Distributor sales reps have long been weighed down by manual tasks, administrative work and mundane processes. Most of a representative’s time is spent taking inventory, customizing and entering orders, and sometimes chasing payments, often standing around waiting for retailers to write a check. 

By digitally connecting distributors to retailers, distributor salespeople have reallocated their time and reimagined how they approach their retail accounts. According to insights from Eagle Rock Distributing Co., live sharing of retail data, eCommerce and cloud technology gives sales reps the power to reallocate as much as three-fourths of their time to do what they do best: guiding retailers to grow their business and move product.

“We’ve been able to strategically align our people and technology to deliver a measurable impact on time to sell, retailer engagement and win rates,” said Thomas Johnstone, vice president of sales technology and strategy at Eagle Rock Distributing Co. “This alignment has refocused approximately 75% of our reps’ time on selling instead of that time being taken by manual processes.”

The reps’ quality of life drastically improves as they are no longer inventory and order takers, but now true retailer partners and sellers. They sell more and earn more, allowing distributors to retain and attract top sales talent ― a big benefit in today’s challenging labor market.

The following are three advancements in technology that, in combination, supercharge today’s distributor sales rep of the future.

Maintain a Clear Line of Sight Into Retail Sales and Inventory

In the past, sales reps have guided retailers through purchase decisions based on inaccurate, hand-written weekly comparisons of product counts. They haven’t had a way to determine if a product sold out on Monday or Saturday at a given retailer. As a result, an incomplete view of consumer buying habits is what informs sales to retailers, preventing all parties from maximizing revenue. The future state of distributor sales reps is around consultative selling based on timely, accurate data and enables them to expand the market share of brands they sell.

Enable a More Informed and Effective Sales Process: Distributor access to live retail sales and inventory data, previously only visible in retail POS (Point-of-Sale) systems, provides game-changing insights into how products are moving from retailer to consumer. Reps gather actionable insights around out-of-stocks, sluggish products, and in-demand products.

Armed with deeper retail insights in advance, reps can eliminate manual inventory documentation and redirect their attention to communicate new SKUs, promotions and business expansion tactics with the retailer. According to data on distributors that use live retail insights from Encompass, distributor representatives are spending an average of 50% less time taking inventory on every sales call.

Better Equip Reps to Help Each Retailer Optimize Shelf Space: The end goal is to have desirable products on the shelves when consumers want to buy them. That means accounting for the complexity where the mix of products that work well from one retailer to another can vary significantly, even within the same zip code or just down the street. Equipping sales reps with real-time detail on how each individual product moves at a specific retailer helps the retailer stock its shelves with products catering to consumers in their target market.

Furthermore, the use of intelligent data algorithms can be leveraged with certain systems to take live retail inventory insights to the next level. “Smart Orders” can be systematically created to provide recommended orders to a sales rep for each individual retail account. The sales rep can edit, cancel or approve the order and utilize its existence as another chance to engage in growth conversations with each individual retail account based on days of inventory and velocity. This is the next step in the three-tiered effort to ensure shelves are always consistently filled with desirable products, narrowing the gap between consumers, convenience and accessibility. 

Capitalize on eCommerce Online Ordering

Distributors are leveraging eCommerce to boost in-person selling. With specific information about each SKU in a distributor’s catalog now available through online platforms, retailers can learn about products when there is no on-site sales rep or before their visit, empowering them to proactively place orders on their own.  

Empower Retailers with Product and Pricing Info at Their Fingertips: Historically, retailers only had access to product information and pricing through a price book or an email that the distributor sends. With the pricing of products shifting quickly, the retailer might pay a different price than what they saw in the email. It is also unclear what products are available to them at any given point in time.

With eCommerce, retailers can now browse what’s immediately available in real-time, check accurate pricing, view new promotional opportunities and see brand ads. They are empowered with easily accessed information at their fingertips and are no longer beholden to a sales rep’s visit or in-the-moment product knowledge. 

Sell More by Providing a Wide Selection and a More Convenient Way to Order: eCommerce levels the playing field regarding selection and pricing across suppliers. Products from small suppliers are given equal visibility, providing the retailer a variety of smart choices. When looking at the retail level, mom-and-pop shops can access the same information about a distributor’s product catalog in the same way as a large chain. Retailers can place electronic orders electronically at any time, and alter and schedule orders as needed.

Empowered access to a wide selection and online ordering results in strategic, informed conversation proven to generate larger orders and increased sales. Data from Encompass’ online ordering platform, DSDLink, indicates an 18.3% increase in average order volume for distributors who have set up online shopping for their retail accounts.  

Reap the Benefits of eCommerce Electronic Payments

Receiving timely payments from retailers always has been a challenge. Checks are common among retailers because they have the control to schedule payments that match their cash flow. But this means distributors have to spend additional time and resources to gather payments. With eCommerce, paperless or contactless payments solve these complications while retailers continue smart management of their cash flow. 

Provide More Secure, Flexible Payment Options and Save Time: Distributors win back time from chasing payments, manually reconciling them with electronic payment options like credit cards, debit cards and Automated Clearing House. Distributors eliminate the fees and frustration of bounced checks, following up with buyers, untimely payments and missed deliveries. 

Get Paid Faster While Saving on Fuel and Minimizing Health Risks: Additionally, electronic payments have sustainability benefits. Less driving to collect payments means distributors save fuel and reduce pollution. Minimization of health risks associated with handling cash and physical cards, and unnecessary in-person interactions, also is an important consideration during a pandemic or a virus-heavy season.

“Contactless payments have saved the company a ton of time and money, and given us a chance to reallocate previously occupied resources to building better business for us and for our retail partners,” Johnstone said. “It's really about proactive account management, not reactive account management. Let people do what people do and let the machines handle everything else.”