“We deliver on our promises.”
You’ve probably heard companies that tout similar mottos. On the surface, this type of tagline can almost seem clichéd. Clichés aside, delivering on promises is a fundamental part of being in (and staying in) business. Unfortunately, some companies mistakenly focus too much effort on their sales pipelines at the expense of downstream delivery.
In this post, we’re going to look at a few common delivery models and how they differ. We’ll also discuss a few tips for leveraging CRM technology for a more scalable delivery of products and services.
Let’s start by examining something we all love: stuff.
Whether it’s the latest gadget, a yummy pizza, or a flashy new sports car, there’s a certain level of excitement we humans get by exchanging hard-earned cash for something tangible.
For manufacturers and retailers, getting stuff into the customer’s hands isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. In some cases, it may involve selling directly to end users. In other situations, selling through third-party resellers or franchises may make more sense. Whether you sell to consumers or other businesses, the sale of “stuff” tends to follow one of two models: direct or through distributors and/or dealers.
Let’s briefly review each model and consider a few examples for each.
Direct-to-End User Model
There are certainly perks involved with the direct distribution model. For starters, the vendor has a highly accurate feedback loop with end users. This, of course, makes it easier to adjust the product mix and develop new offerings. Since there are no “middlemen” to account for, the vendor may also be able to maximize its margin potential. On the other hand, some direct-to-end user firms operate under tremendous margin pressure – especially those offering a commoditized item.
Here are a few fictitious examples, along with a few less-than-creative slogans for illustrative purposes. (Please note: Few businesses operate in a purely “direct” or “indirect” ecosystem. Also, “B2C” is an abbreviation for “business-to-consumer” and “B2B” represents “business-to-business,” but I’m sure you already knew that.)
- Uncle Joey’s Pizza & Delivery – “Uncle Joey’s famous pie…in 30 minutes or less.”
- Tri-State Botanical Nursery – “We grow the best plants in the Tri-State area.”
- Grandma’s Handmade Silk Tie Shop – “Stop by and find the perfect tie!”
- City Iron Foundry – “We’ll cast just about anything you need!”
- Reliable Software Associates – “Join 10,000 happy customers who use our platform.”
- Industrial Medical & Safety – “Our best medical supplies, direct to your business.”
A direct distribution model typically relies on a high-volume, high-touch sales and support model. By assuming more control over the pipeline, the supplier also takes on greater responsibility for acquiring and servicing the accounts.
As one might imagine, many B2C companies follow a traditional retail model (be it in-person or online). A standardized (or somewhat standardized) product is made or created, the customer pays for the item, and the process repeats itself. In some cases, the “sales cycle” (if you can call it that) may only take a few minutes (or seconds, especially if done online). In such cases, a CRM may offer the most value for tracking new product launches, managing customer contact information, and encouraging future repeat purchases.
When it comes to delivery, B2B firms tend to see even more value from a CRM. Take, for example, our iron foundry example. The foundry has a team of sales reps, each of whom is actively working a lead list. When a lead converts into a new paying customer, the foundry must then flawlessly fulfill the order. By leveraging a tool like Insightly, which lets you instantly convert opportunities to projects, the company can move seamlessly into order fulfillment mode. All prior emails, notes, design specifications, drawings, and documents are brought over from the originating sales record. Now, the engineering team can hit the ground running without pestering the client for duplicate information.
In theory, a purely direct model sure sounds great. In reality, it’s difficult for most businesses to pull off – especially if the company desires expansion beyond a specific geographic region or niche.
For this reason, many companies choose to sell their products through third-party wholesalers, distributors, agents, dealers, merchants, and other entities. By tapping into a pre-existing distribution model, manufacturers can expedite brand awareness and – most importantly – sales.
Here are a few example companies that fit into the “indirect” supply chain. These organizations add value to the marketplace by selling products from one or more manufacturers, usually within a specific area and/or product category.
- Texas Tom’s Auto Dealership – “All your favorite brands…with deals the size of Texas!”
- Crafty Catherine’s Online Shop – “Everything you need for your next big project.”
- Corey’s Computers & Parts – “Gadgets you want for prices that you’ll love.”
- Downtown Promo Products – “Ad specialities, gifts, tradeshow items…and more.”
- Top Office Furniture & More – “More than just desks and executive chairs!”
With an indirect model, there are at least two points of delivery to be tracked. First, the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring timely delivery to its downstream distribution partners. Whether items are to be manufactured just-in-time or fulfilled from an existing inventory, a project-conscious CRM (such as Insightly) can be tremendously helpful. As new purchase orders are received, they can be uploaded and linked to a fulfillment project. Production, post-production, shipping, and customer communication can be built into the project pipeline, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks. In addition, individual tasks can be assigned to team members, creating additional accountability and clarity.
For downstream distribution partners, delivery can vary greatly based on the business model and customer type. A computer retailer, for example, usually maintains a standard inventory level. Upon paying for a product, the customer is then free to take immediate possession of the item (except in rare circumstances, such as specialty orders or out-of-stock parts). By contrast, a promotional products company has a much more complicated delivery model. Even after a customer places an order, there could be several weeks of back-and-forth prior to delivery. Obtaining written approval from clients, working with manufacturers and pad printers, and coordinating freight are just a few of the many related tasks.
The more complex the delivery model, the more vital your CRM becomes. Be sure to look for a CRM that not only tracks your projects and tasks, but one that will also allow you to save and link your email correspondence. Digging through your inbox is not the most productive use of time. Get everything in one place – and never lose an important client approval again.
Time to shift gears and look at services.
We live in an increasingly service-driven economy. But, unlike products which have an easily defined cost of goods sold, services can be a bit more difficult to quantify from a profitability standpoint.
To ensure profitability, it’s especially important for service-oriented businesses to have a finely tuned delivery model. Time is money, and every minute wasted is money down the drain.
Note: Before we look at specific service model examples, I’ve chosen to categorize services into two models: recurring and limited engagement. I suppose one could categorize services as “direct” and “indirect” (as we did in the product section). However, a frequency-based explanation seemed more logical for this discussion.
Keeping existing customers happy is often times easier than winning new business. Existing customers represent a known entity and can be easily upsold. New customers can represent new levels of risk and uncertain profit potential. For these reasons, some service-oriented companies focus on a recurring service model.
Not every recurring service model is identical. Some companies will bill on a straight hourly basis. Others will bill on a monthly retainer. Still others will batch together a hybrid of hourly and a la carte add-on services. Regardless of how billing is done, the goal remains the same: provide clients with more value than what they are paying for.
Let’s look at a few example companies engaged in a recurring service model.
- Larry’s Lawn Care Company – “Keeping your lawn trimmed, green, and beautiful.”
- Community Preschool & Daycare – “Caring for children as if they were our own.”
- Upper Storage Facility – “Put all your extra stuff in storage – for a few bucks a month.”
- Matt’s Social Media Super Stars – “Get more likes and shares with Matt’s team of stars.”
- Bob Smith Commercial Insurance Agency – “Working to protect your business from risk.”
- XYZ Web Hosting – “Your website, our servers = faster load times.”
In each example, continued engagement with the client is dependent upon the service provider’s performance. In the case of a lawn care company, brown yards and out-of-control dandelions are a sure-fire path to lost revenue. Likewise, a social media company that forgets to schedule posts will find itself looking for new victims…I mean clients.
With so many ongoing clients to keep happy, how can companies consistently deliver? A tool like Insightly can be a great solution for keeping everything balanced. Insightly allows you to set up recurring tasks, which can be linked to existing customers and organization records in your CRM. Once you’ve set up a task to repeat, Insightly will help you remember to follow up in a timely fashion. You can even have Insightly send you email reminders as due dates approach, making it even easier to deliver on your promises.
Not every service model fits neatly into an ongoing engagement. In fact, some companies never deal with the same client twice. It’s not because the service provider did a bad job – rather, the nature of the business simply does not necessitate future services.
Let’s take a quick look at a few examples of what I like to call “limited engagement” service providers.
- Smith Home Realty Agency – “Your house…sold in 60 days or less!”
- Western Kentucky Tree Trimmers – “Tree down? Let us handle that for you.”
- Lucinda’s Auto Body Shop & Paint – “Your best choice for your busted-up vehicle.”
- Tax Crisis Audit Partners – “Let us take care of your worst tax nightmare.”
- Quad-County Machine Shop – “Quad-county on-demand machining services.”
Limited engagement service providers may have the most complicated delivery model. Each customer probably has a completely different situation, requiring a highly customized plan of action. Although in certain instances it may be possible to follow a sequential project workflow, limited engagement service providers may realize more value from Insightly milestones. For example, a realtor needs to simultaneously draft the listing, build the social media plan, and collect high resolution photographs of the property. Insightly milestones allow her to do all of these things at once – without losing track of the bigger picture. Each milestone can have linked tasks and due dates, helping her to delegate with less effort.
Or, take the machine shop as another example. “Machining” is a rather broad service set, leading to a diverse group of customers and projects. Again, milestones can provide the machinists with the flexibility that they need. Instead of being forced into a pipeline that doesn’t make sense for their business model, milestones accommodate delivery planning and adapts to the dynamics of their customer lifecycles.
Deliver with Better Technology
Whether you’re a boutique advertising agency or an online retailer, one thing is for sure: delivering on your promises is an important part of what you do each day. Don’t just hope that things will work out as they always have.
Put your delivery model into a more scalable format with Insightly.