Questions to Ask Yourself When Launching an Online Wholesale Channel

Increasingly, companies are leveraging online technologies to establish an online wholesale channel for distributors and retailers, among others. But many companies are tackling this for the first time, and so here at Zoey we see a lot of common threads in the process to establishing this way of capturing orders and working with buyers.

In this post we share, based on our years of conversations with others taking these same steps, the most common questions that sellers should think through as part of this process, as it can help make decisions about the best approach, and what features are required, to make this channel successful. The core questions are:

  1. Do you have an existing B2C channel? 
    1. If so, should they be connected?
  2. What elements do you use today to support order taking?
  3. What ordering patterns do your customers have?
  4. What types of products do you sell?
  5. What processes do you need to protect?

In today’s post we’ll offer some suggestions for navigating these questions, and areas of consideration for each.

1. Do you have an existing B2C channel?

Some B2B businesses also sell direct to consumer. In fact, many businesses we’ve worked with have started out bringing their B2C business online, while still conducting B2B business through more traditional ways. 

But as B2B buyers begin to expect the same ease of selling online as what they encounter from B2C stores, they’ve realized it’s time to also launch an online B2B buying system. Zoey has proved to be a great help for many businesses in this scenario.

Aside from any B2B-specific needs they need to evaluate, a secondary question also pops up when a B2C channel is also part of the business:

Should the two experiences be connected?

In some scenarios, it may make sense to use the same store, storefront, design, etc. to manage a B2C and B2B experience. There are a few reasons for this:

  • For the internal team, there can be value to selling through one platform, managing everything in the same place. 
  • It’s helpful when it’s the same products, with either quantity or pricing differentiators as opposed to different SKUs.
  • If some part of your B2B audience needs or prefers a browsable catalog, vs. a straight ahead quick ordering scenario.
  • If you use your catalog for SEO reasons, and having a public B2C channel helps with search engine exposure and exposing your products to new customers.

On the other hand, it may not make sense to use the same system if any of the following occur:

  • There’s a harder wall between your B2C businesses and B2B ones, such as different internal systems and/or teams to manage them.
  • The products are different, either in SKUs, packaging, etc. that leads to need a completely different catalog set that may not be worth housing in the same location as B2C
  • The preference to manage the different experiences in different solutions to reduce confusion and complexity for each side of the house
  • A lack of shared information beyond catalog between the B2C and B2B sides

Neither approach is necessarily better – each has its pros and cons. If you pick a solution that has both B2C and B2B, you benefit from data being in one place, so analyzing overall company orders might be easier. On the other hand, you may benefit from a separation of that data, which could facilitate using a B2C solution to, say, link up to marketplaces without effecting the B2B components. So it helps to discern the best approach if you have both channels.

2. What elements do you use today to support order taking?

Many B2B and wholesale businesses are still managing an overall transition from older ways of taking orders to the present. Some example of this that are slowly being transitioned out are:

  • Phone or email: It’s more common today for a company’s website to double as its catalog, with similar layouts and information presented. Some companies provide downloadable one-pagers on their website to provide the same information a catalog used to provide.
  • Snail mail (such as by catalog): Some buyers still receive a catalog and fill out a card as their basis for placing orders. Others will leverage mailed assets to see what’s new and place 
  • Human-led ordering: Some businesses have a need for someone on your team, such as a salesperson or customer service representative, to guide the sale, based on a variety of reasons and criteria. Some buyers simply prefer to work with someone to make sure they’re ordering the right things.
  • In person order taking: Building upon this, some people place orders with a rep in person, such as at trade shows or when they stop in to a location. A new system should be able to factor in such ordering requirements.
  • Order approvals: Some businesses require getting approval from a higher-up stakeholder before processing.

Whatever you leverage in a new system, you can incorporate these aspects to either connect in to your system, or the new system may ultimately replace certain aspects, such as the printed catalog, with something more modern and efficient.

3. What ordering patterns do your customers have?

For many sellers selling wholesale or to distributors, there are patterns to the buying process. Some businesses have times of year that tend to be busier because of the types of products they sell. Others sell evergreen products that sell through on a predictable basis.

Some businesses have different lines based on seasonality or demand. Others sell the same array of products throughout the year.

So when figuring out what you need out a portal, some questions you should ask around ordering patterns are:

  • Do customers place similar orders consistently where an order portal can help with streamlining that?
  • Do they order the exact same products each time?
  • Do they generally know what they need to order, or do they need assistance?

This can help determine whether, for instance, having frequently ordered products, re-order capabilities or a recently ordered list can help empower your buyers to handle things a bit more quickly and smoothly than digging out information an old order to look up SKUs and quantities. Order portals can also give customers access to complete order histories, which can further simplify the process.

4. What types of products do you sell?

What you sell could introduce requirements. For instance, if you’re selling simpler, easy to understand items, you may be able to rely on a self-service order portal to drive a significant percentage of the purchases through your company.

On the other hand, if your buyers are sourcing parts for complex products, needing guidance about new products based on previous products, or if the items you sell are just traditionally items that tend to need human interaction to successfully sell, your order taking system may leverage other types of tools such as Sales Quotes for salespeople to leverage to draft up orders that customers can approve and turn into an order instantly.

5. What processes should be protected? Which are do for a rethink?

Sometimes technology can clamor for new ways of doing things. However, your customers may not want a completely revolutionary experience. So after you’ve evaluated the first four questions, it’s time to understand how technology can evolve the business, make it more efficient, while supporting the critical sales processes.

For instance, if you’re a salesperson-focused organization, having a self-serve order portal can feel threatening for those who want to protect their book of business. But if your products benefit from having a helpful salesperson around, using the ordering portal to send out drafts, reminders when customers are due for a reorder, and send updates about conversations that they’ve had can help reinforce, as opposed to rip apart, the buyer’s connection to the distributor and its salesperson.

On the other hand, as buyers get more comfortable with technology, buying on their own at home and for their business from other entities, you may find that some customers naturally will shift their efforts to a self-serve approach. That can be helpful because it frees up your team to help the customers that need help, and invest more time with the same team to bringing on new customers, helping to boost sales without boosting costs.

Customers can be less reliant on customer service as well, if they’re able to log in to a portal to check on the status of an order, or see what they bought in the past if they need a reorder. Similarly, an order approval process can be shifted to an electronic format has long as the order portal can manage.

Zoey can help you work through the process

Order capture/management solutions like Zoey can help maintain business logic critical to the business while enhancing and improving the overall process for internal and external stakeholders alike. Learn how we can help your business by scheduling a demo to see the tools that can transform your business:

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