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Last week my family and I got back from a long family vacation. We landed in the late afternoon, and realized that our fridge was empty and that our local supermarket would be closed by the time we got home. So I took out my phone and, using the Peapod mobile app, I ordered everything we needed – and had it delivered to my house by 7:30am the next morning. What a relief! My wife got her favorite morning yogurt…

The whole experience sounds light years away from the way a traditional distributor operates – but it really isn’t. When I look at the wholesale distributors who are customers of SAP – and as SAP has more than 9,000 customers in this industry I have a pretty good sample size – I see a distinct group of companies that adapt better to this changing world. They understand that in today’s reality, a distributor lives or dies by his ability to offer its customers better and differentiated services. And mobility is a great way for them to transform their company into an easier-to-do-business-with entity, and save money while doing it. The above scenario is already a reality for some of them.  A chef in a restaurant, for example, can now use a mobile app to order the steaks he forgot to order for tomorrow’s menu while on his way home…

When I think about mobility, I like to think about it through the lenses of the enterprise functions that can benefit from it. For a distributor, its sales people, delivery drivers and to some extent its customers are physically mobile – but in many cases they are still confined to static solutions. Successful distributors understand this disparity – and try to solve it by putting mobility to work. Here is what they can gain from it:

  • Make sales people more productive and provide customers with better service – and have the side effect of selling more. In 2012, sales people shouldn’t be forced to shuffle through notes and to fight to boot-up their laptops. A simple iPad app can give them all the information they need to up-sell and cross-sell as well as all the information they need to make informed discounting decisions – while standing in front of the customer.
  • Allow delivery drivers to solve customer issues as they occur, and process activities at the customer location. For a distributor – the delivery driver is many times their face to the customer. Why not allow them to offer digitized proof-of-delivery or process returns on the spot?
  • Enable customers to submit an order – from their phone, while standing in front of the shelf or on their way home. By now, those customers probably have a smartphone in their pocket – why not use it to make them more satisfied and to cut down on expensive customer service costs? (Oh, and by the way – you can also save them time by offering an app to check their order status on their phone.) An added benefit here is “locking-in” the customer to an easy-to-use solution that resides on his mobile desktop, always in his pocket.

And

  • Empower managers to be on top of their game – by analyzing trends and seizing opportunities – and doing it in real time. Here is a no brainer example – a sales rep wants to offer a customer a big discount on a huge deal. His manager should be able to approve the discount instantly from his mobile device – shouldn’t he?

If you look again at the above examples – you can see that treated as a whole, these are not just tactical moves. Ultimately, leveraging mobility in a distribution company allows the company to drive a complete transformation of the way they do business. It allows them to virtualize their business – for example, the delivery driver can now perform his entire daily routine from a tablet device – and also to accelerate decision making and entire business processes (approving a discount while sitting at the airport). Best of all, it allows them to expend up and down the value chain, to differentiate by their service level and to add value for their customer. It will allow them to change from being a commodity for their customer into being a recognized brand.

If you are interested in driving your distribution company in this direction, SAP has the most complete mobile platform in the industry to help you transform your enterprise. In fact, we can offer a distributor who wants to ‘go mobile’ a comprehensive portfolio of apps for his customers, sales reps, delivery drivers and employees. One of those mobile apps, SAP ERP Customer Order Entry, lets your customer create orders for your products anywhere and anytime.  And if you want to give your customers the ability to check their order status at any time, there is an app for that as well, built by ExpertIG, one of SAP’s partners. These and many more apps from SAP and our partners can be found in the SAP store.

Ziv Baum is a Solution Manager with the SAP Wholesale Distribution Industry Business Unit. He is focused on helping wholesale distribution companies kick-start their mobility transformation.

Contact Ziv at ziv.baum@sap.com or follow him on twitter @zivbaum

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