Multi-channel sales are increasingly important for fastener and tooling business success

Nick Davies, head of software development, OGL Computer, shares more.
When facing uncertain times in the wider economy, market flexibility is key to maintaining revenues. Most importantly, the ability to target different market channels as they rise and fall in popularity is essential. Lockdown – and the relaxation of it – are perfect albeit extreme examples of the need for seamless multi-channel sales, enabling businesses to continue profitable operations. 
Multi-channel selling might sound complex but is something that most businesses will already be doing automatically – selling your products via more than one sales channel. This is often a mixture of traditional (sales reps, trade counter) and online sources (Amazon & eBay, e-commerce website), depending on the sector or business model.
A recent survey of SMEs by OGL Computer found that e-commerce is growing in significance in the wholesale and distribution sector, with 82% stating that being able to sell products online easily is really important to them. However, staying on top of the multi-channel game is a more complex proposition than it might first appear. The key pillars to success here are centralising systems, unifying pricing across channels, and ensuring that the customer data already collected can be used effectively. This last pillar represents the ongoing success of a multi-channel strategy and should therefore be an increasingly important focus in the longer term. 
Centralising for growth
The single biggest operational challenge of implementing a multi-channel sales strategy is maintaining consistency across those channels, not only in key areas such as pricing, but also stock control, as well as providing consistent customer service in terms of order processing, delivery and rectifying any errors, losses, breakages and the like. The key here is to implement an ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution as it’ll be able to handle the necessary functions you’ll need, such as central databases of business information, integrated CRM and automated business processes. 
The benefits of centralised management are critical to multi-channel success, saving hours of admin time logging into different systems to check stock levels, for example, as well as minimising human error when moving data between systems.
This will also allow the adoption of new digital channels – such as eBay or Amazon – relatively easily, and crucially will manage any new channels without significant overhead. OGL Computer’s research found that 82% of SMEs agree that ERP systems give greater availability and control of stock, but a significant number – 46% – of respondents think that ERP systems are for large enterprises only. That said, the research uncovered that many SMEs (76% of respondents) have been experiencing the benefits of integrating disparate systems first-hand. Over half (57%) listed the main reason to use a single system as reducing administration time, followed by 40% citing improved accuracy of information and 37% stating improved efficiencies by removing duplication of work across different departments.
Unified pricing across all channels 
For your loyal trade customers who purchase through various channels (online, telephone, trade counter etc) it can be frustrating to receive a different shopping experience through each method, especially when it comes to price. An ERP solution will enable you to manage customer specific pricing, as well as retail and trade pricing, across every channel.
Aberdeen-based specialist tool supplier Gibb Tools rely on OGL Software solution to ensure their fast-paced, ever growing company keeps on top of their large warehouse and high-quality customer service. Gibb Tools was looking for “a computer package that could combine the functionality of the several independent processes that we were currently operating and reduce our reliance on paper and manual entry”. Before OGL Software was installed over two years ago, the team was largely using a manual system, with the accounts conducted using Sage 200 and stock management was handled using a bespoke system.
CRM for target market analysis
A CRM can enable you to improve the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns by profiling and segmenting customers based on their business needs and behaviours. By profiling customers on their buying habits and capturing data about their business, your company can target specific customer groups with key pain points for the industry or particular buying habits of customers to increase the chance of a sale.
By using an ERP system with an integrated CRM module, you will have access to the data and tools to extract, report and analyse the customer information to enhance the effectiveness of your campaigns. For example, the sales intelligence module in OGL’s Software is used by Dunstable-based Cablecraft, a manufacturer and supplier of cable and cable accessory solutions to compare and analyse sales figures to spot areas of success and highlight weaknesses to make improvements. “[the sales intelligence module] has been a revelation, we now have immediate access to an endless range of reporting, which wasn’t easily available before. It has enabled us to extract data much more easily and analyse and manipulate the data to assist with reporting.”
Every business will have a different series of priorities when looking at a multi-channel strategy, but the overall aims of automation, centralisation of data and extending data analytics are common to even large enterprises. With the advent of cloud-based tools and powerful SME-focussed products like those mentioned here, the barriers to effective multi-channel operation have been lowered enormously. 
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