The Ghosts of Sales Orders Past, Present, and Yet to Come

Sarah Leung
December 23, 2014

The holiday season is here, and you know what that means: sales. It’s a hectic time for retailers and wholesalers alike, as shoppers descend upon stores in eager packs looking to swipe their credit cards with reckless abandon and buy gifts for family and friends. So...what better way to reflect on the holidays than a good Dickensian look at Sales Order Management? As the year comes to a close, it’s a good idea to reflect on the state of your business, your sales over the course of previous months, and your goals for the upcoming year. In particular, it’s important to think about how you’re going to continue to grow your business and increase your profits. In the world of wholesale, one of the best ways to do just that is by looking at efficiency gaps in your sales process. One of the biggest of those gaps exists in how your orders are written and processed. Let’s take a look at the past, present, and future of the wholesale sales order.

The Ghost of Sales Orders Past

In the past, sales orders were written on paper. Often, these paper order forms were sent via snail mail to manufacturers or distribution centers for fulfillment. As a result, fulfillment times were long and drawn out, and if a particular sales rep had a penchant for poor handwriting, the unlucky souls at the distribution center were left with the nigh impossible task of deciphering what they’d written. Not fun. To make matters worse, said poor handwriting would lead to orders shipped with errors, whether they were the wrong quantities, the wrong items, or even the wrong addresses. Of course, errors led to angry retailers phoning in their grievances, giving your customer service teams the difficult job of patching up those precious sales relationships. Scared yet?

The Ghost of Sales Orders Present

The Ghost of Orders Present looks a lot like the Ghost of Orders Past. Sales orders are still written on paper, and the process is similarly slow. Sales reps filling out paper order forms have to take the time to look up pricing for dozens (or more) of SKUs, and they need to memorize different payment and discount terms for each customer. Although snail mail is no longer the widespread method of submitting orders, fax machines, scanners, and email aren’t much better. Though the sales order doesn’t have to endure a couple days in the postal system, it’s still on paper. In the end, nothing has really changed. Mistakes are still happening due to bad handwriting (especially on those smudged or faded faxed order forms), and fulfillment speeds are slow--dependent upon how long it takes a sales rep to submit the order (s)he has written. The worst part is, while this process remains slow, the rest of the world has sped up around it. People are constantly connected, sharing information at a breakneck pace. If you’re looking to order something from a retailer online, it can be at your door within two days for free. In this environment, the Ghost of Orders Present is here to tell you that fax machines, emails, and data entry are woefully inadequate.

The Ghost of Sales Orders Yet to Come

The future of order writing looks like this: Sales reps have all their products, pricing information, and customer information in a mobile database. They can quickly search through an image-rich digital catalog, add products to an order, and get a customer’s signature on their devices. Once the order is written, they email a copy to their customer and a copy to their back offices for fulfillment. All without touching a fax machine or laptop. In this process, all the information is digitized, so errors are eliminated. All information can be changed and updated in real time across your team of reps. Customer-specific discount and payment terms are stored in the mobile application and applied automatically. Orders are sent out immediately for fulfillment, and customers are happy for the modern experience that was missing in the “Orders Present” stage. Actually, the “Ghost of Orders Yet to Come” is perhaps a misnomer. They’re already here.