Top 5 2016 Predictions: B2B Keeping Pace With the On-Demand Economy

For the last decade, retailers have been increasing the ease of shopping and the speed of product delivery as they respond to the on-demand requirements of consumers. To better support and service these retailers, wholesalers have also begun to change their processes and implement technology to increase the speed and ease of ordering and fulfillment. As “on-demand” becomes the standard in 2016, here are 5 predictions for how B2B businesses will keep pace.

B2B Ecommerce Goes Mobile

B2B ecommerce has been a growing part of manufacturers’ and distributors’ sales mix over the past few years and is projected to grow to over $1 Trillion in the US alone by 2020. To date, most of these transactions have been conducted through supplier websites tailored to the B2B purchase process or online marketplaces. However, according to Forrester Research, 52% of B2B buyers are now doing product research with their smartphones to search for products, browse catalogs, and read reviews.

In 2016, we will see wholesalers increasingly adopt native mobile apps that provide on-demand ordering experiences and convert buyer research into sales. As most buyers assess their inventory needs as they walk their shop floors, these mobile apps will provide buyers with the ultimate convenience of rapidly building orders on the go and then instantly submitting them to their suppliers. By complementing their other sales channels with mobile and enabling customers to submit orders from anywhere at anytime, manufacturers will be in a position to receive and process them faster than ever before.

Field Sales Role as Strategic Advisors Expands

With B2B ecommerce technology’s rapid proliferation throughout the wholesale distribution industry, the in-person sales process will no longer concentrate on simply taking orders. Instead, sales representatives will take on a more strategic role with customers at in-person meetings. Sales reps will increasingly focus these discussions on ensuring that the buyer has the right product assortment and optimal on-hand inventory levels to meet the immediate shopping needs of consumers.  In addition, they will focus more time on merchandising to garner consumer attention and store employee training to ensure they can give shoppers expert, personal advice at the point of purchase.

In 2016, manufacturers and distributors will move beyond providing just digital catalogs and mobile order writing solutions.  They will extend these solutions to include customer-specific information and product reports at their sales reps’ fingertips.  They will provide data-driven insights like customer order history, sales performance reporting, and top products that buyers are missing.  Mobile solutions will also include ideal merchandising plans and key selling tips.  Delivering this information on mobile devices will make it easier for sales reps to provide a more consultative sales experience and allow retailers to better cater to their shoppers’ immediate needs.

Focus on Technology Adoption

In 2016, manufacturers and distributors will continue to invest in B2B Commerce technology that improves their ability to respond to the on-demand economy. However, they are quickly recognizing that without comprehensive adoption by their sales reps, back-office staff, and customers. they won’t fully realize a return on their investment.

2016 will be the year manufacturers and distributors make a commitment to actively driving adoption by key stakeholders.  B2B ecommerce initiatives will be actively marketed to customers based on how the convenience, ease of use, and speed of the experience will benefit their operations.  Wholesalers will also look to align their processes and consolidate order management on a single platform by working with reluctant sales reps to adopt order writing software.

Ensuring a Seamless Integration Across Systems

Manufacturers and distributors have ERPs and other systems to run their businesses and have added best-of-breed solutions, such as order management, inventory management, and ecommerce around these legacy systems to expand their capabilities.  For wholesalers to respond to the needs of the on-demand economy, they need a continuous flow of data that gives employees maximum visibility across the business.

In 2016, manufacturers and distributors will prioritize system integration and automated information transfers.  For instance, to reduce backorders and manage delivery expectations, inventory management systems will sync directly to B2B Commerce platforms to ensure that sales reps and customers have stock levels on products prior to submitting orders.  At a minimum, order management systems will be tightly connected to ERPs and logistics systems to deliver faster order fulfillment.  B2B software vendors will also emphasize integrations as they become a deciding factor in purchase decisions.

Renewed Focus on Logistics for Faster Fulfillment

In 2016, wholesalers that want to stand out in the on-demand economy will increase the flexibility of their supply chains to deliver the breadth of their catalogs fast. For many retailers (especially independents), carrying enough inventory to meet the needs of consumers can be expensive and fraught with risk.

Since manufacturers and distributors sell to many retailers, they can spread that risk out across their customer base. By offering short turnaround drop-ship terms for small orders either to the store or to the end consumer, wholesalers enable retailers to showcase the full range of their products and allow them to deliver on the on-demand promise without taking on the additional inventory risk. Even if wholesalers don’t go this far, they will reorient their fulfillment processes to get products onto store shelves faster.  

 Michael Elmgreen is Chief Revenue Officer for Handshake

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