Wholesalers’ Plans for Digital Investments: How Do You Stack Up?

An overview of how wholesalers are planning their tech spending, as well as best practices for implementing them.

Id 24516 Us Wholesale
Lisa Balter Saacks, Vice President of Business Development at BlueTarp FinancialLisa Balter Saacks, Vice President of Business Development at BlueTarp Financial

Modernizing the B2B customer experience for the digital age is a challenge that many wholesalers are facing. Technology has radically changed the consumer buying experience, and in the world of Amazon, wholesalers are looking to create a friction-free purchase-to-payment process for customers.

According to a March 2018 member survey by the National Association for Wholesalers-Distributors (NAW), 85 percent of wholesalers are planning to make digital investments in the next 1-2 years. With these strategic investments, companies are looking to improve efficiency and meet customer expectations to be competitive.

Here’s an overview of how wholesalers are planning their tech spending, as well as best practices for implementing them.

Trends in Tech Spending

Wholesalers’ biggest challenges are integral to the success of their business:

  • Improving margins: 70 percent
  • Recruiting skilled professionals: 51 percent
  • Growing sales: 45 percent
  • Streamlining operations: 35 percent

Such challenges are motivating them to make digital improvements. Respondents cited the following drivers for their digital investments:

  • Efficiency, costs, faster processes: 84 percent
  • Customer requirements or expectations: 78 percent

Competitive threats also were cited; for example, wholesalers may seek to collaborate to create online marketplaces apart from Amazon.

Wholesalers are focused on improving the following areas of their business with digital enhancements in the next one to two years:

  • Customer interactions such as online ordering, billing, service, payments: 58 percent
  • Sales management tools: 17 percent
  • Supply chain operations: 17 percent

The majority of companies surveyed—87 percent—are likely to make digital improvements to the order-to-cash process, which includes credit applications and approvals; billing, payment and collections; cash applications; and ongoing risk monitoring.

Specifically, wholesalers are planning to invest in these areas of the order-to-cash process:

  • Online bill pay: 33 percent
  • Online credit applications: 12 percent
  • Online account management: 11 percent

Wholesalers are increasing their technology spend to keep pace with customer demand. Customers are particularly interested in:

  • Online account management: 73 percent—striking, given that just over 10 percent of wholesalers said they plan to invest in this area
  • Online bill pay: 60 percent—nearly double the number of wholesalers planning to invest in this technology
  • Online credit applications: 47 percent—nearly four times the percentage of wholesalers focusing on this area
  • Automated application approvals: 30 percent

Improve Speed and Accuracy of Credit Approvals

The credit application approval process can be time-intensive, costly, and can cause friction between the credit and sales teams. A manual approval process can take hours to days to complete: The customer fills out the credit application, an employee manually pulls a credit bureau file, evaluates whether the applicant is creditworthy and finally decides whether to grant credit and how much. Sales gets impatient and pushes back, and the process continues.

New digital solutions provide speed without sacrificing accuracy. The current generation of online credit applications includes real-time risk assessment with immediately available credit lines. As many as 80 percent to 90 percent of incoming applications can generate instant decisions. Approved applicants have immediate ability to buy, accelerating both online and offline sales.

And while the credit application is online, customers can still interact with you in the method they prefer. For instance, to accommodate an offline customer, a sales person working remotely with a tablet device can enter the information on behalf of the customer, receive an instant decision and continue with the sales conversation.

It’s also a good idea to provide your credit and sales teams with shared dashboards so both teams can see the status of submitted electronic or mailed applications. When the credit decision is made, the information can be fed into the sales team’s CRM. This is especially important with geographically dispersed teams, ensuring that everyone has the same information, no matter where they are located.

Improve Customer Experience and Boost Productivity with Online Account Management

A dedicated customer portal creates the opportunity for an improved customer experience and increases your team’s productivity.  Every action a customer can take to self-serve means you are not paying an employee to answer a call, research customer needs, mail a statement or complete other manual tasks. Automating these small tasks frees up your credit and sales teams to focus on higher-value conversations that cannot be completed by a computer.

Meanwhile, online billing and payment is one of the easiest starting points in moving toward a better customer experience.

Best practices

  • Empower your customer: Give customers the ability to download statements, request more credit, view past purchases and payments, and make payments online.  Online tools don’t discourage phone calls or emails from customers who prefer to use those channels—but it does allow customers who are so inclined to serve themselves.
  • Keep it simple: It’s important to develop an intuitive platform that doesn’t leave them with more questions than answers. Consider mimicking popular consumer sites, using design elements and navigation tools that customers already know how to use. Design with mobile access in mind. Keep navigation short and sweet, list the most important pages first, include an accessible search option and be thoughtful about fonts so users don’t have to zoom to read text.
  • Offer flexible payment options: Allow customers to auto-pay or schedule a future payment. Provide options to pay by job, invoice or any dollar amount and receive communications about payments via text, phone, mail or email as they choose.

Investing in the online purchase-to-payment process is no longer optional. B2B customers will be won or lost over the quality of their online experience in applying for credit, making payments and managing their credit over time.  Wholesalers who plan their digital investments wisely can maximize value for their customers and employees, increasing efficiency and exceeding their expectations.  

Lisa Balter Saacks is vice president of Business Development at BlueTarp Financial.

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