B2B, EDI, WHOLESALE

10 Things To Consider When Starting a B2B Program

Introduction

Some call it a trade program, others call it B2B. Maybe you call it wholesale. For many direct to consumer brands or manufacturers, there can be a lot involved when you decide to start handling B2B sales yourself. In the case of D2C brands, you’re probably used to making sure that consumers have an easy, consistent way to order from you and that you have a 3PL that knows how to handle one off orders, break cases and ship as fast as possible. If you’re a manufacturer, you may be used to skipping truck loads of product down the street to a distributor. In both cases, there is a lot to consider before you start offering direct B2B.

Things to consider before you start

There is a lot to consider before you start your B2B program. Here is a list that may not be complete for your situation but will get you started in terms of things to consider:

  • Who will ship B2B orders? Consumer 3PLs often can’t do it.
  • How much will you charge? Ranges from 40-90% of retail depending on the channel.
  • Who will be responsible for getting new customers? Dealing with orders?
  • How will potential customers find you? How will you qualify them?
  • Will you sell into major retail? Distributors? Brick & mortar stores? Online stores?
  • How will you get paid? What happens if you ship and don’t get paid?
  • Will you offer your entire product mix? What about larger pack sizes (ie. cases)?
  • What will be in your trade agreement?
  • How will you approach returns, replacements, late shipment fees?
  • What tools will be required? What expertise?

How will people find you

The first part is discoverability. Sometimes you have companies coming to you inquiring about ordering your products in bulk. If that’s the case, you can skip this point or leave it for consideration once your program is up and running with the existing interest you have.

If you don’t have people beating down your door to buy your products, you need a way to find out who is out there and what their appetite is for your products. Similar to consumers, the first step is identifying the possible personas that could buy from you and what they might need.

Once you have personas, you can start to develop a strategy for how you will both 1. Reach out to and develop relationships with the right people in your target customers and 2. Find a way to generate inbound interest for your program from the same kind of people. This could be through a website, listing on a marketplace or simply by talking to people about how you’re different.

Onboarding new customers

Once you have some interested customers, there is an important and often forgotten step we call onboarding. Unlike direct to consumer sales, where your customers can complete a transaction without ever having talked to you, or manufacturing sales, where you know the handful of companies most likely to act as your distributor from day one, wholesale requires onboarding your customer.

Onboarding is all of the steps involved in between when someone expresses interest and when they actually place their first (and second) orders with you. This could include:

  • Gathering tax documents and wholesale certifications
  • Signing a trade agreement
  • Deciding on fair return, replacement and late shipment policies
  • Sharing product information (descriptions, images)
  • Determining ongoing data sharing requirements (orders, inventory)
  • Getting contact details for purchasing and payables
  • Negotiating pricing and terms
  • Establishing a credit limit and getting billing details
  • Deciding on a method of receiving orders
  • Getting details about marketing spend, site or store traffic and demographics

A lot goes into those things, so it’s best to have an approach or system in place that can do as much of them as possible. It’s not too hard to go through those steps with a handful of people who have come inbound to you and expressed strong interest. But once that source of leads gets onboarded, a lot of the time it’s about convincing people to buy directly from you. That is hard enough without having to go through the motions of everything described above.

Onboarding is the piece we see people most often get wrong when it comes to wholesale. There’s a process in place for receiving orders from customers that already know how to order and have before. There’s a process for getting new customers. But the part in the middle is highly manual, and the drop off rate is pretty high. Very expensively high if you consider the cost to acquire a B2B customer, and the potential lifetime value of that customer.

Receiving orders and ongoing

The last step tends to be the simplest, but it can create headaches if it implicates a lot of manual work on your part as a supplier. Receiving orders is different in B2B, because B2B buyers tend to have established processes in place for purchasing. While consumers tend to follow similar patterns, B2B buyers vary significantly in terms of what tools they use for purchasing.

Some buyers want to use email or the phone. While ubiquitous, this means manual work on both sides of the transaction. It’s the default fall back for early B2B relationships, but once you get things up and running it’s not a great long-term solution unless you want your sales team constantly burdened by order entry. That said, we have never seen a company completely avoid it, so you will need a process in place for handling orders that come in through manual means.

Automated approaches today

More sophisticated buyers will try to automate either their side of the transaction, your side or ideally both. Historically this has been done with a technology called EDI. EDI is a pre-internet way of sharing business documents with a trading partner.

While it sounds great in theory (automation for both sides), it can take a really long time to get connected in practice. It extends the last step we talked about (onboarding) by months. That said, some companies (especially large brick & mortar retailers) tend to prefer it still as the tool they use for purchasing. If you want to sell to them, you’ll need some kind of way to do it, and doing it in an automated way is often preferred to having to re-key it into your systems.

The modern approach has been to try and move as much of these two groups (manual or EDI buyers) over to an online portal. The problems with this approach have been discussed here and elsewhere. In summary, neither group has a strong incentive to cooperate. To make things automated on your side requires an approach that allows for people to order the way they do with all their other customers, without compromising on how automated or accurate things are on your side. That’s what we’re trying to do here.

Conclusion

Have thoughts on how to approach starting up a B2B program? In the process and want to share your experience? Get in touch with us and we’ll share your ideas in a future post. We learn a lot helping to co-create these programs with our customers, so we’ll continue to share for those who go down the same path.