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Expanding Supply Chain Automation with Digital Order Writing

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Supply chain automation is often thought of as machines and robots replacing humans to lower costs, improve quality, and reduce risks in the production and movement of materials and finished products. As companies integrated their supply chains with suppliers and customers and eliminated siloed functions within their own organizations over the past thirty years, however, ensuring that data is easily accessible by the right people at the right time has become critically important.

Automating the capture, flow, and processing of information has been as critical as physical process improvements. Software systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and other technologies like RFID have long been important to improving the management and visibility of data within supply chains.

But as the on-demand economy puts pressure on retailers to meet rising consumer expectations, B2B buyers are in turn requiring faster, more accurate order fulfillment from suppliers. B2B commerce technologies that automate the capture, submission, and processing of orders are being rapidly adopted by manufacturers and distributors to better serve their buyers at lower cost and provide earlier insight into demand. With improved insight into all orders, these technologies are helping companies better manage their supply chains and differentiate from competitors.

Mobile Sales Order Writing

Orders can’t be picked and packed if the warehouse doesn’t even know they exist. When a sales rep writes an order, and it takes a few days for that order to be communicated to the warehouse, shelves are left empty.

This order submission delay can often be attributed to outdated paper-based processes like paper order forms, fax machines, phone calls and manual data entry. When the time it takes for sales reps to write an order, find a fax machine, send it to the back office, and then have customer service or data entry personnel try to decipher the handwriting and type in every SKU and line item is all added up, it can end up being days before an order even reaches the warehouse.

To get orders into the supply chain faster, manufacturers and distributors are adopting native mobile order writing applications running on consumer technology like the iPad and iPhone. With an intuitive, tap-to-order user experience, these applications speed up the ordering process. They include customer-specific product catalogs with HD images, ensuring only products relevant to that buyer are available for purchase and that the sales rep can visually confirm they are ordering the right products. Customer-specific pricing and supplier promotions are easily managed within the system and applied to orders.

With key information, such as pricing, SKU numbers, and shipping addresses readily available and accurate, order processing isn’t delayed due to errors. This highly visual, familiar digital experience enables sales reps to rapidly write an order and instantly sync it to ERP and WMS systems for fulfillment.

B2B eCommerce

While the face-to-face sales relationship is still a crucial part of the sales process, manufacturers and distributors are implementing B2B eCommerce solutions that give buyers the ability to place orders online or on mobile devices whenever and wherever they want. By putting the latest technology in buyers’ hands, wholesalers are able to drive operational efficiencies that reduce fulfillment times and help retailers better meet consumer demand.

These solutions provide B2B buyers and store employees with a simple, self-service B2C-like ordering experience. Retailers no longer have to take time faxing, emailing or calling in orders. Instead, retail staff can write orders and submit them directly to suppliers from the floor of the store, starting the order fulfillment process as early as possible to ensure faster delivery.

Real-Time Access to Inventory Levels

Backorders slow down order processing and increase costs. One way to effectively improve order processing, therefore, is to prevent backorders from occurring in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is to provide access to inventory levels––both to the reps as they’re placing orders during store visits, and to buyers who may be placing orders on a B2B eCommerce portal.

When they know exactly what products are in stock and what’s unavailable, sales reps can sell more strategically, steering the conversation towards other products. Customers can look at alternatives on their own as well. This simple step can mean orders shipping faster, and more orders shipping complete.

Conclusion

With orders being quickly written and submitted to back office teams, the fulfillment process for an order can begin minutes after the order has been written. Staff can confirm the order and start the next steps––in many cases, allowing orders to be sent to the warehouse, picked and packed for shipment same day, and delivered the next.

By consolidating sales channels through an automated digital ordering platform, procurement and production teams have improved visibility into demand and the resulting impact on inventory levels. They can make more informed decisions on materials purchases and necessary production runs while reducing costs, eliminating waste and lowering risk.

Michael Elmgreen is Chief Revenue Officer at Handshake

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