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Posted January 3, 2019

Managing Customer Inventory

When it comes to managing customer inventory, drop that pencil!

By Rock Rockwell

Rock RockwellInventory management is one of the biggest challenges for distributors. If you’re not managing inventory efficiently, your work process suffers, and you could create stockouts, and sacrifice timely deliveries – maybe even customers. That’s why many distributors have invested in an inventory-management software solution for their warehouses.

So, it’s surprising that so many distributors are still asking their customers to manage inventory with paper, pencil and a clipboard. Of course, change is hard for everyone – and distributors are no exception. But the payoffs from dropping that pencil and investing in a little technology to help customers automate inventory management are substantial, long-lasting and very much worth the temporary discomfort of a transition.

For example, imagine where you could direct salespeople’s time. It’s still common to see salespeople making inventory replenishment a big part of their mission when they visit customers. In many cases, it gives them an excuse to stop by. After all, if salespeople show up at the right time, they might discover that a customer is running out of an item. Then again, a salesperson might visit the week after stock is suddenly depleted and miss that opportunity.

Either way, your salespeople are spending too much of their time thinking and talking about inventory levels, manually scribbling what a customer needs and calling the order into customer service to load into a spreadsheet or key into software – which also introduces the chance for errors. That’s certainly not good for customer service.

These days, relatively low-cost but powerful technology is available that can replace these manual processes. Distributors who are using more sophisticated inventory management for their own warehouses should not be sending salespeople out with pencil and paper for their customers. Instead, with an automated inventory replenishment system that provides real-time visibility, those items can be delivered by a driver who simply pulls a tool out of his pocket that allows him to figure out what else the customer needs, capture a bar code, and be on his way. Better yet, that driver can teach the customer how to use their own phone to replenish stock.

When you introduce technology at the customer level, you’re not sacrificing your sales team’s relationships. On the contrary, you’re freeing them up, so they can spend more time selling and offering deeper value – and less time counting. And in addition to reducing order errors, technology can actually add more value than the salesperson can on her own, preventing frantic after-hours calls to prevent a stock-out. You’re also eliminating any need for your customer to go online and possibly wander into a competitor’s website when they re-order.

That is real value.

In the end, it comes down to productivity. Managing inventory at the customer site with the right technology reduces errors, labor hours and the risk that your customer will run out of your product, and allows your sales team to concentrate on what they do best: selling. Change can be hard, but it can also be worth it.

Rock Rockwell is CEO of eTurns, a point of use inventory management system used by distributors to automate inventory replenishment at the point of use in stockroom and service trucks. Contact Rockwell at rock@eturns.com.

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