A Closer Look at the Business Software That's Empowering Distributors
Any CEO worth his or her corner office understands the importance of the personal touch. In our industry, this is where distributors have outwitted the best attempts of major directs. But, sometimes, maintaining such a level of service can be tough thanks to complex jobs and even the day-to-day, back-office functions required of any size business. Enter single-source software solutions. Not only do they bring organization to these activities, they increase efficiency, effectiveness and, thereby, profit margins. Most importantly, they make it possible for distributors to preserve the customer-driven approaches that set them apart.
So, how do you know which platform is right for your company? To help you along the path to purchase, Print+Promo reached out to two leading suppliers: David Rich, chairman and CEO of DemandBridge, Norcross, Ga.; and Ron Keller, operations and subscriber services manager, Xetex Business Systems Inc., West Lawn, Pa. Find out what they offer, where the technology is headed and how you can benefit.
With more than 2 million registered users and 200,000 brands across the retail, health care, franchising, financial, energy and nonprofit verticals, DemandBridge’s platform allows distributors to service customers on many aspects of their marketing and sales efforts—from hard goods to full digital distribution of their content. “Our platform ... takes many of the time-consuming efforts that marketing has and enables those tasks through an easy-to-navigate interface branded to their customers’ standards,” Rich explained. “This helps build true relationships and added-value services to their customers and be a true partner to their marketing and sales efforts.”
The platform consists of three major components: DBEnterprise, DBDistributor and DBAlliance. Rich described DBEnterprise as e-commerce technology “to manage [and] customize execution and distribution of marketing content and collateral for all channels of marketing.” It includes a full self-service model for localized marketing, while maintaining brand standards and guidelines.
DBDistributor is complete operations software for inventory and fulfillment management, operations execution, accounting and workflow management of e-commerce ordering and storefronts. Other positives are the elimination of redundant data entry, reduced accounting and CSR time, and reduced costs.
DBAlliance, on the other hand, is a web-based procurement solution designed to help distributors and brands manage quotes and order distribution with vendors and partners. “Our solution was built to help create a competitive and automated quoting toolset to improve margins and help customer service teams manage requests and clients every day,” Rich said.
The platform is fully integrated, but, according to Rich, customers can purchase modules as standalone offerings that can be integrated using DemandBridge’s Flowpoint API connector to competing e-commerce solutions, other legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and procurement platforms, and customer intranets. As for DemandBridge’s ideal customer profile, the main criterion is an interest in efficiency. “[Because] our platform also includes a software-as-a-service model, it can be a great fit for any size distributor or brand who is looking to improve how they manage their content and assets,” Rich shared. “Our current range consists of brands or distributors/agencies that are under $10 million to ones that are $100 million-plus.”
Now in its 30th year of business, Xetex offers what Keller calls “smart technology for smart distributors,” or to put it simply: Xetex Xebra. More than 300 distributors use this technology to manage activity from prospect development through quoting and job management and then on to accounting. Keller expanded on the benefits and why they matter. “The nuts and bolts of Xetex Xebra include order entry, accounting, inventory management, CRM tools, reporting and e-commerce,” he said. “In themselves, these are powerful tools, but they are just part of what we bring to our subscribers. Hosting services, data backups, support and training are included as some of the added benefits we provide.”
When asked how flexible Xetex Xebra is to fit varying distributor needs, Keller emphatically responded, “Very.” In fact, distributors of all sizes comprise the company’s list of current subscribers—and they’re conducting business “in all varieties” and “in varying degrees” of the print and promotional products industries. “You’ll find distributors managing inventory for themselves and for their clients; and you’ll find distributors providing e-commerce solutions in every shape and size,” Keller said. “By providing a wide range of tools that can be used as little or as much as a distributor needs, and by making those tools easy to use and scale, Xetex Xebra lets the distributor dictate the nature of [its] business.”
Keller did, however, go on to say that even though Xetex Xebra has the flexibility to support distributors of any size, it is best-suited for small to mid-size distributors. “We are an especially good solution for those distributors that have had some success and are looking toward a bigger future,” he added.
Oftentimes, these distributors may have started out with a generic solution like QuickBooks, an accounting software package developed and marketed by Intuit. Keller was quick to point out that QuickBooks is, of course, “very good at what it does,” but as distributors grow, they see the need for something that is more industry-specific. “They need features unique to printing specifications or apparel ordering,” Keller explained. “Things that mean something to our industries [and] little to the rest of the world. ... Xetex Xebra provides a solution that is easy to learn, has tools for distributors to grow into and is scalable to accommodate their increasing success.”
THE LEARNING CURVE
With so many tasks calling for attention, the last thing a distributor wants to sign up for is a complicated system. While it’s impossible to avoid a learning curve completely, software providers like Xetex and DemandBridge are available to ease the transition. Xetex uses a two-step approach. “First, we look for ways to make Xebra more direct and intuitive,” Keller said. “The flow of activity should make sense, and we are always looking for ways to improve that flow.
“Second, support,” he continued. “Providing good support is such a cliché, and yet, I’m constantly hearing horror stories about the lack of—or the poor quality of—support people receive.”
For the onboarding process, Xetex provides both initial training and ongoing education, and customers are encouraged to take advantage of the company’s experienced support staff. Keller has found that the typical users are “capable” from the get-go, “good” by the six-month mark and “proficient” within the first year. “No one is expected to master any program instantly, but our goal is to familiarize a user in advance of going live, be there to guide and encourage them as they enter their first jobs and then provide them with the means to expand their knowledge,” he said.
DemandBridge’s onboarding and implementation process is set up to get distributors in business quickly, but in order to get the full experience of the provider’s entire suite, distributors need a strong commitment to training for their staff. “Many of our clients look to have additional training after a few months of running, and we encourage our customers to involve us on initial client conversion/onboarding to help with best practices and new employee training,” Rich commented. “Similar to any software platforms, commitment to ongoing training is the best way to improve adoption and grow your business.”
Updates and improvements are made to DemandBridge’s platform every three to six weeks, with new feature sets or major product releases occurring twice a year. The following digital tools are new for 2017:
- OnDemand customization of content for digital file download and distribution.
- Advanced editor for full client control of personalization options.
- HTML5 distribution for email marketing and communications with tracking.
- AdResizing capability for digital ad creation and publication ad placement.
- E-Flip digital file execution for e-delivery of marketing content for immediate customer follow up.
DemandBridge also is currently moving its platform to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. The decision exists as an attempt to improve performance and increase the ability to scale quickly as new brands and distributors join. (Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing service for building, deploying and managing applications through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers.) “This will allow us to take advantage of some of the features Azure brings to our platform for advanced BI tools and machine-learning applications,” Rich noted.
Xetex averages at least one update a month—whether that’s general maintenance, creating new features, enhancing existing features or addressing specific requests from subscribers. Keller painted a clear picture of where Xetex is headed. “Xetex Xebra already provides a wide range of powerful tools,” he said. “We want to streamline those existing, while introducing new ones. Recent additions, such as our dashboard, are changing the ways users interact with Xebra, delivering information directly to the user and allowing faster, more direct access to the components most important to them.”
Then, there are new tools like ASI ESP integration, which lets Xetex Xebra subscribers use their ESP account to source product and create line items without ever having to leave Xebra or manually enter information; and X-source, a direct-to-vendor program.
“Xebra users have access to product information updated daily,” Keller said of X-source, listing promotional suppliers SanMar, Issaquah, Wash., and alphabroder, Trevose, Pa., as the first vendors to integrate. “We’re looking forward to expanding this to include more vendors and more integrated options.”
It’s no secret that the pace of change in technology is staggering. For distributors to keep up, they must feel empowered to face new accounts with confidence. That’s why an open dialogue is key. Perhaps Keller summed it up best: “We want our subscribers to feel [and] to know that they have a partner who will support them and work with them to advance their business and their success.”