Instant gratification. In today’s jan/san industry, end user customers demand it. Distributors live by it.

When end user customers contact their distributor sales representatives, they expect to get quick on-the-spot answers and not the old-fashioned runaround.

Customers expect their supplier to know the availability of a product, its price, and when it will arrive on their doorstep. In years past, distributor sales reps didn’t have the proper technology to address customer demands while on the road. So, they were left with the tedious task of having to phone into the office while with customers to check on the availability of products and pricing.

Nowadays, distributors are quick to fulfill their customers’ inquiries with help from distribution software companies who have helped automate the selling process with sales software. Orders get filled on the spot and, for the most part, shipped the next day.

Not only has the jan/san-specific software helped streamline the sales process for distributor sales reps, but it has also equipped them with enough tools to be considered a mobile customer service desk.


Today’s distribution sales software provides mobile sales people with a wide range of real-time capabilities designed to boost productivity and sales. Advancements in software now allow sales reps in the field to be able to address just about every aspect of their daily job duties, says Derek Wallace, vice president of sales-cleaning services for Milford, Conn.-based Eastern Bag & Paper Co., a distributor who has been equipping its sales staff with distribution sales software for more than seven years.

Via their laptops, the company’s sales reps are able to look up complete client information, sales histories, customer-specific issues, see invoices to assist with collections, check inventory availability, take orders, and transmit everything back to the office while on the road, Wallace explains.

“It gives our salespeople immediate information about their accounts, what’s happening, and the ability to answer questions or place orders for their customers,” Wallace says. “So, they’re not having to call into a customer service rep or have to call into purchasing for basic questions.”

Software can eliminate the step of saying to the customer, let me get back to you on this, because the sales reps can give customers the pricing right away. So, the sales reps don’t have to call purchasing for an item to see when an item is coming in, they know when it is, says Wallace.

Each morning, Wallace says the company’s sales reps are able to download a report that contains the information on all of their orders that were shipped, as well as what is expected to go out on that particular day. The report also tells them the expected delivery time for the company’s delivery trucks, and gives accurate updates of the current inventory and items that are on backorder. The software even allows the reps to go as far as breaking down the orders by what went out, by customer, by product and by line, says Wallace.

“They can place orders through the system, they see all the receivables, what’s current, what’s outstanding, what’s overdue by customers,” he says. “They can do order guides, they can check current pricing, and then they get their commission reports on there as well. Then, during the day, if they need to place an order, they can sign in to the system and they can place their order right through there.”

Distributors have also found distribution sales software to be extremely helpful in determining who their top customers are though the detailed reports that can be run through the systems.

Chuck Crouse, owner of Crouse Enterprises, Vacaville, Calif., says when he needs a question answered about a particular customer’s purchasing habits, it takes the software he is using no longer than 30 seconds to print out a detailed report. The findings from the reports help in determining who his sales people concentrate more of their time on to increase sales.

“So we can do some ranking as to who our top 10 to 15 customers are and compare them to the previous year,” says Crouse. “We can see who we slid away from and who we’re not doing business with this year that we were doing business with last year. So, we then know we have to spend some time concentrating on increasing that business.”

Attracting Customers

Distributors are always searching for ways to increase their bottom line, whether its by wooing customers from their competition or turning occasional customers into top customers. But in order for that to happen, distributors must be able to predict who will buy what products and in what quantity. Distributors nowadays are finding that distribution sales software is helping ease the daunting task of predicting how their customers will purchase.

Most software programs include effective sales analysis tools. So, a distributor can locate customer trends and buying patterns through the years of company data and history that gets stored within the system. Distributors are now able, with a couple clicks of the mouse, to pull up accurate reports that tells them when the last time a certain customer or multiple customers bought a specific product. It has come a long way from the time when distributors were manually filing invoices and doing reports by hand.

“The software can help a distributor not only keep customers but also get more product penetration into a customer,” says Andy Brahms, owner of Armchem Intl. Corp., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It helps you keep in touch with them, especially the ones who aren’t buying that frequently. And it’s a great tool with your salespeople because you can sit down and go over these reports with them and find out why certain customers are not buying or why they don’t buy enough. You can pretty much narrow down every single part of your business in terms of your products that you sell — when was the last time you sold it and how much the customer paid for it — it’s right at your fingertips.”

Also, sales software’s pricing mechanism can help reduce pricing errors by sales reps in the field, says Heike Milhench, president of Milhench Supply Co., New Bedford, Mass.

“The system prices the customer automatically based on the margin that the product was last sold,” she says. “So, lets say I’m selling a product at 30 percent margin to a customer and we have a price increase, the next time someone calls up that item for that customer, the new price will pop up maintaining that 30 percent margin. And so the computer is using the sales history to price a customer out.”

The company’s sales reps are also able to do price quotes for customers while in the field. Another added benefit is that the system will save the quote and when the customer calls back to make the purchase, it calls up the quote automatically — no matter who inputted the quote into the system.

But like any new software implementation, Milhench says it will take some time to get used to it and to find a return on investment.

“The pricing mechanism, it will take us some time to get there as the history is building up in the system,” she says. “But the way it’s designed, which will be good for us is that it takes the guesswork out of pricing the customer, so whoever is entering the order, whether it’s the inside sales or the sales rep, the computer is supposed to spit out the right price for the customer based on the history. In the old days it was more judgment calls for inside sales — there was a lot more human factor involved.”

Hidden Costs

Distributors who have yet to invest in or are thinking about upgrading their current distribution software should be prepared for an eye-opening experience.

“If you’ve never went out and bought industry specific software, the first time you go out and are shopping, it’s like the most incredible sticker shock you’ll ever get,” says Brahms. “Because they come back with a quote and you’re going, ‘holy man, I’m buying a Mercedes Benz here.’ The cost is unbelievable, but then you find out it’s like that everywhere.”

Not only is the software itself a pricey investment, distributors must be careful to avoid the hidden costs that may spring the initial price even higher during the implementation stage. Brahms says the first time he decided on implementing an industry specific software program, his supplier did not inform him that he needed to purchase new hardware and was hit with an unexpectedly larger bill.

“You have to understand exactly what hardware is needed to run with the software, so there’s no hidden costs when it comes time to implement and start to phase in the software,” he says. “Because that can add a tremendous amount to the cost of doing it.”

For some distributors, that means a complete makeover of their current computer operating system to make sure it is compatible. Some distributors may be required to update their hardware, such as computers, laptops and servers on top of the cost for implementation, consulting and the software itself. In the end, distributors could be footing a bill in the ballpark range of $100,000.

But most distributors realize that investing in software programs that help streamline operations and save time, money and give more efficiencies is worth the high up front cost in the long run.