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The broken supply chain, and the global economy that flows through it, may never go back to the way things were. B2B companies cannot afford to wait for a return to "normal" nor can they expect to keep pace in this new era with the tools of a bygone age. One way that sales operations leaders are weathering the supply shortages is by using data science-driven revenue and operations intelligence solutions to identify product alternative opportunities and deliver them to sales reps in the form of highly targeted customer actions, or directly to customers as they browse for products on eCommerce sites.

inventory campaigns

The Broken Supply Chain and a New Era of Revenue Intelligence

Do you remember the last time the global supply chain functioned more or less normally? Ever since the word “coronavirus” entered the global zeitgeist, normalcy evaporated. For many, 2019 might as well be 1919 in terms of relevancy to current market conditions.

You know what things look like today. Factories have fallen way behind in productive capacity, leading to exorbitant wait times for everything from steel to copper to baby formula and new cars. Container ships are now routinely backed up at ports. Shipping costs have exploded due to inflation and a rise in the price of oil, thanks in part to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Labor shortages and strikes are now further clogging the timely flow of goods across the globe.

And of course, we must consider the ongoing impact of COVID. New virus hot spots in China have led to the halting of exports, followed by a rush of shipping activity as port cities come back online. China shipping delays have become yet another unpredictable monkey wrench in the supply chain.

china shipping delays

Truthfully, the global supply chain will likely never be “fixed.” That is, if by fixed we mean put back to the way things were. We can’t predict how long we will be at a crisis point with regard to the supply chain, but we should accept and move forward with the knowledge that we’ve entered a new era. And it’s going to soon be impossible to find success in it if we’re still using the tools of a bygone era.

Read more: Zilliant’s 3-Part Supply Chain Series

“The legacy systems in which companies and supply chains invested so much over the decades, and which they can’t seem to give up, have put many well behind the times,” according to Supply Chain Brain. “E-mail, spreadsheets, phone calls and other labor-intensive methodologies still dominate our way of doing business. We’re using 20th-century solutions to solve 21st-century challenges. But the turmoil of the last two years has shown that our reliance on antiquated practices is not sustainable.”

We couldn’t agree more. Customers increasingly come to Zilliant seeking a way out of the old patterns of thinking, and into a data-driven and action-oriented future. In this article, we will explore a new way to mitigate the revenue-cratering issue of product shortages, by nimbly executing product substitution (or product alternative) actions. First let’s discuss why spreadsheets and email are the antithesis of this ideal future state.

Can Inventory Campaigns Be Done with Spreadsheets?

Zilliant Director of Product Management Brian Hirt said in 2021 that “a mixture of inflation and scarcity is driving up costs across the board; it’s important to keep sellers focused and flexible to changing market conditions. Compiling account-specific actions in a spreadsheet and blasting them out over email were less than ideal two years ago. Now, these methods are revenue killers.”

Read more: Meet the New B2B Sales Model

This pronouncement has only become more accurate halfway through 2022. As we heard recently from a Zilliant customer on the main stage at MindShare 2022, you can even add CRM systems to the list of legacy tools that were meant to facilitate customer conversations but often lead to time-wasting busy work. What that customer discovered by using Zilliant Sales IQ™ and Campaign Manager™ is the power of pushing data-science driven actions to sales reps, telling them exactly what they need to do each day to help their customers and hit their revenue targets.

Not only does this solution help the customer-facing sales rep do his or her job better, but it also simplifies and streamlines the back-office function of the process. The old way to operationalize something like a strategic product substitution campaign on a mass scale for a major B2B company looked something like this:

  • Inventory managers comb ERP or business intelligence tools to identify each low-inventory and difficult-to-buy product and log the data in a spreadsheet
  • The spreadsheet is emailed to a product manager, who enters in-stock substitutes for each product line
  • The product manager analyzes recent transaction history to identify which customers are buying these items with sufficient frequency - the spreadsheet grows
  • The data is shared with the vice president of sales, who tasks the sales operations manager with communicating this product substitution campaign with each intended sales rep via email
  • Sales reps may or may not open the spreadsheet and scroll down hundreds or thousands of lines to find their names 
  • A small fraction of the sales team reaches out to these customers, with underwhelming results as they lack any further guidance
  • There is no reliable way to measure success or track sales rep behavior in relation to the campaign

product alternative
There is simply no time to run this kind of manual process anymore and there is no room for the error or the underwhelming results those manual efforts often produce. Companies are finding that even though in the recent past they could do a good enough job with a mixture of spreadsheets, ERP systems and business intelligence, they must now go a step further or risk falling very far behind.

“Many rely on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and business intelligence tools to gather information, but are missing the piece of the puzzle that unlocks actionable insights … companies need to polish their data, prioritize actions, and boost internal and external collaboration,” writes Supply Chain Brain.

This is how Zilliant is placing that final puzzle piece. 

How Do Product Alternative Actions Work in the New Era of Revenue Intelligence?

The new era is defined by data and how quickly a company can decipher and do something smart with it. How can this rubric be applied to the money-losing, time-consuming problem of product shortage? Can we use our own data to drive more revenue and margin in this scenario, while alleviating the administrative burden described above?

With Sales IQ™ and Campaign Manager™, doing so is literally a matter of button clicks. The advanced data science and AI powering Sales IQ™ identifies substitution opportunities in minutes, while the flexible, user-friendly Campaign Manager™ application enables sales operations and category managers to properly scope, filter and publish those to sales reps in the form of guided actions with talk tracks to Sales Planner™, CRM, CPQ, eCommerce, or any other commercial system.

What is Sales IQ™?


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