Viewpoint: There is a strong business case for a digitally-led approach

In partnership with RNF, David Gilroy puts forward a strong business case for a digital approach to wholesale operations.

Delivered wholesale is operationally complex
Delivered wholesale can be a tenuous and tricky business. So many moving parts which must work together in sync for the operation to be successful: order receipt, reliable stock availability, effective inventory management, picking accuracy, picking productivity, delivery note creation, vehicle loading, vehicle route planning and timely deliveries. Quite rightly customers expect their goods to be delivered in full, in good condition and on time. They are relying on you to supply them every time without fail and they have exacting standards. This is not as easy at it appears. The market is highly competitive and any drop in service will trigger a switch to another provider. Customers take sustained efficiency as a given, but as we know, wholesale is about more than that. It is about relationships. And when things go wrong as they sometimes do, it is relationships that will pull you through.

Customer-facing people are important
The key people in the customer-facing roles are the telesales operator and the delivery driver. There is a high degree of probability that your customers know both individuals personally. There is likely to be a rapport between them and over time, a level of trust is built. These roles are so important that they are both recognised by the industry through the “Gold Medal Awards” scheme run by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) every year. It really is hard to imagine what you would do without them. Save for driverless vehicles and drone deliveries, your drivers will be with you for some time to come. Can the same be said for telesales operators? For example customers can’t always be expected to order on time or at all! So it is often the job of the telesales operator to call out and prompt the customer for an order. That said, in today’s world this is an expensive resource for order collection. We are now becoming familiar with online and mobile device ordering, both of which are a far lower operational cost to the business. Do you have to trade off customer relationships for operational efficiencies?

Read more: RNF offering free app to wholesalers

Telesales operators are expensive
A telesales operator has limited time to take an order and perform other related sales tasks which probably include: advising of any new products/changes to the range, seasonal range additions, pack size changes, price reductions, selling promotions, driving any up-sells or cross-sells, pre-sells and any special events. Add to this the time spent at the beginning and end of the call chatting to the customer – the all-important relationship building. This all takes time and adds to the length of the call which in turn reduces the number of calls per day and so increases the cost to the business. Is it conceivable that technology can perform these functions as effectively and at a lower cost. The short answer is a resounding “yes.”

Can technology safely replace telesales operators?
Let’s take the easy tasks first. It is now well-established industry practice that baseline web and app ordering works effectively in B2B trading and eliminates mistakes. The customer places their order. The order is processed through to picking list, delivery note and invoice. Therefore no human intervention thus avoiding errors. A properly set up product file will provide the user with all the important product details they need including pack size, formulation, origin and allergy information. So far so good.

Second-level selling such as imparting new information including: new products, range changes, regular promotions and seasonal ranges is also fairly well-established through prompts and triggers on desktop applications and mobile devices. There are a number of wholesale operators now deploying technology solutions in this area with reasonable levels of success.

Third-level selling is where things can get interesting in the technology versus a person debate. For sure a good telesales operator can communicate and secure, up-sells, cross-sells, pre-sells and promotional events. They can follow the script but they can’t tailor the deal to the individual customer’s ordering history or propensity to purchase. This is where digital starts to come into its own. Through the analysis of each customers’ ordering patterns the system will personalise a range of offerings to the individual. However, it doesn’t stop there.

Fourth-level selling is where the digital relationship execution far outstrips that of the person-to-person. Through deep learning and forensic analysis of the individual purchasing patterns of each customer, the system will refine and adjust incentives and sales prompts to present a range of value added options unique to that person. These options will always be relevant to the customer and may include incentives to buy more of a product or category that they already invest in, or alternatively may offer inducements to test and try new products or categories that they normally don’t purchase. There is a myriad of choice in between that could not possibly be handled by a telesales operator through a single call.  And by placing the products in an attractive contextual setting through AI technology, short video clips or pictures these offerings are made attractive and compelling. The customer experience is massively elevated to becoming one of being spoken to by a knowledgeable person but in a digital form. It’s as if the system is intimate with the customer’s business. Which it is – through all the machine learning and purchasing analysis. Not only that but it is constantly being refined and honed so that the “relationship” is being developed and kept fresh. Given that a large number of customers will be handled in a short time, the contact productivity is significantly increased. And you have reduced or even totally eliminated the man-hours cost of telesales operators. Therefore the customer experience is provided at a substantially lower overhead.

It is a wrench to part company with personable telesales operators. They do a great job of getting to know customers and giving good service.  The disadvantage of telesales operators is that they are limited in what they can do on a time-constrained call and that makes them costly. When effective order taking allied to the true knowledgeable personalisation is required to drive sales – digital wins every time. All the basic level one and two order options are covered. Then the really smart level three and four sales and business enhancing applications kick in. At this level order frequencies and transaction values are significantly lifted.  There is a strong business case for the digital approach. It is more cost effective selling method at a far lower cost. In short – it is unparalleled.

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David Gilroy is the founder and managing director of Store Excel. He was previously the convenience retail lead at W2 Commercial and held operations director roles at Bestway Wholesale and Nurdin & Peacock.


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