“Disruption” is the buzzword that often surrounds technology in the business world. Indeed, we live in an era of unprecedented technological advancements, with new developments morphing from idea to actuality to prevalence at breakneck speed. New ordering platforms alongside heightened service and delivery expectations have revolutionized eCommerce on the retail side and wholesale is no different. For those looking to stay relevant, the old adage is true: it’s either lead, follow or get out of the way.
Today’s buyer doesn’t expect much, just a seamlessly integrated omnichannel purchasing experience, informed by ever-ready analytics, backed by a real time tracking system, next-level service and rock solid cyber security. And they want their product delivered yesterday. Fretting about unrealistic demands is the path to irrelevance. The path to success is decisive, but carefully considered, action.
Retailers, led by Amazon, have revolutionized the way that shoppers purchase and receive goods. In the process they’ve contributed to a perceived new normal.
Claire Kerr of Balloon One expects that the reverberations of this paradigm shift will continue to be felt up and down the supply chain. “This will have a knock-on effect of increasing the focus on multi-channel transport management,” says Kerr. “Distributors will seek all avenues that will get their goods to their customers quickly. So, there’ll be more companies using both internal fleets as well as external carriers.”
Not only will wholesalers have to meet demands for more timely delivery, they will have to provide more convenience, flexibility and transparency while doing so. Optimized ordering and tracking systems have joined traditional sales differentiators such as price, variety and availability in the consumer’s decision making process. Benefits of enhanced eCommerce include easy access to order history, status, purchase orders and invoices, as well as personalized marketing and remarketing capabilities.
As Caryn Hecht, Wholesale/Distribution Industry Lead with Clarkston Consulting, notes “Many of the challenges wholesalers have overcome in their ERP system can now be extended to digital platforms. The ability for real-time pricing incorporating quantity tier pricing, discounts, associations, and promotional pricing can be seamlessly incorporated into an integrated eCommerce platform thus encouraging customers to now trust and rely on this method of ordering.”
It’s not just customer-facing operations that are benefitting from streamlined operations. Working in lockstep with these systems are elevated inventory management structures, informing decisions throughout the supply chain. TradeGecko, an inventory management software company, touts the benefits of a forward thinking system.
“Automation and tracking innovation allows wholesalers to more effectively manage operations and make informed decisions about shipping, staffing, and warehousing,” says their website. “Increased growth in AI and machine learning will give B2B wholesalers the ability to easily manage and analyze data. This will allow for better planning and reduced operational costs. Looking ahead, more businesses will begin to utilize mobile apps and other connected devices to make operations easy to oversee.”
In order to deliver a system that will impress your customer, it’s important to think like your customer. Kristin Swenson, NetSuite’s Wholesale Distribution Industry Marketing Lead recommends a holistic approach.
“How will you manage your customer data?” asks Swenson. “Your inventory? It is important that you have technology in place to manage the entire product lifecycle. Rather than focusing on each department or process separately, think about how they function as a whole. Is your customer and inventory data tied to your financial data? It is important to not only invest in technology that drives efficiency within each department, but also that technology delivers your product or service from start to finish.” 
Blockchain in the Supply Chain
Powering many of these enhanced capabilities is blockchain technology. While perhaps most associated with cryptocurrency, blockchain’s applications are virtually limitless. Blockchain’s promise of accuracy, traceability, immutability and anonymity make it uniquely suited for executing smart contracts in real time, replacing long chains of communication with highly secure automations. While the technology powering blockchain is firmly in place, the applications continue to be a work in progress and will likely not be fully realized any time soon. All of this underscores the point: like life itself, remaining at the forefront of sales technology is a journey, not a destination.
With all of this disruptive technology influencing the way things are bought, sold, sourced and delivered, it may be tempting to ask whether the salesperson is necessary at all? To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. The arrival of railroads, and subsequent urbanization, was supposed to supplant the salesperson, as was the invention of the telephone. Much like these innovations, successful sales teams will view increased automation as a tool, not a threat.
 Kerr, Claire. “6 Wholesale Distribution Trends for 2019.” Balloon One, January 22, 2019. https://balloonone.com/6-wholesale-distribution-trends-2019/.
 “2019 Wholesale Distribution Trends.” Clarkston Consulting, July 18, 2019. https://clarkstonconsulting.com/insights/2019-wholesale-distribution-trends/.
 TradeGecko. “5 Trends in Wholesale Distribution 2018.” TradeGecko. Accessed September 19, 2019. https://www.tradegecko.com/blog/wholesale-management/5-trends-in-wholesale-distribution-2018.
 “What 2019 Has in Store for the Wholesale Distribution Industry.” NetSuite Blog. Accessed September 19, 2019. https://www.netsuiteblogs.com/what-2019-has-in-store-for-the-wholesale-distribution-industry.