As the speed of business accelerates and companies try to do more with less, the key is improving productivity. One of the issues we’re hearing more and more about is the need for manufacturer reps / lighting agents to be more responsive to distributors and end-users / contractors. While they endeavor to get “good” information faster, inevitably the issue is the definition of “good” as well as getting the information “fast enough.”
Why the issue?
Good question. Some manufacturers respond that “we have a portal and the information is there.” Others respond “just call customer service.”
Here’s the challenge.
Portals are a manufacturer’s way of outsourcing work to their sales organization, making their reps go to a central source. But, consider how many lines an agency carries … 10? 20? 30? And how many people need to access the portal? Talk about cybersecurity issues! And frequently the information in the portal is not updated real-time (or even daily). And then think of the lost productivity for reps as well as the lost productivity of the manufacturer’s under-resourced customer service team having to received multiple calls from a rep.
In reality, the information should be “pushed” to the rep so that they have access to the same information that the manufacturer’s direct salespeople, or more appropriately, customer service / inside sales people have. Why? Because, nowadays, reps are the first line of customer service. They are who the distributor turns to.
The alternative? Perhaps distributors should call the factory whenever they have a question about an order? Think of how many calls a factory would receive (let alone need to staff for all three time zones.) How many more customer service people would need to be hired!
While portals can have a role, technology is advancing so that there are better solutions.
Last month TradeTech Solutions, which is essentially an ERP system for reps, shared that they are working with some manufacturers for direct connections via APIs. Yes, it gets a little technical but it is a simple thing for a manufacturer’s IT department to implement.
So, we asked Matt Scarborough from TradeTech Solutions to share more:
Increase the Speed of Manufacturer Sales & Service via APIs with Your Reps
Remember the AT&T pay phone booths back in the old days – the salesman’s lifeline to the office and the factory. You knew where all the convenient pay phones were located, so you could call the office or the factory to check part inventory or order status? Fast forward to today – the era of cell phones and laptops. Could you imagine doing sales today without a cell phone or a laptop computer?
Cell phones and laptops delivered more than just convenience. They brought large amounts of data at amazing speed to our fingertips, eyes and ears that used to be accomplished with pay phones, copper lines and fax machines. They not only changed the way inside and outside sales communicate but also decrease cycle times for responding to RFQs and booking and shipping orders – all resulting in: SPEED = TIME = $$$.
Technology can enhance the capabilities, relationship and communications between salespeople and their manufacturers. And with over 80% of electrical industry sales conducted via manufacturer reps / lighting agents, technology, used effectively, can be a huge benefit to enhance the effectiveness of manufacturer rep agencies … hence making their manufacturers perceptually more effective.
The time has come to speed things up again, save time, sell more and futureproof business. How? By incorporating Application Programming Interface (API) or real time information into manufacturer sales operations processes.
Why Integrate with a Rep ERP System?
They make access to information more accurate and faster to receive.
Reps are contracted to sell. Whoever is first – wins. If you can save time checking stock, obtaining pricing, creating quotes, developing and submitting packages, closing orders and following shipments, you’ll have time to sell more.
Here’s how implementing APIs into the Rep environment saves time, increases accuracy and expands capabilities.
- Quicker access to more information means less time relying on the manufacturer’s support team
- Realtime communications promotes collaboration between inside and outside sales teams
- Simplifies the inside sales / customer service process:
- With only one software to interface with, the API eliminates quote entry redundancy and the re-loading of quotes from an Excel spreadsheet to the order entry platform
- The API converts the RFQ or Order upload in seconds into the system and instantly populates the TradeTech Solutions page or vice versa.
- Your Inside staff now has a computer with all the data – any customer inquiry or follow-up activity is automatically in front of the inside staff’s computer. No need to access the manufacturer’s system via their portal. With everything connected, the inside salesperson never has to leave TTS software
- Increased Accuracy: Quote and Order Entry “margin of error” is greatly decreased by using one entry system that inside and outside sales personnel understand.
- Rapid response:
- With continual access to actual inventory and customer pricing, inventory/pricing questions are immediately answered by anyone in or out of the office
- Create a submittal package or multiple spec sheets straight from a quote with one touch
- With visibility to EDI orders, additions, changes, and other edits to orders can be quickly addressed
- Current CRM information can be easily entered and managed
- Warehousing reps can easily implement and manage bin locations, and manage inventory based on current sales history
- Eliminate multiple pass codes, and manage the whole process with one password
API = More time to close orders instead of managing orders
How Does TradeTech Solutions’ (TTS) API Solution Improve Productivity?
The most significant role of a rep agency is to be the extension of the manufacturer in a specified geographic territory. If the rep is not electronically connected to the manufacturer, they must call or email.
With TTS’ API, information can be shared at a moment’s notice – reducing lag time from minutes to seconds. The manufacturer is sharing data in real time: automatically updating pricing changes and data sheets. The manufacturer also benefits by having the sales rep informed about the inventory and/or shipping status when they need it. After all, isn’t this information that a manufacturer would provide to a direct salesperson?
TTS’ API makes the agent more efficient.
Some of the productivity and service benefits for the manufacturer include:
- Manufacturers can share inventory shipping data, customer specific or general pricing, announcements etc., with reps in real time.
- Reps would only have access to features that manufacturer and TradeTech Solutions allow
- Simplify the system and save time: the manufacturer no longer has to provide daily support of individual portals with rep firms. They only need to interact with TradeTech Solutions
- All Rep software support is provided by TradeTech Solutions
- API access to a specific set of data strengthens the cyber security position for the manufacturer by eliminating direct network access to raw data in SAP.
- Manufacturer controls incoming data request through one port and manages the response to the TTS Platform (all requests/responses are encrypted and authenticated)
- Eliminate managing multiple users and user fees to third parties (such as SAP, SFDC…)
- Reps cannot accidentally change anything in manufacturer’s ERP system
- All agent employees would be familiar with TTS as it runs the agent’s complete business
- All hardware required by the TTS Platform is the responsibility of TradeTech Solutions and not the manufacturer
- No VPN connection required. The manufacturer only provides specific data when requested.
How Difficult is TTS’ API to implement for Rep firms and Manufacturers?
That’s the good news. TradeTech Solutions’ TTS platform conveniently integrates the API functionality between Sales Rep and Manufacturer and can be up and running in days.
To learn more about the next generation of sales channel automation impacting the sales/order entry process, contact Matthew Scarborough at TradeTech Solutions: 617-797-4956.”
The bottom line is, if manufacturers want to improve their internal productivity, ensure good information is shared with their distributors and want to improve the productivity and effectiveness of their rep network, they should be pushing information to them.
As manufacturers enter the planning season with their reps they should be asking them what their technology stack is and, specifically, what they use for their “ERP” system. It’s a simple task that every RSM should be able to ask the question.
Presuming key reps, representing a critical mass of sales, are using TradeTech Solutions, reaching out to Matt to learn more makes business sense. And this is something that needs to be driven by senior sales management / executive management so that IT doesn’t “inhibit transactions.”
As manufacturers pursue digital transformation, integrating seamlessly with your reps just seems to make sense. Productivity improvements can improve profitability for all, especially in these inflationary times where labor is hard to find.
Question … what is the rationale not to do this? And if you are connected seamlessly (either with your manufacturer or to your reps), what are the benefits you are realizing?