we have a dedicated team and proven methodology for handling B2B data, particularly converting raw data to machine-readable form, then preparing it for import into eCommerce and ERP systems. We can also help with best practices for maintaining data organization by providing your team with training modules and templates for use moving forward. All this data preparation is the foundation for our next step: 

customer portal

Step #2: Building an Online Customer Portal

Buying habits have been changing for years, and one of the biggest influences on them has been the rise of Amazon.com. Amazon’s buying process and customer experience have led to what we call the “Consumerization of B2B”: B2B buyers want to have complete agency when they make purchases, buying when, where, and how they want. And they want it all to be as easy as possible. 

A website with a virtual shopping cart is no longer enough; distributors sell multiple brands, in multiple countries, using multiple warehouses, and multiple 3PL providers. The only way to handle all this is to build a comprehensive customer portal. You might think that a “customer portal” is just another word for going to a website, clicking on a product, filling in shipping info, and clicking Buy. But there are significant differences in what makes up an online customer portal compared to an eCommerce site. 

For starters, customer portals let distributors create company accounts for their customers. You can add sales reps to these accounts, set payment options, set credit lines, and assign custom catalogs and price lists. There is no confusion on who or what is assigned to each customer, and if you do it right, each customer will feel especially taken care of thanks to these tailor-made accounts.

Customers can also use portals to self-serve. When they log in, they get a personalized experience. They only see content relevant to them. They can check credit limits, balance, available credit, and track orders from a single dashboard. Their order history allows them to place quick reorders or upload CSV files, so they don’t have to search for products one by one. Buyers can also request quotes, which you, the distributor, can monitor, add comments and attachments, and set expiration dates. All of this is why having rock-solid data is so important; without correct data that you can rely on, all of these features will not work the way they should. 

The main objective of the customer portal is to empower the customer so they can self-manage their orders and purchasing power. Customers shouldn’t have to wait for your business to complete certain tasks to obtain the products they desire. The best customer portals even save your business time and money by automating processes for repeat customers with recurring orders, then notify you when changes are made to the customer requests. 

erp user

Step #3: Integrating With A Cloud-Based ERP

Choosing the right ERP is a massive topic, so we are going to focus on the 2 key benefits of modern ERP systems: Cloud-based architecture and eCommerce integration capability.

Legacy ERP systems weren’t built to cater to a remote workforce, but cloud-based systems are. Due to COVID-19, you’ve probably run into the problem of team members not having access to local resources, customer info, or technical documents while they’re away from the office. No mobile access is a big issue as well; for example, if employees in the field had questions, they would need to call them in rather than being able to access the system remotely from a laptop, phone, or tablet. 

We at Kensium have the most experience implementing Acumatica, one of the top cloud-based ERP systems worldwide, so we’ll use that as our example. Since Acumatica runs in the cloud, all you need is a web browser to get access anytime, and from any device. They also offer unlimited users (some ERPs charge “per seat”) so the entire staff can stay connected and have visibility into financials, inventory, warehouse, eCommerce, and field service operations. 

Similar to how managing your data is critical, so are the operations on the backend once orders have been placed. That’s why full integration of your ERP with your front-facing eCommerce platform can provide tremendous advantages. Kensium can implement both eCommerce and ERP platforms, as well as integrate the two together, all under one roof (or a lot of roofs, considering everyone’s working from home these days). 

As the official Commerce Partner for Acumatica, Kensium has built many of the commerce integrations you’ll find in the Acumatica marketplace, the most popular being the Acumatica-Magento, BigCommerce, and Shopify Connectors. We combine eCommerce and Acumatica into a single package (the Acumatica Commerce Edition) that syncs orders, customer data, product info, and shipping data, all bi-directionally and in real-time.

When the two are fully integrated, making changes on one platform reflects immediately on the other, so there is a single source of truth. This lets you operate more efficiently, reduce manual order entry and errors, and streamline inventory management. This last function is especially useful; you will know what you always have in stock across all channels, have fewer backorders, and when you need to replenish certain products. To learn more about what full integration entails, check out the Kensium Microlearning series on our YouTube page.

Ecommerce platforms like Magento and BigCommerce are exceptional options for nearly any type of online business, but you may be looking for a B2B eCommerce platform that is built specifically for wholesale distributors & manufacturers. The Second Phase eCommerce platform is a turnkey, Acumatica-Certified solution that is now the official eCommerce solution of the largest distributor buying group in the United States, IMARK Group. Kensium is also a proud partner of Second Phase, which has full integration to Acumatica.

zoom meeting

Now's the Time to Future-Proof Your Business 

Digital evolution is not just about updating your business for the digital “here-and-now”, but about “future-proofing” your business, i.e. being prepared for what the world will throw at you. Now’s the time to address current problems and prepare for the uncertain future in one implementation. 
It’s also about making it easy for customers to do business with you, in however way they want to engage with your organization. Let’s review your main steps to providing this value: 

  • Prioritize your data first before focusing on digital strategy.
  • Make sure your entire team can access your business no matter where they are or what device they’re on, which in turn makes it easier for customers to business with you.
  • Have a single source of truth for all your financials, sales channels, warehousing, fulfillment, and analytics with an eCommerce portal that’s integrated directly with your ERP. 

The eCommerce platforms Magento and BigCommerce, as well as Acumatica, are widely recognized as best-in-class for this exact purpose, and when combined there are no other systems on the market that can compete with functionality, performance, or value. Kensium is unique in that we’re the only company that can assist with both (plus the integration between them) under one roof. It’s a one-stop-shop to future-proof your business. Explore our website to learn more. 
 

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distribution

The outbreak of COVID-19 has starkly illustrated the need for digital and remote capabilities in many distribution companies. Suddenly, distribution companies that have been putting off technological upgrades find themselves in a situation in which they need to support a remote workforce, and fast. Going past this issue, upgrading your digital capabilities provides massive value because companies can leverage their data effectively and provide customers with reliable online options. The solution to these issues is what everyone calls “digital transformation”. You’re probably sick of hearing this buzzword, so let’s change it up. Let’s call it (drum roll please) “digital evolution”. Super different, right? 

To us it is because you’re not simply transforming your business; it will still run in essentially the same way, just with faster communication, remote capabilities, and more options for your customers. The benefits of enabling a digital sales & revenue channel include risk mitigation and revenue diversification. Digital evolution directly addresses the challenges that 2020 has given all of us. 

We’ve created this Digital Evolution guide specifically tailored to the distribution sector. There are 3 major steps we believe are key to digitally evolving your business, each of which adds a ton of value to your operations:

  1. Organizing and preparing your online and offline data. This step entails centralizing and cataloging your shipping, product, and customer data to one digital location. 
  2. After data organization and prep, its time to build an online customer portal. 
  3. While you are focusing on customers and products, it’s important to simultaneously look internally and see what you need to support remote workers and operations. This means looking at your ERP or back-office management software. Older, legacy platforms were not built to support a remote workforce. 

COVID-19 has pushed digital to the top priority, but you may not know where to start. Thankfully, we do - by contacting Kensium. 

mask worker

Kensium's Unique Value to Distribution Companies

Kensium is 100% committed to the wholesale/distribution sectors. We understand the unique challenges that distributors face, from changing customer expectations to the importance of worker safety (and many in between). But we are technologists at heart, so we also know the steps involved to accelerate projects and drive down implementation and support costs. We believe that leveraging the right eCommerce technology to reduce operational costs means connecting back-office operations to a customer-facing portal, or even multiple portals. 

We’ve worked with multiple distributors that were stuck on legacy ERPs and needed something more flexible. We provided them with tech that integrated their ERP with eCommerce & CRM systems and allowed them to run multiple customer portals from a solitary inventory. 

These experiences have given us the inside scoop on how distributors can maximize efficiency and get the biggest ROI possible. That’s why we wrote this guide; to share that inside info with you, and show you how digitally evolving your company is the right decision to make now. Without further ado, here is the first step: 

data organization

Step #1: Organizing and Preparing Your Data

There’s a reason why people always say we’re living in the “Information Age”; it’s because data is king. It is one of, if not the single most important resource businesses can use to gain competitive advantages. However, it has also been our biggest initial hurdle on multiple projects we’ve worked on. Distributors work with huge supplier networks that contain 1,000’s of SKUs. Oftentimes there are hundreds of catalogs detailing these SKUs, all in different formats, and many of them paper-based. Contract rates, terminology, and field mapping can vary from supplier to supplier. Sometimes catalogs are even in completely different languages!

Getting all this online and organized can be a hefty task to contemplate, but once you do, the value gained is extraordinary. Modern customer expectations have risen dramatically; they count on things to “just work”. Meaning, if there are gaps in information, if something they receive doesn’t correspond to what they see online, or even if the customer experience takes too long, they will lose patience. Having high-quality data is now the status quo for online distributors, and not prioritizing data quality can spell trouble in the future. 

Here are all the advantages you can have by tightening up your data management:

  • Improved user experience, customer loyalty, and retention.
  • Better search capabilities so customers can find what they want ASAP.
  • Increase in conversion rates.
  • Fewer returns/exchanges.
  • Better cross-sells and up-sells.

It’s a lot, right? Kensium knows these advantages because we have a dedicated team and proven methodology for handling B2B data, particularly converting raw data to machine-readable form, then preparing it for import into eCommerce and ERP systems. We can also help with best practices for maintaining data organization by providing your team with training modules and templates for use moving forward. All this data preparation is the foundation for our next step: 

customer portal

Step #2: Building an Online Customer Portal

Buying habits have been changing for years, and one of the biggest influences on them has been the rise of Amazon.com. Amazon’s buying process and customer experience have led to what we call the “Consumerization of B2B”: B2B buyers want to have complete agency when they make purchases, buying when, where, and how they want. And they want it all to be as easy as possible. 

A website with a virtual shopping cart is no longer enough; distributors sell multiple brands, in multiple countries, using multiple warehouses, and multiple 3PL providers. The only way to handle all this is to build a comprehensive customer portal. You might think that a “customer portal” is just another word for going to a website, clicking on a product, filling in shipping info, and clicking Buy. But there are significant differences in what makes up an online customer portal compared to an eCommerce site. 

For starters, customer portals let distributors create company accounts for their customers. You can add sales reps to these accounts, set payment options, set credit lines, and assign custom catalogs and price lists. There is no confusion on who or what is assigned to each customer, and if you do it right, each customer will feel especially taken care of thanks to these tailor-made accounts.

Customers can also use portals to self-serve. When they log in, they get a personalized experience. They only see content relevant to them. They can check credit limits, balance, available credit, and track orders from a single dashboard. Their order history allows them to place quick reorders or upload CSV files, so they don’t have to search for products one by one. Buyers can also request quotes, which you, the distributor, can monitor, add comments and attachments, and set expiration dates. All of this is why having rock-solid data is so important; without correct data that you can rely on, all of these features will not work the way they should. 

The main objective of the customer portal is to empower the customer so they can self-manage their orders and purchasing power. Customers shouldn’t have to wait for your business to complete certain tasks to obtain the products they desire. The best customer portals even save your business time and money by automating processes for repeat customers with recurring orders, then notify you when changes are made to the customer requests. 

erp user

Step #3: Integrating With A Cloud-Based ERP

Choosing the right ERP is a massive topic, so we are going to focus on the 2 key benefits of modern ERP systems: Cloud-based architecture and eCommerce integration capability.

Legacy ERP systems weren’t built to cater to a remote workforce, but cloud-based systems are. Due to COVID-19, you’ve probably run into the problem of team members not having access to local resources, customer info, or technical documents while they’re away from the office. No mobile access is a big issue as well; for example, if employees in the field had questions, they would need to call them in rather than being able to access the system remotely from a laptop, phone, or tablet. 

We at Kensium have the most experience implementing Acumatica, one of the top cloud-based ERP systems worldwide, so we’ll use that as our example. Since Acumatica runs in the cloud, all you need is a web browser to get access anytime, and from any device. They also offer unlimited users (some ERPs charge “per seat”) so the entire staff can stay connected and have visibility into financials, inventory, warehouse, eCommerce, and field service operations. 

Similar to how managing your data is critical, so are the operations on the backend once orders have been placed. That’s why full integration of your ERP with your front-facing eCommerce platform can provide tremendous advantages. Kensium can implement both eCommerce and ERP platforms, as well as integrate the two together, all under one roof (or a lot of roofs, considering everyone’s working from home these days). 

As the official Commerce Partner for Acumatica, Kensium has built many of the commerce integrations you’ll find in the Acumatica marketplace, the most popular being the Acumatica-Magento, BigCommerce, and Shopify Connectors. We combine eCommerce and Acumatica into a single package (the Acumatica Commerce Edition) that syncs orders, customer data, product info, and shipping data, all bi-directionally and in real-time.

When the two are fully integrated, making changes on one platform reflects immediately on the other, so there is a single source of truth. This lets you operate more efficiently, reduce manual order entry and errors, and streamline inventory management. This last function is especially useful; you will know what you always have in stock across all channels, have fewer backorders, and when you need to replenish certain products. To learn more about what full integration entails, check out the Kensium Microlearning series on our YouTube page.

Ecommerce platforms like Magento and BigCommerce are exceptional options for nearly any type of online business, but you may be looking for a B2B eCommerce platform that is built specifically for wholesale distributors & manufacturers. The Second Phase eCommerce platform is a turnkey, Acumatica-Certified solution that is now the official eCommerce solution of the largest distributor buying group in the United States, IMARK Group. Kensium is also a proud partner of Second Phase, which has full integration to Acumatica.

zoom meeting

Now's the Time to Future-Proof Your Business 

Digital evolution is not just about updating your business for the digital “here-and-now”, but about “future-proofing” your business, i.e. being prepared for what the world will throw at you. Now’s the time to address current problems and prepare for the uncertain future in one implementation. 
It’s also about making it easy for customers to do business with you, in however way they want to engage with your organization. Let’s review your main steps to providing this value: 

  • Prioritize your data first before focusing on digital strategy.
  • Make sure your entire team can access your business no matter where they are or what device they’re on, which in turn makes it easier for customers to business with you.
  • Have a single source of truth for all your financials, sales channels, warehousing, fulfillment, and analytics with an eCommerce portal that’s integrated directly with your ERP. 

The eCommerce platforms Magento and BigCommerce, as well as Acumatica, are widely recognized as best-in-class for this exact purpose, and when combined there are no other systems on the market that can compete with functionality, performance, or value. Kensium is unique in that we’re the only company that can assist with both (plus the integration between them) under one roof. It’s a one-stop-shop to future-proof your business. Explore our website to learn more.