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How Manufacturers' Reps Can Take Advantage of Digital Solutions

May 7, 2021
These case study examples reveal how digital transformation can provide solutions to common challenges to the rep service model.

Manufacturers have long been using technology to automate their administrative functions with distributors, yet, in many ways, manufacturers' representatives have been missing out on the digital transformation party.  This post  from  IDEA offers three examples of  show how the rep service model can be revitalized and improved through digital solutions.

Challenges with the rep service model. The ordering process between agents and manufacturers is essential as it impacts a manufacturer’s ability to fulfill orders and bill distributor customers. However, many manufacturers' reps are still manually submitting orders, estimates and other critical tasks.

According to manufacturer’s agent, Joe Tumlin, president, commercial at Coresential, about 70% of orders are coming to the manufacturers' reps by email and then must be manually keyed in. Some reps are using EDI with their manufacturers, yet they may be in the dark when their distributor customers submit EDI orders directly to the manufacturer. The process has been ripe for an upgrade.

Solving a long-standing industry problem. Although the Siemens Talon division had automated using EDI with its agents long ago, the Siemens team experienced hundreds of costly EDI order errors each month from many of their reps. Siemens reached out to IDEA, their EDI solution provider and value-added network (VAN), to find a solution.

Automation saves hundreds of  staff hours each month. IDEA Exchange’s team worked with Siemens and the rep software, TradeTech’s TTS Platform, to map and translate flat files to digital EDI messages. As a result of IDEA’s rep EDI upgrade, Siemens reports that the company is now saving several hundred staff hours each month. A business-critical manual process is now automated. “It's a tremendous improvement from where we were before,” said Ann Sadlowski, senior developer at Siemens. “Since IDEA took over the EDI translation, the process is automated, machine-to-machine without constant manual intervention to solve human keystroke errors and duplicate orders.”

Siemens’ relationship with its manufacturer representatives is also improved. “The previous process resulted in a lot of frustration from both sides. Now we can all trust the data and the entire order cycle. It’s improved our relationship with our reps,” said Sadlowski.

A better relationship between manufacturers and their agents results in better communication, sales support and faster order fulfillment. Additionally, the Siemens IT team can now focus on mission-critical projects and trust that sales orders from manufacturer representatives are being processed and fulfilled correctly.

Increased sales, improved relationship between manufacturers and agents. This initiative enabled IDEA also to develop an affordable digital manufacturer rep solution for other manufacturers industry-wide. GE Current, a Daintree company, decided to automate certain transactions with its reps using IDEA Exchange.

According to James Rossiter, EDI solutions analyst at Current, the newly implemented IDEA Exchange solution has enabled the company to provide an automated approach to its QuickStock Program, facilitating more automated inventory management processes with its partners. “We’ve been very pleased with the transition to IDEA Exchange with our agents,” said Rossiter. “We’ve seen our sales grow significantly, and we are serving our customers better.”

According to Rossiter, automating transactions with GE Current’s reps has resulted in many benefits, including: additional inventory in major markets, same-day order processing with 24-48 hour delivery, and local inventory to serve contractor needs and flexibility on fast-moving projects. “The automated implementation of the QuickStock program has increased sales significantly and created additional warehouse space,” said Rossiter.

Improved customer service. Electri-Flex is another manufacturer that understands the value of digital transformation. The company has recently automated using IDEA Exchange with its reps, including those using the TTS platform and other rep software packages.

According to Dan Stephenson, IT manager at Electri-Flex, implementing a digital solution with their reps has made the process faster and less redundant. “Having our reps transmit orders they have shipped to us via EDI is so much more efficient and is prone to few mistakes,” said Stephenson. “From the efficiency standpoint, there is much less turnaround time for processing the order. Once the rep ships the order and transmits the file, it is in our system within minutes, ready for review and processing. Before this, the order would have to be emailed, received, printed, entered, reviewed, and processed. IDEA Exchange eliminates the redundant parts of the process.”

Although many consider digital integration (EDI) to be a technology thing, it’s a way to improve customer service and their competitive advantage for Electri-Flex. “Our company is known for superior service,” said Brock Klein, national sales manager at Electri-Flex. “This EDI process enables us to improve our service. We’re able to have better real-time information on our local stock and error-free orders. This allows us to deliver on our fast and accurate initial fill rates consistently. The less time we spend processing orders—the more time we’re helping our customers get the answers they need—and we’re better as an organization.”

Sidebar:

How Automation is Helping Increase Sales with Manufacturer’s Reps:

  • By modernizing and automating manual ordering processes, manufacturers' representatives now have an industry-supported, affordable digital integration solution through IDEA Exchange.
  • Manufacturers gain a more efficient sales force, enabling their reps to spend more time selling.
  • The administrative burden is less for reps and manufacturers’ customer service staff. Replacing manual processes with IDEA Exchange eliminates errors, manual processes, and communication gaps in the supply chain.
  • Reps can be “in the loop” for all orders, including orders direct from the distributor to the manufacturer, allowing upselling and better service.
  • The IDEA Exchange Rep EDI Program is designed as a set annual fee based on connections, so no unexpected costs.
  • Manufacturers are already taking advantage of the IDEA Exchange solution and are seeing the benefits.

To find out more about IDEA’s affordable digital integration solution for manufacturer’s reps, contact Ilene Bromberg at (703) 562-4689 or idea4industry.com. To read the full case study on how Siemens fixed what was causing thousands of errors, visit this link.

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