In the digital age, dealers and distributors don’t want to flip through manufacturers’ print catalogs to find products. Even a digital catalog isn’t much good if it doesn’t allow your partners to purchase products. And if they’re going to buy online, they’ll need personalized pricing, real-time inventory availability, and all the relevant data and logic that live in your ERP.
Yet too many manufacturers rely on standalone catalogs and phone, fax, and email for order placement.
Whether you sell to dealers, distributors, or both, a B2B portal is the way forward. But how do you equip your organization and your customers for success with a portal?
Here are 6 keys.
1. Identify waste in current processes
How do your dealers and distributors get product information today?
How do they place orders? When they need to track orders, shipments, and invoices, where do they turn?
If you don’t have a portal, chances are, your dealers and distributors rely on print catalogs or disconnected digital catalogs for product information. When it comes to actual customer interaction—things like price and inventory checks, order placement, and post-order inquiries—you’re probably relying on phone, fax, and email.
All of these processes are wasteful. The bottleneck is usually the customer service representative, who can only handle so many interactions per day. The only way to increase capacity in this model is to hire more reps—but that doesn’t eliminate the problem. That only scales it.
A dealer portal can solve these issues by moving order placement and inquiries to the web. With a reduced burden of routine interaction, your customer service reps can transition to higher-value support activities.
2. Start small rather than engaging in a huge transformation project
Digital transformation is all the rage, yet many transformations fail to deliver on their promises. This is especially true for manufacturers who are new to digital processes. To be blunt, the interests of vendors aren’t always aligned with the interests of these manufacturers. Vendors like big projects—yet manufacturers who still rely on phone, fax, and email aren’t always ready to take on such massive shifts.
Still, you need to move forward in moving customer interaction to digital processes. That much is clear. So what’s the path?
Our clients find that starting small is best. Rather than launching a giant B2B eCommerce solution with a custom look and feel, custom ERP integration, and a lead time of 6 months to a year, they’re starting with a B2B portal for orders and invoice tracking. You can stand up a solution like this in 30 days (including the integration to SAP ERP), which means you can start making progress now.
With dealers and distributors using the portal to track orders, line items, shipments, and invoices, they won’t have to call customer service for these routine inquiries. That’s less frustrating for them—and more efficient for you.
3. Choose a portal platform that’s ready to grow with you
Starting small doesn’t mean you have to stay small. With the right dealer portal platform, you can launch your essential functionality first (what we discussed above), then add product catalogs, online ordering, invoice payments, parts finder integrations, and email order automation when you’re ready.
Of course, some organizations need to grow geographically, too. If that’s you, you should look for a platform that can scale up with multiple portals on the same SAP-integrated infrastructure. (Hint: That’s how Corevist Commerce is architected. You can reuse your existing SAP integration for multiple spinoff sites, which allows you to scale your portal program efficiently.)
In other words, you should allow yourself room to grow—and choose a solution that’s ready to track with you as you expand.
4. Balance internal perspective with customer voices
A dealer portal will affect multiple functional areas at your organization. Sales, customer service, and IT will all see an impact when the portal launches. They all need a seat at the table as you’re hashing out your project.
While these perspectives are important, you need to weigh them against the voices of real customers. What is it actually like to do business with your company? What pain points are your distributors experiencing that you don’t even know about?
It’s essential to get this perspective early in the project—and throughout it as well. As you figure out what a great dealer portal looks like at your organization, you’ll want to engage a smart methodology for incorporating the voice of the customer. That’s the thinking behind the Corevist methodology.
5. Give IT a break
Here’s where so many digital transformations fail.
If a B2B portal is going to work for your dealers and distributors, it needs real-time integration with SAP ERP. That’s the only way to bring customer-specific business rules and data to the portal. (Think about customer-specific pricing, real-time inventory, full order history…)
Chances are, your IT team already has enough on their plates. They’re already maintaining all that data and business logic in SAP ERP. Conventional portal solutions, i.e. those that don’t include integration, will require a middleware system sitting between the portal and SAP. IT gets nervous when they see this architecture because it requires duplication and synchronization of all data and logic across three systems.
That usually means you’ll need a team managing each system. SAP ERP, middleware, and the dealer portal.
It also greatly complicates your data landscape and introduces new risks to data integrity.
Some organizations have the IT resources to take on this burden—but most don’t. In fact, it’s rarely an efficient use of time, energy, and money. This is especially true when solutions like Corevist include prebuilt, configurable integration to SAP.
The idea here is to launch your dealer portal fast without taking on new technical debt. A managed, real-time SAP integration is the best way to do that.
6. Don’t wait to realize the value of a dealer portal
In the digital age, especially in the wake of COVID, manufacturers can’t afford to wait. If the competition already has a dealer portal (or they’re working on it), the clock is ticking. A frustrating customer experience can drive distributors to the competition—and phone, fax, and email processes are pretty frustrating when your customers are used to shopping on Amazon as consumers.
The good news is that a right-sized solution launches fast. The key is to find one that allows you to grow when you’re ready (and includes SAP integration). That’s the thinking behind Corevist Commerce.