By Bridget McCrea
Keeping up with technology is a daily challenge for
electrical distributors that want to leverage the latest tools without spending too much money and time on equipment, software, gadgets, and training.
Too much technology and you wind up on the “bleeding edge,” too little and you
get left behind. Striking the balance is never easy.
“We’re continually trying to keep up with technology,” says
Jim Dunn, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Warshauer
Electric Supply Co., in Tinton Falls, N.J. With the goal of making its sales
force more mobile, for example, Warshauer began equipping it with iPads in
“It’s a great replacement for paper brochures, flyers, and
catalogues,” says Dunn, who assesses new technology options based on the
efficiencies and effectiveness that they provide to his sales team. “If that
means going paperless, then we’ll do it.”
The proliferation of gadgets, equipment, applications, and
concepts like cloud computing have put more technology into distributors’
hands, but it hasn’t made the selection process any easier. tEDmag.com wants to
help. Here are eight areas to explore if you’re looking to beef up your
company’s technology stable in 2013:
- Software in the cloud. Purchasing and installing
software on premise is passé. Check out the myriad of cloud-based options
that allow you to use full-blown versions of software applications without big upfront licensing fees and lengthy installation processes. Epicor, for example, offers a cloud
enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution specifically for small and
midsized distributors and NetSuite has developed a cloud-based ERP/financial suite for wholesale distribution
- Improved pricing analytics tools. Thanks to
technology, dynamic pricing is no longer a “seat of the pants” exercise.
Distributors can use technology to better optimize pricing across various
customer segments, determine specific price points for top clients, and
compare their pricing structures to that of their competitors.
Applications like Profit2 and Vendavo help companies increase
margins and achieve desired profit levels while keeping customers happy.
- Advanced inventory management applications. Balancing
inventory levels with customer demand has become a prime goal for many
distributors, particularly during the economic recession and the
subsequent recovery. Inventory management applications like ADS Solutions Advantage and Unleashed Online Inventory Software can provide the necessary technology backbone to help distributors achieve
the right balance between those two forces.
- Tools for a mobile sales force. As Warshauer has
already discovered, equipping sales reps with powerful, mobile devices can
bring a distributor’s sales force into the 21st Century
literally overnight. The popularity of the iPad has pushed numerous tech manufacturers to develop their own versions of
the mobile tablet – some of them cheaper and more powerful than Apple
products. Check out this TechRadar article, 10
best tablet PCs in the world today, for a rundown of the current
options (Warning: new options are coming on the scene daily).
- Simple and free ways to upload and share big files. Many email servers can’t handle the increasingly large files that are
being exchanged online. Enter tools like Dropbox, Box.net, and ADrive.com, all of which allow users to
upload and share files that exceed the capacity of the typical email
inbox. These tools are especially useful for remote sales reps that want
to exchange large files (with customers, the home office, etc.) without
overtaxing their mobile devices.
- Easy customer contact programs. Technology can help
fill the void between in-person meetings and phone calls. Both ConstantContact and MailChimp provide email marketing
solutions that not only “touch” customers on a regular basis, but can be
configured to measure response rates and other metrics. New product
announcements and photos can be quickly transformed into attractive email
messages that recipients can read, respond to, and even share via social
networks like Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Powerful, web-enabled smart phones. Don’t overlook
the power of a smart phone in helping sales reps and associates get more
“mobile” without having to make a large investment in equipment. A
salesperson’s own mobile device can serve as a valuable connection for
tech-savvy clients that would rather “text” their orders in versus make a
call, send a fax, or type up an email. The web-enabled devices also allow
reps to efficiently collaborate in real-time, online (using project
management tools like Google Drive or Smartsheet, for example) with
each other and with the company’s home base.
- Mobile applications galore. No conversation about
tablet computers and mobile phones would be complete without mentioning
the thousands of mobile applications that have proliferated over the last
couple of years. Many of them are free (or close to it) and readily
downloadable to a tablet or mobile phone. Check out options like Springpad and Evernote for taking notes and keeping
team members on the same page; Quickoffice and Documents To Go for creating and
managing documents; FileApp
or FileApp Pro for keeping files organized on your mobile device; and Invoice2Go for estimating, billing,
invoicing, and collecting.