for US office products dealers
How technology can put orders into your basket PLUS Dealer case studies and digital marketing
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Editor’scomment This has not been an easy publication to create this year. As soon as we got close to finalising what we wanted to share with you about software developments, two of the biggest players merged (read the news on page 4). Even before that we had been documenting really quite polar opinions from different providers about data and ownership, sparked by the formation of the Office Products Software Alliance (see page 5). Actually, this is all a good illustration of how the world of technology evolves in general. Over the past ten years, the impact of the internet on business and customer relations has been phenomenal – we can’t imagine a world without it. So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing changes within the companies that support independent dealers’ technology. The polarised opinions reflect the reality that there isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to the internet and how to use data. There’s no rule to follow, or proven magic software wand to boost margins. However, what I hope we have brought you in this publication is some advice about where you could start. And one message is clear: ignore technology at your peril.
Contents News............................4 Big interview...............16 Software providers........6 Digital marketing.........19 Wholesalers................11 Dealer case studies.....23 www.opi.net | Technology Solutions
ECi swoops for Red Cheetah Further consolidation in the OP back-office systems sector
Andrew Morgan: President role at ECi In a major move in the OP systems and software market in the US, ECi announced the acquisition of rival provider Red Cheetah just as this issue of OPI Technology Solutions was going to press. The acquisition closed on 1 June, but financial details were not disclosed. There have been persistent rumours for a number of years that ECi would make such a move, but Red Cheetah CEO Andrew Morgan always maintained that his business was not for sale. The two Texas-based firms have been working together recently as part of the software providers’ alliance OPSA. It would appear this could have been the catalyst to ECi and Red Cheetah taking things a step further – although some may claim OPSA was set up with consolidation in mind. In a blog post Morgan revealed that he has had “numerous discussions” over the past year with the ECi executive team, in particular with CEO Ron Books. “Each of these conversations has led me to the conclusion that ECi is extremely well led by Ron and a very different business than they were prior to his taking over leadership,” stated Morgan. “I am excited to go forward with them in support of our one simple goal: to provide solutions that allow the independent dealer to grow and thrive, all backed by excellent customer service.”
“Actively engaged” According to an ECi customer FAQ document, Red Cheetah’s Morgan and COO Chris Grigsby will remain “actively engaged” in daily Red
Technology Solutions | 2013
Cheetah operations, and Morgan will have an “expanded role” across the entire ECi Office Products division in a co-President position alongside Anshul Choudry, who oversees the Britannia and DDMS platforms. All management at ECi is set to remain in place, it was announced. Morgan provided a bit more insight into the decision to join the ECi family. “We have all watched the OP industry twist, turn and reshape for years,” he noted. “The continued efforts of the Red Cheetah team within the ECi portfolio will ensure independent dealers can continue to compete. By joining together, we will have significant opportunities
team. The big question mark now is to what extent dealers will be willing to stay on the Red Cheetah platform now that it is part of ECi. Many customers reportedly signed up to Red Cheetah because they were unhappy with their ECi experience and will probably have doubts, even if things have changed for the better in the last few years under Books’ leadership. The potential for customer attrition resulting from the acquisition was not lost on rival software provider AOSWare. It announced – on the day the ECi/Red Cheetah tie-up was made public – a strategy aimed at acquiring Red Cheetah dealers, waiving all set-up
“Red Cheetah’s contribution to the independent dealer channel was one that could not be ignored” Ron Books, CEO ECi to better serve our dealers’ everexpanding technology requirements [and] access to additional products, resources and services that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve on our own.” Commenting on the acquisition, ECi CEO Ron Books said: “Since 2001, Andrew Morgan and the principal partners in Red Cheetah have provided ERP and e-commerce technology that have helped shape the office supplies industry. Red Cheetah’s contribution to the independent dealer channel was one that could not be ignored.” Books continued: “Thus, when we had the opportunity to discuss a possible acquisition, we knew it was the right move. This acquisition will allow us to further leverage available resources and infrastructure as well as secure tighter integrations and partnerships across the industries each of [our customers] serve.” Red Cheetah has certainly had a reputation of being a thorn in ECi’s side over the last few years, and inroads made into its dealer customer base can’t have been lost on Ron Books and his management
fees for Red Cheetah dealers that signed up to AOSWare over a 30-day period. “We feel this strategy will allow Red Cheetah dealers to get a much more robust back-end system at an entry-level price,” said AOSWare Managing Partner Sonny Arora, who added that he had been busy fielding calls from interested resellers. You can read more comment from Andrew Morgan and Ron Books, as well as further reaction from the industry, in the July/August issue of OPI magazine.
Sonny Arora: Sees opportunities for AOSWare
Software providers form alliance Six leading system providers in the US announced a strategic alliance back in February. The founding members of the Office Products Software Alliance
Evolution launches search tool E-commerce provider Evolution Software has recently launched a search tool for its web store. The tool – called Fusion Search – is embedded into the Evolution web store and is designed to improve the product search experience for end-users. It is available for independent dealers across the US, UK and Ireland. “Product searches on web stores within the office products industry have always been a challenge – the vast array of products and categories make returning the relevant results a difficult task,” said Evolution’s Sales and Marketing Director Andy Whyte. Whyte added that the new search capabilities when combined with Evolution’s Fusion Data tool take the online purchasing of office products “to an entirely new level”.
(OPSA) were BMI, ECi, GOPD, Red Cheetah, SSI and Thalerus. Collaboration had been on the cards for some time after Red Cheetah CEO Andrew Morgan controversially revealed the possibility of an alliance to OPI just prior to last year’s SP Richards ABC event in Washington – spending most of the show fending of questions from all quarters of the industry. While the growing threat from Amazon, mass market resellers and the ability of the big boxes to spend millions on digital research and development were factors in these providers pooling their resources, the impact of United Stationers’ 2010 acquisition of MBS Dev certainly can’t be overlooked. “There have been instances where United has taken dealers
away from us – it has happened to every single member of the alliance, so United’s relationship with MBS Dev is a unique situation,” said Red Cheetah’s Andrew Morgan. “It did play a factor in the formation of OPSA, but was not the only and overriding reason for the alliance.” OPSA said it would focus its attention on three main areas: content standardisation and uniform deployment; security and data integrity standardisation; and mobile order entry, smartphone apps and mobile payment. Of course, OPSA was formed before the announcement that ECi had acquired Red Cheetah, and it is still unclear at the time of writing how that transaction will affect the alliance. However, the factors that led to the creation of the alliance have not changed.
Acsellerate reaches customer milestone ECi’s Acsellerate sales intelligence tool surpassed 500 active customers in 2012. This new threshold translates into nearly 3,000 global users, integrated with almost 30 different ERP systems, across 12 time zones. “The Acsellerate team is proud of our accomplishments last year,” said Steve Sabatini, President
of ECi Acsellerate. “We not only reached a significant milestone of more than 500 clients, but we also made substantial feature enhancements and introduced new offerings to support our loyal customer base. We are pleased that the market continues to recognise our dedication to strengthening independent businesses.”
MBS Dev and sales-i in partnership Earlier this year, software solutions providers MBS Dev and sales-i joined forces in a marketing alliance. Sales-i’s purchasing analytics, trending and alerts have been integrated into MBS Dev’s e-commerce and business operations software with the aim of giving independent office products dealers “unparalleled data-driven decision-making power”. Paul Hesser, COO at MBS Dev, said: “We are very excited to announce this marketing alliance with sales-i because they are clearly the frontrunner in sales development tools for office products dealers. Integrating sales-i’s customer analytics and sales productivity tools into our Distribution Suite gives our customers best of breed and complete sales visibility to drive their business.”
www.opi.net | Technology Solutions
Whether you are stocking or stockless, with an open interface or closed, there are technology options that can help your business
talking to some of the OP industry’s software providers, almost all of them cry that the majority of independent dealers are not making the most of the technology that is available to them in 2013. The words “old school” and “missing the boat” are frequently heard, as they speak of opportunities missed. “The office supplies industry is full of people fighting technology,” says Sonny Arora, Managing Partner at AOSWare. John Freund, CEO of JumpTech agrees: “OP dealers are very rooted in their technology. Quite often they’ll be dissatisfied with what they’re using but fear change. They need to constantly be looking out there to see how technology can improve their business, and realise that even though they may be small businesses, most people serving the segment know this and put efficiencies in place that work with dealers of all sizes.” Of course, there are examples where dealers are embracing new technology, both in terms of their customer facing and back-end systems, and are reaping the rewards. But according to the software industry, most haven’t realised the potential of developing a website that meets modern customer buying needs, or a back-end system that can offer a whole range of efficiencies to clients. The technology is there, and they need to use it – before someone else does.
Opportunities abound “You need to treat a website like a new salesperson,” says Arora. “Dealers have not been concerned with their web presence, but focus on the back-end system and putting salespeople on the road. Things are changing. A legacy web system assumes that users look on the website for reference, then
Technology Solutions | 2013
call up or fax an order. But as college kids enter the workplace the look and feel of the site, as well as ease of use, are much more important. Dealers might spend $40,00050,000 on a new salesperson, with no ROI for six months, instead of investing in technology. This relies on meeting people face to face, which is expensive.” Arora is in favour of Google’s Pay Per Click advertising, which he argues is cost effective and can bring huge returns for very little marketing spend. It works by placing a featured listing on Google search return pages, and charges when someone clicks the link. “Most dealers have never had that experience of receiving a call from someone who’s found them on the internet,” says Arora. “But it works very well.” However, as important as a website is, other providers argue that it is just as important to invest in a back-end system. As Red Cheetah’s Andrew Morgan says: “Say
Dealers can use technology to make them more efficient
a progressive dealer gets 50% of orders through e-commerce. You can’t ignore the other 50%. You still have to have the same merchandising and marketing available at the back end to help you cross sell.” As much as changing consumer needs are upping the need for a user-friendly website, they are also influencing the back-end systems that a dealer can use to process customer requirements. Freund believes that increasing efficiency for customers through technology can help dealers to win new, bigger contracts. “You’re talking about products that most businesses don’t like to deal with; they’re nuisance products,” he says. “Dealers can
It’s critical for dealers to have the ability to expand into new verticals
Know your customer As Morgan alludes to, utilising user behaviour data has become a critical component of maximising sales. The formation of the Office Products Software Alliance (OPSA) sparked many heated conversations about who owns this data and who has permission to use it. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that it should be used, and that at the moment most dealers are not – either due to not realising its importance or because they simply don’t have the resources to do so.
ECi CEO Ron Books says: “It’s critical for software providers to help dealers collect data. Some dealers are going to adopt it and some won’t, but it’s critical – in today’s business world you have to understand who your customer is, what their likes and dislikes are, how long users stay on a page, what they’re searching for and finding – or not finding. Dealers have to understand that the Amazons of the world are coming, so they have to keep up with the technology.” As well as monitoring customer behaviour, Morgan and Books believe technology can help dealers to cross-sell into new business areas. Morgan says: “I think dealers sometimes lack the ability to expand the SKU mix of what their existing customers are purchasing. This can be done through analytics and reporting – for example, how much of my portfolio should be driven by a new category like jan/san? The analytics can tell a dealer.” This can help dealers to combat the tough economy, believes Books: “I think it’s critical for dealers to have the ability to expand into new verticals, services and offerings. I don’t think traditional dealers exist anymore. They have to handle managed print services, coffee, jan/san, even services that are an extension of the business.”
use technology to make them more efficient, such as automatic inventory management in a customer’s stock room. Sales reps get caught up on offering a skinny price, when they should focus on technology to implement in a business that will streamline a process, eliminate maverick spending and ensure inventory visibility. “Walking in to a new customer and saying you have a website to order from isn’t good enough. Walking in and saying you understand the processes they go through to place an order and can cut 60% out of that, will work. Dealers need to realise who the right customers are – and the good news is they’re the big customers.”
real life case studies from dealers that each use a different software. Indeed, JumpTech’s Freund believes that dealers should offer each other advice on this subject more openly. “The good and bad of the OP business is that it’s not unique,” he says. “It’s not a business where one small- to mid-sized dealer is doing many different things to another. And the beauty of the channel is that although these guys compete with each other on a daily basis they can help each other.” When it comes to what’s best for the dealer, this has been the subject of much debate in the news recently. Various software providers have been gracing the news headlines, each professing a desire Talk it through to help dealers as much as possible. The This is a lot for a dealer to take in. most recent news was, of course, ECi’s Technology can offer many opportunities, acquisition of Red Cheetah (turn to page but what with some people emphasising the 4 for more on this story). The formation of importance of a customer-facing website OPSA also generated comment about who and others championing the capabilities of has the dealers’ best interests at heart. back-office systems, it can be hard to know What it all boils down to is that there is no right answer as to what exactly which way to turn first and which provider dealers should be focusing on, but there offers the most suitable solution. To help you see what’s on the market, on are many people out there offering help. page 9 we have listed some of the software The important step is to ask for help, and available. No doubt all the providers will be actively embrace the technology that can happy to answer your questions about each aid your business. While technology isn’t a magic wand, it can certainly go a long way solution. To give you an even better idea, to supporting a business. ● on page 23 we have included a number of
Technology is critical but it’s not the final solution
So using software to understand customers better has become critical, and can help dealers to understand how to place new products and offerings into their portfolios. However, this isn’t an undertaking to be taken lightly. It takes a significant change in mind-set to move towards a business operating around analytics, and some dealers will find it a culture shock. “Technology is critical, but it’s not the final solution,” says Books. “They have to form a business plan to make sure they’re learning in these areas, such as hiring subject area experts. These are becoming more and more important.”
EVOLUTION E-COMMERCE SOFTWARE
By: ECi Aim: A business system that is designed to manage independent dealers’ multiple locations and verticals How: Contains features and functionality to support dealers with multi-faceted business models, including government service contracts, e-commerce and retail Find our more: www.ecisolutions.com
By: Evolution Aim: To provide dealers with an Amazon-feel website How: The site is multi-currency, works well with search engines and includes cost centre tools, authorisation tools, budget controls, graphical reporting, flexible shopping tools and targeted campaigns Find out more: www.evolution-software.co.uk
By: Sales-i Aim: To help manufacturers and distributors maximise performance of their front salespeople by leveraging the buying behaviour of customers How: Web dashboards, mobile apps, easy-to-use analytics, alerts, comprehensive CRM, one-click business review production, ‘sniper-rifle’ marketing tools Find out more: www.sales-i.com
MBS DEV DISTRIBUTION SUITE
By: ECi Aim: To provide a business system for small and growing dealers that’s easy to use and affordable How: The software modules that are included address multiple business areas such as accounting, order entry and billing, purchasing, inventory and pricing Find out more: www.ecisolutions.com
By: MBS Dev Aim: Addresses a reseller’s business, from e-commerce to warehouse; to increase engagement with online ordering How: Provides a shopping experience that is similar to major consumer sites; produces a sales portal for representatives to address customer management; back-office functions address warehouse operations and financial management Find out more: www.mbsdev.com
GUIDED PARTNER SERVICES
By: LogicBlock Aim: To provide an e-commerce solution for independent dealers, which has both built-in and customisable features that help manage a store’s brand How: A built-in content management system includes enterprise keyword and managed search, unlimited customisable products and one page checkout Find out more: www.logicblock.com
By: Red Cheetah Aim: To assist dealers with executionlevel growth strategies that have already shown they grow sales and profits How: The solution includes sell-side merchandising, integrated marketing, digital catalogues, email sales campaigns, web analytics and financial reporting Find out more: www.redcheetah.com
By: Thalerus Aim: To support independent dealers’ online marketing efforts and daily business operations, all via the internet as its a hosted solution How: Includes a web store – which features a filter-based search engine, product comparison – an ERP back-office system and delivery/shipping Find out more: www.thalerus.com
DEALER COMMANDER/ OP COMMANDER
By: AOSWare Aim: Dealer Commander is an enterprise back-end system; OP Commander is an online storefront How: Dealer Commander can be customised to fit a business model and manages order processing and data; OP Commander is an e-commerce that can be integrated with Dealer Commander Find out more: www.aosware.com
By: BMI Aim: To meet the specific operational needs of the independent OP dealer, whatever the wholesaler How: E-commerce, customer service, procurement, wholesaler supply chains, inventory, warehousing, delivery logistics, accounting, financial reporting and operational analysis Find out more: www.bmiusa.com
By: GOPD Aim: To allow independent dealers to select the system functionality they need to meet their business needs, from a standalone shopping cart to a full business system How: The modular structure allows dealers flexibility on price and functionality Find out more: www.gopd.com
Aim: To help dealers improve customer service and their bottom line; to help customers close larger accounts How: JumpTrack allows signatures to be captured with any iOS or Android-based device and uses GPS to track drivers; JumpCart targets the time it takes for a customer to assemble and place an order and pay an invoice Find out more: www.jumptech.com
www.opi.net | Technology Solutions
A digital mind-set
How is the independent OP community faring in the digital age? OPI hears the wholesalers’ viewpoint
engendering loyalty, giving businesses various communication and relationshipmanaging channels. This is a key opportunity that firms must capitalise on, says Accenture, and there are some office supplies players that are doing just this, but, equally, there are some that require a push in the right direction. Todd Shelton, President of United Stationers Supply, says that many of the wholesaler’s reseller partners have developed segmentation models allowing them to put customers with similar needs into common segments. “This enables them to market specifically to the needs of this segment,” he explains. “In an industry like ours, where there are vast numbers of customers with lowpurchase levels, this is still an efficient and viable method of going to market.” Gatens adds: “Developing and maintaining customer relationships now includes email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other mechanisms to maintain customer contact frequency. “For the dealers that aren’t doing email marketing yet, this is a must. You are very
For the dealers that aren’t doing email marketing yet, this is a must. You are very far behind your competition. Email is table stakes today
business is a digital business, according to global consulting, technology and outsourcing firm Accenture. In its Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report, which uses this statement as its title, the company identifies the trends in the tech space that all businesses should be considering in the digital age. Whether it’s best practice in using social software, building relationships through technology or providing guidance about flying high in the cloud, the report contains essential advice for businesses of all shapes and sizes. “Accenture believes that understanding technology change – the trends that impact your business – is no longer just the realm of IT,” says the publication. “It is time for every executive – COO, CMO and even CEO – to grasp its importance and use technology to pursue success.” So, if the executive leadership team at any company must now comprise “stewards of the new digital mind-set”, according to the Accenture report, how is the OP dealer community faring? Paul Gatens, Director of E-commerce and Marketing at wholesaler SP Richards (SPR), says that many of the dealer leaders he works with are “keenly interested in the impact of technology on their business”, be it a focus on website performance, software, analytics or email and social media. “It takes a top-down commitment in an organisation to support the funding and staffing necessary to take advantage of the technology advancements in our marketplace,” he argues. “A good manager doesn’t need to understand all of the intricacies of the technology, but if they understand the importance and hire good people who do, they and their organisations will be able to leverage them to their success.” Digital advancements have created more platforms for consumer engagement and
far behind your competition. Email is table stakes today.” The SPR IT boss alludes to social media as one mechanism for maintaining relationships with customers in the digital age, but just how important is it? Accenture argues that the real productivity gains from these technologies lie in a company’s ability to integrate them into their business processes and the software that supports them.
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It is time for every executive – COO, CMO and even CEO – to grasp technology’s importance and use it to pursue success
customers or increasing equity with their existing customer base.” And President of Supplies Network Greg Welchans adds: “Dealers are slowly bringing themselves into social media. I still don’t think there is a compelling enough business case that says this should be the top priority for any dealer [yet].” While social media still constitutes stepping into the unknown for many businesses, e-commerce analytics is an area that has developed considerably in recent years. It’s an important consideration for SMBs to consider, especially if they wish to compete with the OP big boxes and multinational Greg resellers, and – as Accenture warns – Welchans “with every data gap, enterprises miss an opportunity to make better decisions”. Girisha Chandraraj, VP E-Business at United Stationers, believes that it is now easier than ever to use analytics for the betterment of business, and suggests it is essential to use the tools available to maintain competitiveness. He comments: “More and more companies are using their digital data to extract insights into what, how and why their customers purchase. United also continues to rely on analytics
The three US wholesalers OPI spoke to – SPR, United Stationers and IT-focused distributor Supplies Network – agree that the OP community is in its infancy when it comes to success with social media, just like the majority of other industries. It is widely assumed that businesses are better off choosing wisely which social media platforms to use and only fully committing to this method of communication when they have a specific strategy, rather than creating a presence in all areas just for the sake of it. Companies can often spread themselves too thinly by trying to operate on all platforms, thus struggling to gain traction. Diane Hund, VP Marketing at United Stationers, remarks: “When dealers offer an incentive to ‘like’ a Facebook post they miss the point entirely. End-consumers only like a post if they value its content; that measure of acceptance can’t be bought, it can only be earned. “For dealers to have success using social media it must be part of an overall marketing plan – one that is focused on either building awareness with new
Technology Solutions | 2013
to improve its own efforts to assist resellers with their marketing activities. “Good analytics will assess what is working so that you can drastically improve your future marketing efforts.” Chandraraj adds that an increasing number of dealers are recognising the value of analysing how their websites are performing, with the more successful dealers understanding that improvements can lead to better conversion rates. “The best way to encourage a dealer is to show them that analysing data leads to decisions that make them more money,” he states. Actively using analytics programs would appear to become more important when taking into account the smaller margins of certain categories like IT consumables, according to Supplies Network’s Welchans. “From a business standpoint, data analytics will help them drive unnecessary cost out of their business, and in this product category it is critical that a dealer understands its cost to serve because the margins are so thin,” he asserts. “If dealers don’t have a good grasp on cost, they quite possibly could be losing money on many transactions.” Judging from the distributors’ comments, technological progress is certainly being made in the office products vertical, particularly through email marketing and web analytics. Areas such as cloud technology and data security, which Accenture claims are also key parts of its ‘every business is a digital business’ mantra, are perhaps several years away from being mainstream technological concerns for this particular industry. There is no doubt that the Accenture report is very forward thinking, and there will only be very few – probably larger multinational businesses – that tick the majority of its boxes in terms of what constitutes complete technological expertise. As advanced as its findings are, though, its future-gazing theme paints a vivid picture of the direction the business world is moving, and it is encouraging to hear that there are sections of the OP community that appear to be following the right path. As with any industry that comprises primarily independentlyrun SMBs, there’s still much technological development for office supplies firms to consider. It will be the businesses choosing the correct tools and systems to meet the needs of their specific customer base that will survive and thrive as the digital age continues its rapid advancement. ●
Keeping it open Flexibility and understanding customers are at the heart of both MBS Dev’s own approach and its offering to dealers, according to CEO Paul Hesser. OPI asks a few more questions… OPI: What has MBS Dev been up to in the past year? Paul Hesser: Most of our attention has been on two areas: e-commerce and sales force productivity. These areas are obviously critical for a dealer in a market that is becoming increasingly more competitive. On the e-commerce side we’ve made literally hundreds of improvements to our web store. We’ve benchmarked our platform against the national B2B sites to see how we compare, and we are confident that what we’ve delivered puts our dealers on par with many of them. OPI: What features in particular do those large B2B sites have that you can help dealers to replicate? PH: One is related to usability. When you visit a website, you either go to a brand you recognise or you’re looking for a product that you want to buy. If a site doesn’t feel very modern or intuitive, users will be concerned about making a purchase. Dealers need to modernise the platform so that a B2B buyer feels like they are buying from a trusted source. That confidence comes from a website that looks and feels like other trusted sources – usually B2C websites. Buyers have become accustomed to what they could get from Amazon or Staples.com, so we’ve worked on our platform to ensure our dealers’ sites provide that same B2C experience. A second feature focuses on recommendations and merchandising. This has to be seamlessly integrated, not an afterthought. As shoppers search for items, dealers need relevant products to appear that
Technology Solutions | 2013
feel part of the experience. For example, if you’re looking at printers, you should also see copy paper, toner and other consumables on the page. That’s what gives our dealers the opportunity for increased sales – and it’s part of our platform today. Finally, we recognise that we must deliver not just a great experience for the user, but also the right components to help the customer manage their account, such as budget controls, approval levels, loyalty points and other features. OPI: So how far do you customise sites for dealers? PH: Our platform is different to others as we offer full customisation. If dealers want to focus on their brand identity, they can do this with our system. If they want to hire their own programmers, they can, or, if they prefer, we offer widgets that make it easy for sites to be customised. OPI: How important do you think mobile commerce is for dealers? PH: I put mobile within e-commerce. If you look at it separately it doesn’t work; you need to combine these initiatives. But mobile is going to become increasingly important in B2B e-commerce, since shoppers have come to expect e-commerce sites to offer a mobile application. Also, as dealers diversify their categories, for example as they get into breakroom and safety, the mobile platform will be more relevant as different types of customers are buying from them. OPI: You mentioned sales force productivity; what are you working on in this area? PH: We have integrated our platform with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, so data is seamlessly
OPI: The subject of who owns user data has been in focus recently, particularly since the formation of the Office Products Software Alliance (OPSA – see page 5). What’s your view? PH: This is a sensitive issue, but we strongly believe that data belongs to dealers and they should manage it. That doesn’t mean that the dealer shouldn’t share that with a software provider to help them to market and merchandise, as sometimes they’re not able to do it themselves, but that information is their jewel. Their ownership of the customer is critical to their future. Their competitors are using it against them, so they need to use it to gain the advantage. OPI: When OPSA was created, criticism again emerged about MBS Dev being owned by United Stationers. Are you comfortable with your position in the market? PH: The answer is absolutely yes. I think that people can make whatever they want out of the ownership of MBS Dev, but the bottom line is that United’s relationship with us creates a strong partnership. United is successful because of the strong independent dealer channel, and our role within the United family is to enable the dealers to be more successful. So I think that this alignment has a strong value for dealers.
OPI: Data management is a hot topic at the moment. Do you think dealers should be more aware of how data can be used? PH: It’s absolutely critical! I can’t stress how important user data is to dealers. Look at a consumer’s experience with Amazon; you find a product on the site, then don’t buy anything and within 24 hours you’ll get an email from Amazon with other options. If a dealer sees that a customer didn’t buy from their site, and maybe went to a competitor’s site, that’s important information that they can act on. Knowing how customers react to your various initiatives allows you to focus on what works best.
OPI: Turning to product data, there are moves in the industry, such as from BSA, to standardise data. Do you think this is a good idea? PH: That’s a good question. I previously worked in the travel industry, where data around airline ticketing was extremely standardised. The challenge came when airlines introduced additional services and the system couldn’t handle it. The travel agents, like dealers, couldn’t sell them. So I think efforts around the collection and consolidation of content should happen,
[Data is] absolutely critical! I can’t stress how important user data is to independent dealers but I worry about pure standardisation because that implies it goes to the lowest common denominator. For example, we collect videos but not all businesses in the industry are able to receive videos, so they wouldn’t get passed on. To be able to get the most robust content possible, I think it’ll have to come from a variety of sources. Any effort to standardise this will be a challenge because it won’t be as good as the industry could get it. OPI: You have recently announced a new partnership with Sales-i. What’s the rationale behind that? PH: As I mentioned earlier, sales force productivity has been a key focus for MBS Dev. Sales-i is a great company with a great sales analytic platform, that gives dealers the ability to slice and dice business and sales information about each and every one of their accounts, and respond quickly. Our strategy is to have an open platform and we want to keep inviting companies into our solution that will benefit the dealer. Dealers understand that software providers can’t focus on everything so we need to be open to partner with people in order to have a great solution. OPI: So looking to the future, what’s next for MBS Dev? PH: We’re going to be doing a lot more with supplier and wholesaler sourcing, and making this more cost efficient for dealers so they can drive additional costs out of their businesses. I’ll save some announcements for future discussion, but rest assured that we’re going to add more innovations to our platform because the market is constantly changing. ●
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shared. What’s important about that is that a lot of mid- to small-sized dealers can do more with it. Their sales reps can track engagements with customers and prospects, and it extends into customer service so reps can see when people phone in with a question. It integrates with marketing so you can monitor customer purchasing behaviour and follow up with traditional marketing or digital campaigns, which you can then track.
A bird’s eye view A couple of pages cannot do justice to the subject of digital marketing. So here OPI offers a short overview of the main trends in this ever growing area different things to different people, but there’s no doubt digital marketing is a huge subject. From paid search and SEO over social media marketing and social media optimisation to email marketing and all that it entails, digital marketing is a resource – and money-intensive undertaking. And in the OP industry, there are few companies that have embraced the concept wholeheartedly and comprehensively. OP e-tailer Shoplet is one of those rare beasts that has – about 95% of its overall marketing spend is used specifically for digital marketing – and has also seen considerable success as a result of it. One of Shoplet’s most recent focus points in this area has been the launch and development of its mobile shopping app. Having launched the app back in 2011, the results didn’t come overnight, but mobile shopping is now by far Shoplet’s fastest-growing area, says founder/CEO Tony Ellison.
“Back in 2011, a lot of our customers wanted a mobilefriendly site so that’s what we created. Like everybody else, we were impatient to start with, saying ‘we’ve built this mobile site now, where are all the transactions?’, but initially it was mostly a research tool. Over time, however, people got used to the site and started transacting. And the growth has been enormous. We’ve tracked it over a two-year period and mobile growth is up by over 3,000%. At this rate, mobile shopping is going to
it’s nevertheless important to step up to the challenge. Schulman says: “People are very attached to their smartphones and tablets nowadays. The way they search for products and then purchase them is changing, and that really goes for B2C and B2B.” According to Google’s 2011 The Mobile Movement Study, shoppers spent on average $300 on smartphone purchases a year, and office products are definitely in that shopping basket too (see ‘Smartphone shopping habits’, below). The fact that the study is a couple of years old only fuels the
Building a mobile site is not an easy task...you can’t just dabble and expect a good return
catch up with desktop purchases at some stage.”
Source: Mobile movement study, Google 2011
Indeed, mobile marketing (not just shopping) is one of the biggest trends in the entire digital marketing context, Smartphone shopping habits says Jennifer Top smartphone purchases Average amount spent per year Schulman, President of Fortune Web Marketing. And despite the fact that much of the OP world in the US and particularly the B2B space is behind the curve in terms of its offering,
assumption that general purchases, as well as the percentage of OP bought via smartphones, will have gone up considerably since then. It’s not just buying from mobilefriendly sites, says Schulman. 73% of mobile searches trigger additional actions and conversions, such as visiting a retailer’s website (25%), visiting a physical store (17%) or indeed making a purchase (17%). There are hundreds of stats out there that support the need for mobile-friendly websites and an all-round mobile-oriented marketing strategy, but that’s often easier said than done, says Ellison: “Building a mobile site, for example, is not an easy task. Do you want an app or just an m-commerce site; if you build an app, how are you going to continue to maintain it; are you going to make it available on many
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Creating content The other big trend is content marketing and this is where every company in the OP space should be able to come up trumps. The search engines have long been looking for better content and a lot of their major updates have focused around banning websites that have poor quality (see box ‘Google Zebra: the next SEO threat?’ below). It’s more than that though, says Schulman: “We have stats that show 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get information about a business in a series of articles versus advertisements. And that’s a clear trend we’re seeing: how can our clients in the OP industry be established as subject matter experts; how can they really market themselves as a knowledge base? “Don’t get me wrong, you still supplement your strategy with product advertisements and
promotions etc, but they need to become thought-leaders essentially through content marketing.” Ellison agrees: “We’re trying to change the mindset of manufacturers from a cataloguebased industry to an online-based industry where you’re not limited to a bit of blurb and one image. You can do so much more online: a video, style shots of your products, video blogging, demonstrations. You’re not seeing much of that in our industry and I wish we could engage more manufacturers in content marketing.” That said, Ellison and Schulman both admit there are exceptions to the rule, singling out the likes of Avery Dennison and Fellowes as companies that have embraced the concept. Ellison explains: “Avery partnered with Webcollage and provided us with a lot more content than traditionally available. Here’s somebody who stepped outside their comfort zone and realised that content marketing is important.”
Spin it! There are some clear trendsetters in the digital marketing space and unsurprisingly they are all firmly
Google Zebra: the next SEO threat? No piece on digital marketing is complete without a good look at what’s happening in the volatile SEO arena. And after Google Panda and then Google Penguin (and all their various updates), now another black-and-white monster is looming large on the horizon of SEO specialists. It’s Google Zebra. Instead of targeting primarily content and poor links, Google’s latest algorithm update is expected to target any open-site e-commerce companies; if they are not trusted and authoritative online merchants, they are probably going to get penalised in their rankings. Bernadette Coleman is CEO & Executive Director of digital agency Advice Interactive Group. She recently referred to a comment made by Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam team: “We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don’t want low-quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results.” But what is low quality in Google’s eyes? Coleman recommends looking at these points: • Merchant reviews – if they are predominantly bad, that could be a nail in the rankings coffin • Google Search Quality Guidelines – complying to some/all of them is a bonus • Google Shopping’s Trusted Stores Program – being affiliated with that helps • Physical location – it’s speculation but some believe having a physical location is a plus point for Google. The impact of Google Zebra for now – on online merchants in general and those in the OP industry in particular – remains blissfully vague and unclear. The continuous importance of SEO does not.
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Content creation The dos: •
• • •
Add plenty of rich information that includes keywords which indicate the subject matter of your content Unique, resourceful and information-rich Establish yourself as an industry or thought-leader Is it “link bait” material?
The don’ts: • • • •
Be careful of duplicate content Avoid auto-generated content Don’t scrape content from other reputable sites Don’t create doorway pages – or sites/ pages that are stuffed with keywords meant only to rank, not inform Avoid “thin content” – copy that does the bare minimum required to provide enough keyword attraction for a searcher to appear in results, but offers no value
rooted in the online world. From Amazon with its much hailed mobile shopping app to the overall efforts of the likes of Shoplet and BuyOnlineNow – all of them are continuously raising the bar with content-heavy blogs, attractive, easy-to-use websites and mobile versions of their websites. But, says Schulman, the rest of the OP world is also beginning to catch up, with the OP wholesalers, for example, writing social media scripts or creating email templates that are then consolidated into one place for dealers to use. She warns, however, that dealers don’t want the exact same message that every other independent dealer is being given. “We try to find a way whereby we take what the manufacturers and the wholesalers are providing and then customise it; perhaps put it inside a custom email template or maybe do an email blast that promotes a content piece but then uses one of the Avery web banners. “A lot of dealers are being inspired by not only the major online retail channels and the big boxes but the content and the effort that the manufacturers and the wholesalers are putting into their digital marketing efforts; they just have to find a way to put a spin on it.” ●
Source: Fortune Web Marketing
different platforms? It’s also a very costly proposition; it’s almost like building another website. If you’re not looking to invest the right amount of resources, it’s not for you. You can’t just dabble a little and expect a good return.”
so we are
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Dealer: The Supply Room Companies OPI spoke to: Jeff Schroeder, SVP Operations and Technology Location: Ashland, Virginia Solution used: ECi DDMS – Acsellerate, Route Trak, Route Perfect, EcInteractive, Planet Press, CCH, Avamar, Premier Support
OPI: How long have you been using this ECi solution? Jeff Schroeder: We have been on the DDMS solution for more than 24 years. OPI: Why did you choose this particular solution? JS: It was the best solution when we chose it in 1989 and we still feel that today. We have found that there is no perfect software solution and the ECi offering was the best package to meet our needs from a solution standpoint as well as software support. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company? JS: The main benefit is software support. We believe that a big part of keeping our business up and running is to have support staff that understand and have the same sense of urgency that we do to keep our business operating smoothly. OPI: In what situations has it been useful? JS: We had a serious situation that resulted in our parameters file being corrupted after a 2am server reboot. At 3am after researching the problem we left a message for our premier support person. Understanding that we normally do not call each other he called me back, logged into the server, found the problem and fixed it. This in my opinion is exceptional service and we did not miss a beat for our deliveries that day. OPI: Is there anything the system doesn’t address that you think it should? JS: We believe that the future growth of the business will come in the area of technology products and we are working closely with ECi to improve our ability to compete in this arena. OPI: Would you recommend the solution to other dealers? JS: My recommendation would be to survey what is out in the market and look at what the best solution would be to serve your business. ECi has provided us with a solid solution and partnership in moving our business forward from a technology standpoint.
OPI hears from the independent dealers who actually use the technology solutions and software available on today’s market Dealer: Office Mate OPI spoke to: Marcus Garcia, President/CEO Location: Austin, Texas Solution used: Dealer Commander from AOSWare
OPI: How long have you been using this software? Marcus Garcia: We started our integration in 2012, but February this year was when we really made the full conversion from Red Cheetah’s software. OPI: Why did you choose this particular solution? MG: When I went to SP Richards’ ABC last year I had been looking for new software and I found Sonny [Arora] at AOS. I spoke to him at length about what he could offer and look at other software houses – but sitting down with AOS we were really impressed with what they could do for us in terms of our SEO. Our website has to have high SEO without question, especially in our market in central Texas. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company? MG: The turnaround time is incredible. We ask them to do something and they do it within 24 hours. If we have an issue with a particular function of the system and don’t like the way it works for our customers and want to see a particular option on the front side, it’s done quickly and in the way we want it. OPI: In what situations has it been most useful? MG: When you talk to AOS, the answer is not “the system won’t do this”, it’s “the system doesn’t do this yet, but we’re working on it right now”. It’s not a fixed system – it’s constantly evolving. OPI: Is there anything it doesn’t address that you think it should? MG: They are developing a CRM system. We’re looking at working with that in the future. It’s the only thing I see lacking right now – and it’ll be here shortly. OPI: Would you recommend it to other dealers? MG: I would tell any dealer looking to grow that they have to have an open-ended system. If you’re looking for a system that’ll give you the ability to increase your SEO and tap into the social media market, you have to have a system like AOS Ware’s.
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Dealer: Monkeytown OPI spoke to: Kurt Karr, Top Banana Location: Vinton, Iowa Solution used: The company uses GOPD for various functions, including communications with United Stationers and Azerty for fulfilment, customer service and competitor (big box) pricing
OPI: How long have you been using GOPD? Kurt Karr: We started using GOPD after our relationship with our former back-end provider ended abruptly in October 2011. OPI: Why did you choose this particular solution? KK: We value flexibility and GOPD provides us with the flexibility we need. There are a lot of good solutions out there, but for us the key is the ability to adapt and adjust quickly. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company? KK: Monkeytown is a marketing-driven company. We imagine new offers, invite customers to try new ideas, and need to reach customers in the way they want to do business. All of these innovative ways of expressing our brand’s commitment to local communities and reaching potential customers is made possible by GOPD. OPI: In what situations has it been useful? KK: Any dealers would like the chance to launch new brands and new concepts but they can get stymied by the complexity. GOPD allows all of this (and more) in a quick, low-cost solution. The dealer can try a new value proposition and if it doesn’t work at least they’ve not spent
Dealer: Innovative Office Solutions OPI spoke to: Jason Player, CIO Location: Burnsville, Minnesota Solution used: Microsoft Dynamics AX2009 in an on-premise environment. The company also utilises the MBS Dev back-end product and its e-commerce website
OPI: How long have you been using this MBS Dev solution? Jason Player: We went live on MBS Dev in March 2012. OPI: Why did you choose this solution? JP: We had to look for something more robust that had a more aggressive enhancement roadmap. MBS Dev demonstrated the specific attributes that we were looking for as we positioned our business for continued growth and expansion into broader, more complex business cases. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company? JP: The MBS Dev solution significantly increased our level of flexibility as well as providing a forward-looking approach that promises continued innovation to remain relevant as we compete with the power channel.
Technology Solutions | 2013
thousands of dollars getting it off the ground. If it does take off it can be scaled without a problem. OPI: Is there anything it doesn’t address that you think it should? KK: Of course. Even Amazon would say their solution doesn’t do everything it should. But in substantive terms, we haven’t found a problem it can’t handle or we can’t work around. OPI: Would you recommend GOPD to other dealers? KK: The responsiveness of the GOPD staff is absolutely amazing. People you know and who know you answer the phone. Emails are responded to promptly. The commitment to the dealer is genuine and it shows in everything they do.
OPI: In what situations has it been useful? JP: The MBS Dev platform has allowed us to automate many processes that formerly had to be run manually, freeing up many hours of IT resources each month, allowing for gains in real productivity. OPI: Is there anything it doesn’t address that you think it should? JP: The good news is that many of the bigger picture opportunities for improvement are already on the MBS Dev Development Roadmap. They are making continued and significant investments in the base product and that is very refreshing to see in our industry. OPI: Would you recommend this solution to other dealers? JP: If your dealership is of the size to warrant the investment in this scale of solution, I would absolutely recommend MBS Dev.
OPI: How long have you been using JumpTrack? Mitch Magee: Since December 2012. OPI: Why did you choose this particular solution? MM: We needed something where anyone in our company could provide a quick proof of delivery via email to our customers and for our customers to be able to go on our website and download their own proof of delivery. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company? MM: With the previous application, customers would phone in and have to be forwarded to our accounting department, who would then have to provide the proof of delivery by printing, scanning and emailing it. The new system means they only have to visit our website, put in a ticket number and then email it directly out to customers – or the customer can do it themselves on the website.
what had happened and saw that it was actually delivered to someone by the name of X – the lady he was talking to knew it was a neighbouring office. She was able to locate her package, and it was an immediate solution to the customer. OPI: Is there anything it doesn’t address that you think it should? MM: We’ve been talking to JumpTech about some advanced reporting and we’ve also been talking about modifying the customer portal experience so that a customer can download multiple proof of deliveries at one time. We’ve found JumpTech to be very open to ideas coming from the dealer channel, which we are glad to see. OPI: Would you recommend JumpTrack to other dealers? MM: I have had about three dealers contact me already and I’ve recommended it to every single one of them.
OPI: In what situations has it been most useful? MM: I had a situation with a sales rep who received a customer call saying she didn’t get her delivery. We immediately went to the website, checked
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Dealer: Gateway Printing & Office Supply OPI spoke to: Mitch Magee, VP Information Technology Location: Edinburg (TX), USA Solution used: JumpTrack by JumpTech
Dealer: Zerbee OPI spoke to: John Jordan, E-commerce Director Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota Solution used: 7cart E-commerce from Logicblock
OPI: How long have you been using this Logicblock solution? John Jordan: Zerbee has been using it for two years. I’ve personally been using the solution almost since its inception, having started using it in November 2007 with another company. OPI: Why did you choose this particular solution? JJ: 7cart is a very robust e-commerce solution with a lot of flexibility. For our customer service staff it’s very easy to use and for marketing it has a lot of creative uses that help drive business. We’re often the guinea pig for new ideas, which gives us the opportunity to test those ideas and refine them through heavy daily use of the product. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company?
Dealer: Storey Kenworthy OPI spoke to: Jim Mueller, COO Location: Multiple locations in Iowa Solution used: BMI OP Revelation software package, operating on a Microsoft NAV 2009 platform
OPI: How long have you been using BMI’s solution? Jim Mueller: Approximately ten months. OPI: Why did you choose this particular solution? JM: We had been using a legacy ERP system for over 20 years. Though we had completed several upgrades and modifications, technology was becoming a liability, not an asset. We were continually dealing with inefficiencies due to multiple databases, product issues, internet integration difficulties, and a less than ultimate customer experience on the web. Therefore, we began looking for a fully integrated web and back office solution. This process took a number of years and took us to several different solutions. Ultimately BMI OP Revelation was the best fit for our business model. OPI: What benefits does it bring to your company? JM: It is a stable, technologically current, easy to understand program that allows us to offer our customers a state-of-the-art experience that rivals any other program in the market. The team at BMI is easy to work with and is knowledgeable about the issues that are facing our industry. They are willing to think
Technology Solutions | 2013
JJ: We’ve been able to grow significantly over the past two years with the 7cart system. We launched on 1 October 2011 with approximately 40,000 products and today we have over 103,000. OPI: In what situations has it been most useful? JJ: One of the most important areas for us has been the catalogue and order integration with the two main office products distributors. Not having to worry about doing this on our own has saved significant time and keeps us up to date at all times. OPI: Is there anything it doesn’t address that you think it should? JJ: Logicblock has created significant custom reporting for us but if we had one area we’d recommend for a more robust experience it would be accounting integration. For most small businesses this isn’t going to affect them very much. Zerbee, however, has grown to be a significant company in this space as it’s been growing at rocket speed, so accounting becomes very important. OPI: Would you recommend this solution to other dealers? JJ: Yes, I would absolutely recommend the 7cart system and Logicblock. They’ve been valuable partners in our growth and will be for the long-term future.
creatively to offer solutions that will continually improve the system. OPI: In what situations has it been most useful? JM: A significant amount of our sales originate on the internet. Keeping product information and pricing accurate was always difficult due to multiple databases in our prior system. The BMI OP Revelation program is fully integrated between the back office and the web store. Maintenance only needs to be accomplished in one place and it is effective system wide. OPI: Is there anything it doesn’t address that you think it should? JM: We are currently working with the BMI team to integrate the program with a promotional products and printing web application. Adding product offerings for our customers will strengthen our relationship and make us an even more valuable business partner to our clients. OPI: Would you recommend it to other dealers? JM: Yes, I would certainly recommend that anyone in the market for a system should look at BMI. It will not fit everyone, but has a great deal to offer.