One of the ways in which businesses can elect to compete is through a strategy of customer intimacy. In other words, enabling companies to make it so easy for their customers to transact business with them that they’d be fools to go anywhere else. So, let’s explore how a customer intimacy strategy applies to the food distribution industry and how a strong food distribution software solution can enable a business to achieve a sustained competitive advantage.
First, there are a multitude of methods by which orders can be placed in the food distribution industry. Of course, there are the traditional tried and true methods of phone and fax orders, where customer personnel speak with their vendor’s customer service or sales representatives or fax in their orders respectively. When phone orders are taken, good food distribution software solutions enable the customer service or sales representative to take the order in a rapid manner without slowing down the conversation with the customer. These systems can also present a series of other data including information about those products the customer orders most frequently and those products the customer has not ordered within their typical frequency. By doing so, there can be opportunities to upsell the customer or prompt the customer to remember to include additional SKU’s on the given order.
Additionally, there is an entire series of electronic means by which customer orders can be captured and entered into the supplying food distributor’s ERP system. These methods include traditional EDI processing, Web data entry via the supplier’s Web site, and several means by which handheld devices can be leveraged. Relative to handheld devices, if the vendor is performing direct-store delivery, the sales or delivery person can capture information about what products are needed in the next order directly in the customer’s store. Likewise, if vendor personnel are not directly in the customer’s stores on a day-to-day basis, the vendor can provide handheld devices to their key retail customers so customer personnel can enter orders directly into the handheld units as they walk the retail floor. These orders are transmitted directly into the food distributor’s inventory control system for replenishment.
Order acknowledgements and advance shipping notices (ASN’s) can be tailored on a customer-by-customer basis as well. Order acknowledgements can be delivered to food retailers via email, fax, or EDI. ASN’s can be sent by food distributors to their retail customers alerting them as to what products are being delivered associated with a given shipment.
Food retailers can have their vendors perform additional value-added services on their behalf to reduce requirements for internal operations at the retailers and speed product to the shelves. Unique product labeling and retail price marking are two relevant examples of value-added services food distributors can perform on behalf of their retail customers via good food distribution systems.
When the given distributor performs direct-store delivery, the electronic notification of the product delivered can be provided and an electronic proof-of-delivery can be captured which can be provided to the retailer. When shipping is done via common carrier, retailers may elect to have their distributors mark the product for store-level delivery though the actual physical delivery may occur via a retailer’s distribution center. This, too, will help to speed product to the shelves for consumers.
Finally, after the transaction is completed, delivering clean invoices is another element of delighting the customer. Whether these invoices are printed and delivered at the store via a mobile printer, delivered electronically at the point of delivery via DEX processing, printed and sent from the food distributor’s back office operations, or delivered out of the food distribution system via EDI processing, customer transaction processing can be tailored easily to customer preferences (or demands).
Food distributors can become invaluable partners to their retail customers through a combination of strong processes, systems, and technology. TGI’s Enterprise 21 ERP, which can be leveraged with Versatile Systems’ Mobiquity Route™ for direct-store delivery and route accounting, provides food distributors with the opportunity to establish and maintain a competitive advantage in their respective marketplaces.