Is the goal to make technology work for salespeople or should it be to help the salesperson’s customers? Salespeople, after all, are the face of the company for the customer, and it’s their job to help customers help their customers. This is important, whether the technology is directed toward wholesale or retail customers. For wholesale customers, they are looking for several things to fill several needs. Retail customers are looking for one thing to fill one need. In my world, it is the end customer that is the primary customer.
As a buyer for our retail store, what I wanted to know from my vendors’ representatives was which items were on back order, when could I expect them and, if I were to write an new order, how soon would I receive it.
My first introduction to a vendor’s technology was back when portable computers were not quite so small. The salesman for Waterford Crystal came to my office, with what looked like a toolbox. “Strange,” I thought, because he usually carried an attaché case. As I went through my inventory records, he wrote what items I wanted and how many of each I wanted. I kept wondering what that box was for. After the order was written, the salesman asked to use the phone, cleared space on my desk for the box and opened it. The front folded down, and I saw a keyboard. He plugged it in, turned it on, turned my phone around, took out a gadget, replaced headset with the gadget and dialed an 800 number. I heard buzzing, and the little screen came alive. Fascinated, I had no idea what was going on. He typed in something, and up came our store’s name on the screen.
‘One salesman tried my suggestion and began phoning customers.’
He asked me to read the item numbers on the order, and he typed in the numbers. That done, he told me to wait. I forget how long it took, but I saw numbers and product descriptions start to appear. He scrolled through the list, told me which items would be shipped and which were back-ordered. This information was important for my salespeople because they needed this same information when customers wanted items we were out of. I had such high hopes that my life would be much easier. However, for whatever reason, within a few months, Waterford went back to the old ways.
Another time, the salesman for Dansk Designs came in. Dansk was the design leader of its day and a very popular line with our customers. The usual routine was that the salesman would come in, I’d go through my records, the order would be written, he would take it and he’d be on his way. Not this time, though. Before I even started to look through my records, he told me he would, this time, tell me what I should order. Understand, we kept very good “rate-of-sale” records for every item in this department and, either because of my ego or necessity, I felt no sales representative was going to tell me what to order. He pulled out a large computer readout and showed it to me. No way was I going along with this. I told him he could keep his record for posterity, but I would order by what our records showed. We sold out of those few items I ordered in lower quantities than his readout recommended.
Shortly after I left retailing, one of my consulting clients was Crane’s Papers. Our store did a lot business with Crane’s, and because I “spoke their language,” the folks there asked me to moderate a seminar for the company’s Florida sales meeting. In my talk, I asked how many in the audience called customers when they got notice of shipments to tell them their orders were on their way (something that is now routine with online stores). No hands went up. Hmmmmmm? I knew from experience that it took at least 60 days from order to receiving and, no matter what the inventory was since the last shipment was received, by the time the next one was about to be shipped, sales would made. One salesman tried my suggestion and began phoning customers. He found that with many calls, he got additional orders. I don’t know if others in the seminar did it, but I hope so.
There are many businesses that face the same slow delivery schedule who could benefit from this advice and technology. If the vendor’s technology would advise salespeople of upcoming shipments and the salespeople were to call customers, the salespeople would be writing more orders and, better yet, would be helping their customers have the right amount of inventory when they needed it.
What is puzzling to me is why other vendors did not follow the same paths and, why both early pioneers I met with in my retail days quit using their technology to help their customers. The “rate of sale” is vital information. It is not how much has been sold but what has been sold when and how often. No point-of-sale program offers this information—what I call a “horizontal picture per item”—yet most buyers try to rely on POS information for reordering.
It matters not whether what is purchased is parts or finished inventory. The need for a vendor’s technology is to provide its customers information to allow them to give their end customers what they need when they need it—not what is not needed when it is not needed. I have yet to see the technology that can help customers help their customers.