One of the most frustrating aspects of working with Distributors as an essential part of your sales team is the difficulty of getting real-time insight into what they are doing and what results in you should expect from their efforts. Distributors tend to be a bit like black boxes in the overall sales process. As sales managers, the typical way you try to get control of them is by conducting periodic Distributor Business Reviews.
A Distributor Business Review usually includes an attempt to get an update on the new business opportunities they are working on to find out whether they have progressed toward closing the business. They also include a review of the current business results that have been reported in the Point of Sales reports and Inventory reports. Sales managers try to set business goals for the next quarter or year and get the Distributor to accept these goals. The reality is that the Distributors mostly just want to get the review over and will accept whatever the supplier wants to force on them knowing full well that the penalty for missing the goal is negligible and the effect of the review tongue lashing will be over once the meeting is adjourned.
From the Distributors’ perspective, they have a few exceptionally large, important suppliers and a lot of medium or small, specialty suppliers that want their attention but are only useful in a few of their customers. Unless you are one of the largest important suppliers, your efforts to get their attention and focus are not going to make a lot of difference in what they do daily to book business. This is especially true if your product requires a lot of technical hand-holding to get designed into a customer’s system.
Distributors have their own systems for tracking the business, managing the customer interactions, and forecasting what will be coming. To really get insight into what they are really doing you need to get access to that data and pull it into your business tracking system seamlessly with little or no human intervention. One example of doing this is the way companies capture Point of Sales and Inventory data from Distributors. This is typically done either with EDI interfaces or more commonly with file transfers from the Distributor to the supplier on a daily or weekly basis. Suppliers have been able to capture this data, often a lot of manual effort from the suppliers, and use excel files or CSV files to pull it into a process that cleans the data and makes it compatible with the suppliers reporting database. Channel Data Automation takes this one step further, to automate the capture, cleaning, validation, and import of the data into the supplier’s system. NEHANET captures this data either with industry-standard EDI interfaces or with file transfers that are set up to automatically capture, clean, and import the data on a set schedule. Once the data is imported into the system the full analytical power of the CRM system can be used to report and analyze the sales data as part of the overall business analytics provided in the system.
Accurate capture and reporting of all this transactional data are important but if you rely on just that information you miss everything that documents what is happening in the process of gaining new business opportunities. How do you find out what has happened to a customer or what has happened on a customer program you are trying to get designed into? One solution CRM suppliers including NEHANET have provided is to offer portals so distributors can enter data about programs and customers directly into the supplier’s system. This gets you partway there, but forces the Distributor to capture and enter all the information twice – once in their system, which management uses to track the business, and then another version of the supplier’s system. It is just human nature than the one that is least important i.e. the suppliers’ system, will get an abbreviated, summarized version of what happens and will drop out anything but the most basic data. So, a portal is better than nothing but not good enough to find out what is happening.
What you would really like to be able to do is to log into your CRM system and see the real situation that the Distribution Salespeople are telling their management about the new business opportunities they are working on. If that is what you want, then you need to be able to access the data they are entering into their business reporting system. There is no technical reason this data cannot be exported from their system and imported into your system the same way POS and Inventory data is handled.
NEHANET can automate this data acquisition process just as effectively and avoid the need for a Distribution portal data input step if you have it set up with your Channel Partner. Opportunities, Call Reports, Contacts, Accounts can all be imported directly from the Channel Partner with the correct filtering and file transfer methodology that can be implemented by the NEHANET Channel Partnership Team. Once you have a way to capture new business and account activity directly from the Distributors system you will get the complete picture of what is happening and what is stalled in real-time without waiting for a quarterly review to find out that what you were planning on is not going to happen or is delayed. It also will help your sales team engage with the Distributor sales team for a common database with a common understanding of the situation so they can take appropriate corrective action when necessary to close the business and build a cooperative team approach to the market.