Seven ways to fine-tune your distributorship’s fulfillment and delivery approach in an e-commerce-led selling environment.
You can have all of the trucks you want, but if your deliveries are stuck in mid-morning traffic on the way to the job site, those vehicles are basically useless. This presents a major problem for B2B distributors that for years have been designing the inside of their trucks to ensure that they can accommodate the equipment, parts, and supplies that contractors need on the job site.
In a world where customers expect to tap a smartphone screen and have the goods appear magically either same-day or overnight, electrical distributors need bulletproof stocking, fulfillment, and delivery strategies designed to meet and exceed those demands.
“Once upon a time, it used to be acceptable to place an order online and expect to wait a week, or longer, to receive your product,” Arno Ham writes in 2019 B2B e‑commerce trends: Putting convenience before innovation. “Now, thanks to businesses like Amazon raising the bar for consumers’ delivery expectations, next-day shipping is preferred (and often even required) before your customer will complete a purchase.”
With this expectation as the bare minimum, Ham expects more B2B businesses to start investing in more efficient and more reliable order fulfillment. And it won’t be about next-day shipping anymore, he writes, we’ll be talking about making delivery within the hour possible.
“In B2B, for example, if your customer needs a specific product on a job site, they want to turn to a business that will go above and beyond to make these kinds of things happen,” Ham concludes. “This means enabling fulfillment that’s as fast as possible or understanding that the customer will likely then buy from a competitor who can.”
7 Ways to Improve Fulfillment and Delivery
To make sure customers don’t jump ship over to the next electrical distributor or online marketplace that does fulfill its fast delivery promises, electrical distributors can:
- Always put the customer first. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the key point here is to always keep the customer at the center of the stocking, fulfillment, distribution conversation. What are their pain points? Where do they need the most help? How can you, as a distributor, help to alleviate those challenges and become a supplier of choice? By focusing on these important points, you’ll be able to solidify relationships (and lower the odds of one delayed order or incorrect delivery becoming a deal-breaker).
- Leverage automation. Your customers expect their purchases to be delivered right away – and if you can’t meet those expectations, repeat business is unlikely. Automation is helping companies rise to the challenge, says Ken Anderson, VP of sales and marketing at Tampa-based paperless process provider IntelliChief. “Instead of manually collecting your customers’ order forms, manually entering the details into their order management system, and sending the requests to each internal department via email,” Anderson says, “distributors can automate the entire process.” From there, software can be used capture the order forms and OCR technologies can collect the information from each page and send it directly to the distributor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) or another centralized business system.
- Get your logistics right. As mentioned earlier in this article, all the trucks in the world won’t do your distributorship any good if those vehicles can’t make it to their destinations on time. “Expedience is a big factor right now, so if you can’t match what the e-tailers are doing in the 2-3 day shipping arena, then you won’t have any game,” says Daniel Saunders, senior solutions manager at U.K.-based marketing agency Blueclaw. He tells distributors to plan out their logistics strategies well in advance, focusing on getting deliveries from Point A to Point B in the most timely, accurate, and efficient manner possible. Don’t overlook the last point, he says, because it could end up costing you your margins. “Make sure you understand the true cost of delivery,” he adds.
- Find the market gaps and fill them. Brian Sheehan, marketing manager at logistics provider Hollingsworth, LLC, says B2B distributors have a competitive advantage because they can offer a more personalized customer service experience—while Amazon relies on call centers to handle those interactions. “Distributors can also focus on their logistics/transportation in terms of sustainability (products traveling the shortest distance) and fastest delivery time,” Sheehan says, noting that certain logistics providers can support B2B distributors with these factors, depending on where its distribution centers and warehouses are located. “Amazon will take over if we don’t do anything about it,” Sheehan adds. “Find gaps in Amazon’s B2B distribution and [fill] them.”
- Dust off some old-school tactics. E-commerce may be evolving at the speed of light right now, but that doesn’t mean that some foundational distribution tactics don’t work anymore. In fact, Saunders tells electrical distributors to try instituting some free-shipping minimums (say, $50) as a way to avoid losing money on fast delivery options. “You may still take a small hit,” Saunders says, “but at least you’ll be selling two products instead of one (as an example), which allows you to buffer in two different margins versus just one.” He says this approach has worked well for a few of the retailers that his firm works with.
- Pay attention to what the big B2B e-tailers are doing. “If you work in any sort of e-commerce sphere, make sure you’ve got every aspect of Amazon down—from your product listing pages to your catalogue to your advertising,” Saunders advises. Keep tabs on those e-tailers’ logistics strategies, he adds, knowing that they can change on the fly and incorporate new, enticing offers that could lure your customers in. And if you don’t have the in-house expertise in this area, get outside help.
- Share demand forecasts with suppliers. If you’re in an industry that naturally fluctuates, your orders may change from month to month. To keep your suppliers prepared for larger-than-normal orders, let them know that you’re expecting an increase in demand as early as possible. “This ensures that they’re not only prepared to handle your larger order,” says Anderson, “but also prepared to do so as quickly as possible.”
Tagged with B2B, best practices, delivery