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How to deliver the goods this festive season.

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Like every salesperson in manufacturing and distribution, we know it's never too early to think about festive season supply chains.

So we're kicking off Winter by looking at the next few months and offering some suggestions to ensure a smooth new year.

Satisfying customer requirements over the festive season is rarely a breeze at the best of times, but the task has taken on a whole new dimension this year given the prevailing economic realities. From record consumer demand, product supply gaps, transportation issues, personnel shortages, and surging inflationary pressures, are challenging market conditions.

Here we review the key commercial factors giving manufacturers and distributors a headache right now and outline how keeping on top of customer data can help them circumnavigate these issues and keep sales team stress levels under control in the run-up to Christmas.

Avoiding the issues of personnel shortages.

Right now, businesses are facing a perfect storm of economic hurdles to navigate. Pent-up consumer demand for goods following successive lockdown periods has left many items in short supply in the UK and way beyond – with everything from meat and fuel to timber, bricks, and toys increasingly scarce and sought-after.

This situation is further compounded by serious blockages, delayed delivery times, and cost escalations in the global shipping industry as fractured supply chains slowly get pieced back together.

To make matters worse, personnel shortages, not least in the transportation sector, are further hampering supply chains from functioning at full speed, pushing out product delivery times and adding further costs into the mix. Add to this, record-breaking energy costs around the globe and the specter of rising inflation in the UK (CNN) and US (FT) and it makes for a hugely challenging operational landscape for manufacturers and distributors looking to keep customers happy at one of their busiest times of the year.

To underline just how acute the challenge has become, Amazon announced at the start of November that it would be spending billions of dollars to manage labor and supply chain issues to avert shortages over the Christmas period.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom out there – just this month major UK groceries retailer, Sainsbury’s, announced it was in a ‘good position’ to deal with Christmas despite some supply challenges. So, what is the key to their confidence?

Good customer relationships deliver great supply chain flows.

Good preparation is vital to successfully managing and meeting customer requirements in any festive season but especially so given the wider economic and commercial context. With the entire supply chain affected by the prevailing conditions - from smaller ‘mom and pop’ distributors to global behemoths alike - open and honest customer communication in this leveled playing field is key.

This means giving customers clarity at the earliest possible opportunity on fluctuating delivery times, increased costs, and supply shortages to enable them to take their own remedial measures when needed. This needn’t be an adversarial process as businesses of all kinds have become increasingly adept at dealing with these market dynamics for some time. Focus on pragmatic solutions that can give peace of mind to customers, whether it’s advising a customer to switch out a particular product order with one that is in healthier supply or providing alternative shipping and delivery options to customers with particularly time-sensitive requirements.

This preparation should also extend to re-evaluating the relationships businesses hold with their own suppliers down the supply chain. Throughout the pandemic, those businesses with particularly robust trading relationships have been best placed to ensure a consistent flow of products to meet customer demand and exactly the same scenario applies now as we increasingly move towards the recovery phase of the pandemic. 

Good data means good decision-making.

When product shortages and increased pricing are in play, having a firm handle on historic customer purchasing data can turbo-charge any forward planning. The most forward-thinking players, using sales enablement software like sales-i, know these figures inside out and can spot purchasing trends and patterns that can inform smarter selling strategies when market challenges persist – indicating which alternative products customers have specified when shortages have occurred in the past, for example.

We’ve seen countless examples from our own customers who, armed with real-time data at their fingertips, have been able to identify lucrative cross and upselling opportunities that would previously have been hidden in unwieldy spreadsheets. With competition for business in all markets running hot, now is the time for those spreadsheet-driven sales operations to look for a new way forward.

New year, new start?

While manufacturers and distributors will rightly be focussed on the immediate term, a variety of indicators point towards these unique commercial challenges persisting into the New Year and potentially further beyond. Whether it’s sustained inflationary pressure, continued labor challenges, or product supply shortages. Against this backdrop, sales teams will need to conduct more insightful and productive customer conversations based on what their purchasing data is saying.

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