B2B commerce is expanding exponentially and with this growth, there’s been a signiﬁcant shift in the way companies manage their sales and B2B order fulfilment processes with greater focus in the areas of inventory control, speed and the ability to meet order deadlines.
In an increasingly eCommerce environment, the necessity for companies to efficiently process more orders, more quickly, is of primary concern for managers of B2B order fulﬁlment.
Challenges of B2B order fulfilment
With eCommerce and multichannel strategies signiﬁcantly impacting order fulfilment activities, quickly and accurately processing more orders has its challenges. Some of these common challenges include:
Managing inventory has always had its unique set of challenges and with the dynamic shift toward multichannel businesses these challenges have become increasingly complex. There is now a greater need than ever for companies to have visibility and real-time inventory data across all locations, including pipeline and in transit inventory.
Businesses require a single view of all orders from all sources to manage the production, distribution and order fulfilment for multiple brands and products, including detail of inventory stock allocation across supply chain partners.
With labour as the most expensive aspect of running a warehouse or distribution centre, companies are looking carefully at how to improve workforce productivity and combining it with automation to create a streamlined and profitable operation.
Coordination of activities across various divisions and locations is needed to manage the complexities of order processes and to reduce order fulfilment costs. This requires the ability to effectively undertake order processing, picking, packing and shipping practices to reduce the financial impacts of double-handling and wasted time and effort.
While many companies still receive B2B customer orders through traditional channels such as sales ﬁeld staff or call centres, for many organisations, the preferred method for taking orders is now predominantly via their websites and eCommerce platforms.
A significant number of businesses, however, experience difﬁculties processing orders on time to meet order commitment dates. Speed is a critical factor in B2B order fulfilment so instead of simply applying existing strategies to a perpetually changing business environment, companies need to work smarter, work better and work faster to keep up with the growing demands of their customers.
Improving B2B order fulfilment
The lifecycle of B2B order fulfilment begins when a business places an order and ends when the shipment is made. From start to finish, there are various processes that need to occur such as inventory stock allocation, billing, invoicing and scheduling delivery.
The process starts with inventory, so it is necessary to optimise your inventory control. Having the right inventory stock at the right place and time is one of the main steps in the order fulfilment success. Companies need to:
- Improve demand forecasting because the better you know your customer behaviour, the more prepared you are to meet their demands at any given time. Effective demand forecasting for each sales channel will help reduce instances of dead stock.
- Maintain inventory accuracy, updating your inventory count in real time to ensure your customers can’t order products that aren’t in stock. Inventory visibility allows you to keep track of inventory levels to manage reordering or to help determine if production of certain products should increase or decrease.
- Monitor multiple stock access points and enable easy stock transfers between warehouses to avoid any one location becoming stockless.
- Optimise order management so that the whole delivery team is aware of the status of each order to avoid delays in moving products through to the next stage. Ensure you deliver only what your customer asked for.
- Upskill and train staff to manage peak periods effectively. Many touch-based devices available today have the look and feel of smartphones that are used every day by staff, meaning warehouse workers can get familiar with these devices quickly and enjoy a better all-around user experience.
- Improve supply chain visibility to identify areas that may be damaging your order fulfilment processes. You can then take adequate steps to fix it to ensure the fulfilment process runs smoothly, saving you time, money and limiting customer service dissatisfaction.
To help mitigate problems with their B2B order fulfilment activities, companies are employing new technologies, implementing automated platforms and using integrated software solutions to support their entire supply chain operation.
Implementing the right technology will facilitate improved distribution and B2B order fulfilment by addressing visibility issues. Different technologies work together to streamline order fulfilment, RFID scanners scan inventory stock as it arrives, automatically updating inventory levels. Robots can store those goods for easy picking later. Robotics then help pick ordered items and deliver them to a packing area to be packed and shipped.
Automating the warehousing process with technologies such as robotics and radio-frequency identification will reduce human error and the time it takes to store and pick products, making your B2B order fulfilment more efficient.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.