The world of wholesale sales and distribution is not without its challenges. Overhead is high, sales processes are disorganized, and sales reps may lack the training and the information they need to make more sales in a hyper-competitive marketplace. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, however. Because with every challenge comes opportunities.

Those opportunities lie in change–a constant in our modern lives. The business and technology communities have made enormous progress with new devices, software, and innovative ideas that connect people and goods with more speed and efficiency than ever before. So why is it that, amidst this rapid transformation, wholesale sales and distribution systems have lagged?

While wholesale enterprises have made some strides in their back-end order processing and distribution processes with the widespread adoption of ERP systems like SAP and NetSuite, remnants of an analog world still cling to the pivotal front-end process of capturing and submitting an order. If you’re in wholesale sales, these daily annoyances are only too familiar: the carbon paper order forms littering your car and desk, the fax machine you’re still inexplicably punching numbers into, and data entry tasks that no sales rep in the 21st Century should have to deal with.

As the world continues to press forward, it’s time for the wholesale industry to join in. Let’s take a closer look at the wholesale environment, the biggest opportunities for transformative change, and wholesale business tips companies should pay attention to.

Wholesale Business Tips

Streamlining the Order Writing and Submission Process

Today, the process of writing and submitting an order can range from lightning-fast to dreadfully slow. Your business’s reliance on paper is an accurate determinant of where you land on this spectrum.

Even in 2015–a time when we can talk to our phones, wear computers, and print 3D objects–a Google search for “sales form triplicate” yields a depressing number of search results.

Think about the steps a typical order must go through before being shipped out to your retailer. The rep might take an order on scratch paper and then transfer it later to the official paper order form. Once they have the form, they’ll have to wait until they can get to a fax machine in order to send it out for fulfillment. An order confirmation may then be faxed or emailed to the retailer.

That’s three duplications of effort and four opportunities for errors in transfer (e.g. an inability to read poor handwriting or a smudged fax). Not to mention the fact that the entire process probably started with a sales presentation using a clunky (likely outdated) paper catalog.

You may be employing a variation of this process. Maybe your reps have to enter order information into an excel sheet before emailing it, or they’re re-entering it into your ERP system. Just remember, for every additional step it takes to process that order, you’re losing money.

So what’s the alternative?

There’s a huge opportunity for wholesalers to automate this order writing process. Sales order management solutions give reps the ability to carry a digital catalog on mobile devices, access customer order history and payment information, write orders, and instantly sync them with their back office for fulfillment. They can also email quick notifications to your customers, send them suggested orders or proposals for confirmation, and arrange for electronic payment.

All of this saves time and resources, eliminates the errors innate to your current paper-based processes, and ultimately makes your reps more productive. Imagine having your distributor ready to ship an order within fifteen minutes of the order being written. Shipping faster means shorter cancellation windows and faster cash flow.

Adding Value Through Customer Service

Relationship selling is as relevant as ever in the B2B environment. The role of sales reps, however, is transforming as technology advances, and there’s a huge opportunity for differentiation.

While sales reps once functioned as more of an order capturing point, mobile order writing tools store valuable customer intelligence that empowers sales reps to provide a customer-focused, insight-led experience to retailers. Sales reps can add value to their retailers by:

  • Showing up to store visits prepared with past order history
  • Respecting their time (i.e. no longer wasting valuable minutes on filling out paper order forms or fumbling through catalogs)
  • Providing insights on the competition
  • Making sure shelves are always stocked by sending and processing quick reorders
  • Helping with assortment planning
  • Suggesting popular products that have sold well with other retailers

In addition to the advice your sales reps are providing on the front lines, your business also has the opportunity to improve your customers’ experience by:

  • Redirecting staff resources once dedicated to data entry tasks to providing more proactive, rather than reactive customer service
  • Vastly improving order accuracy
  • Reducing backorders (order writing software can provide real time access to inventory information, allowing reps to manage retailers’ expectations)
  • Shipping product faster by reducing order submission delays

Providing 24/7 Omnichannel Availability

While sales reps are still a crucial part of any wholesale business, there’s another piece of the puzzle that’s likely missing in your business: an omnichannel strategy.

Although B2B sales are still about relationship management, more and more B2B buyers want the option of making purchases through other channels like B2B eCommerce websites and mobile apps.

Not only should your sales reps be able to place and check orders any time, your buyers should also be able to make purchases from their web browsers, tablets, and smartphones. This provides retailers with the modern purchase experience that they’ve grown accustomed to in their consumer lives, and gives you yet another revenue channel.

The omnichannel trend isn’t just rhetoric at this point; it’s reality. The B2B eCommerce market is set to double its B2C counterpart over the next five years, projected to reach a value of $6.7 Trillion by 2020. Global players like Amazon and Alibaba are leading the B2B eCommerce bandwagon, and wholesalers need to take notice.

The Bottom Line

It’s time for wholesalers to prioritize technology. Companies willing to invest in technologies that improve efficiency and grow sales will remain competitive as the stragglers get left behind.

Spend time looking at how you can leverage technology to improve order processing, customer service, and your retailer’s buying experience. You will gain your customers’ loyalty and increase your profits in the process. By exploring order management and B2B eCommerce software solutions that are easy to implement and use in the field, wholesalers will finally be ready to step into the future.

Are there other parts of the wholesale sales and order management process that you think need improvement? Have you made changes in your own business that have yielded great results? We’d love to hear your own wholesale business tips in the comments.