What is the situation with the digitalization of sales processes with IT channel partners?

Apr 8th, 2021
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    The complete b2b sales process – that is to say the process from purchase to resale – is often a complex situation, with a variety of channels being used at the same time in order to record orders, to implement them and inform customers. This results in a complex mix of means of communication, with a high level of sensitivity for error. 

    Because there is often no single source of truth, things regularly go wrong when making adjustments while orders are being processed. Above all, if a mix of email and telephone is being used, we see that it often goes wrong. For example; an order has been placed via email. The customer then calls to adjust their order; an extra zero had been added to the order by mistake. This is then recorded in a notebook and, in the end, it is forgotten. 

    In this case, the lack of one central system results in an incorrect order, a dissatisfied customer, and a lot of extra expense.

    At Propeller we have observed these error rates rising to reach around 17 percent. Problematic and unnecessarily expensive. But above all a shameful waste, because with digitalization you reduce these error rates to virtually zero. In order to find out the extent to which channel partners in IT actually make use of these types of systems at present, we carried out research into the digitalization and effectiveness of their communication solutions.

    The picture that emerged was: the greater the investment in communication resources, the slower the order process. Besides this, we observed that in the absence of a digital connection, the sales process took much longer. In this article we summarize the most important findings of our research.

    Channel partners use multiple channels

    At its heart, the sales process is made up of three flows: the sales process with the customer, the purchase of the product and the passing on of the orders to the distributor. The exact way that these parts of the sales process are organized varies from one company to another. One matter that we have examined closely is the mix of resources that are deployed in the purchasing and processing of orders. 

    First of all, we asked how many orders companies process on average per week. That varied considerably, with the groups processing the lowest number of orders (1-5) and the highest number (50+) being equally divided. Interestingly, the digital linking of all three processes (order purchasing, passing on orders to the distributor and the order process with the customer) occurred more frequently to the extent that more orders were processed.

    We asked the companies how they organize the order purchasing at present. Here we saw a big overlap of communication resources. Above all, email is popular and is used by 80 percent of the respondents. Often in combination with a telephone order purchase or a digital connection. This picture is repeated with passing on orders to the distributor: 85 percent use email, while two thirds of the respondents use at least two means of communication. Only 11 percent exclusively use a digital connection. So, the bulk of the b2b sellers use multiple channels for procurement and for processing orders.


    Order preferences often do not tie in with practice

    But what is the situation regarding the order process on the part of the customer? Are we seeing trends there towards the use of multiple channels, with a heavy emphasis on email? The first question that we put to companies was how customers order from them. Here too, email proved to be popular:

    • In 88 percent of cases, the customer uses email
    • followed by the telephone (64.4 percent),
    • face-to-face (57.6 percent) 
    • a digital connection (37.3 percent). 

    The companies that use a digital connection in addition to email and telephone mostly process 20 or more orders per week. 60 percent of the respondents make no use at all of a digital connection, whilst only 12 percent use all four channels in the course of the order process. So, we see that digital connections become more important as more orders come in. “Everything is digital, apart from providing information to the customer. That element is important, and requires face-to-face-interaction”, was the reaction of one of the respondents. 

    It is striking that, whilst only a small group believes that customers prefer to order via the phone, (5%), in practice this still happens frequently: in the case of 63%, the order process still takes place via telephone. Of the 35.6% who expect that the customer prefers to order via a digital connection, we see that 19% do not offer this possibility. It is also striking that only 1% of the respondents stated that customers have a preference for face-to-face, whilst this form of selling often keeps happening in practice.

    Digitalization reduces processing time per order

    The time spent by a member of the sales team on receiving and dealing with an order request up to final order confirmation says something about how efficiently the sales process runs. The time between an order and its confirmation varies between one day (32%), to more than two weeks (20%). Nearly half of those questioned take less than one hour, while a minority of 8% spend more than 10 hours on the process from order request to order confirmation. 

    It is striking that many employees who take 6 hours or more to process an order did not report any digital connection in the order process with the customer (88%). Besides this, they often have no digital link for passing the order on to the distributor (75%). So, we can conclude that the use of a digital connection greatly reduces the processing time for orders. This is also apparent from the reactions: “Better order registration is high up on our wish-list, so that everything can run via a central system.” 

    Room for improvement

    So, there is still a great deal to be gained from optimizing the order process. But are channel partners also actively pursuing this? The answer is pretty disappointing. Nearly half of the respondents stated that optimizing the order process is not an issue for them. Interestingly, within this group 50% take more than a week from order request to order confirmation. 20% of the same group spends more than 6 hours on this process. Half of them also stated that they were not involved or hardly involved in digitalization. 

    We also see that only a minority of the respondents have automated the renewal process. A shame, because repeat sales lend themselves perfectly for this. Renewals mostly take place via the sending of a manual email by the back office. Not terribly efficient, because a third of them state that they spend between 5 and 10 hours on the total renewal process. The companies that lose a lot of time on renewals often use multiple channels (two or more) in combination and process a lot of orders per week.

    Future perspective

    Finally, we sounded out the respondents on the future of their organization. What is possible and desirable in the area of digitalization? Which tasks would you most like to see digitalized? And why? The following answers were typical.

    • “I would like to have a better intake-registration, so that all the emails, telephone conversations and online enquiries are optimally recorded.”
    • “I would like to digitalize as many tasks as possible, so that the available time can be spent on proactively discussing the latent needs of the customer.”
    • “Above all, I would like to digitalize the order processing; that would save a lot of time.”
    • “We want to digitalize more, so that we can spend the extra time on a strategic sales approach, to help the customer better.” 

    The picture that emerges from these answers mirrors what was revealed by other parts of our benchmark survey: IT channel partners still have a great deal to gain from digitalization, and if the various sales channels involved in the b2b process can be properly aligned together. If you do that successfully, you can reduce the error rate to virtually zero!   

    About Propeller

    We develop e-commerce software and specialize in the automation of the sales processes of b2b businesses. Our focus is on businesses with a complex application landscape. We offer companies a digital portal which facilitates the sales process, from procurement to the final sale. By processing the whole cycle in Propeller, linked with ERP and distributors, you prevent errors in orders and ultimately achieve significant savings.

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