Failing to deliver the kind of user experience B2B sellers expect can keep a seller’s ecommerce business from reaching its full potential. It can also make sellers vulnerable to competitors with websites that deliver the customer-facing experiences and intuitive features buyers want.
Realizing the time had come to replace its ecommerce platform, which was slow and tough to customize, distributor Midway Dental Supply sought to modernize its ecommerce business by connecting its enterprise resource planning system and website. Synchronizing the two systems would eliminate manual data entry from one system to another, allow buyers to see real-time pricing and inventory, and let orders flow from the website to the ERP system.
But there was a sticking point to moving ahead with a new ecommerce platform. Midway Dental did not want to jettison its Epicor Prophet 21 enterprise resource planning system for another ERP system with out-of-the-box ecommerce compatibility. Bridging the two systems would require a custom solution.
Connection ecommerce with ERP
Midway Dental sells dental supplies and equipment ranging from rubber gloves to dental chairs to dental practices in Indiana, Michigan and Northeastern Illinois; it also provides dental equipment installation and maintenance services. To improve how it interacts with customers, it decided to deploy the OroCommerce ecommerce platform from Oro Inc.
Midway last year worked with Oro and MindHarbor Inc., a custom software developer, to marry Midway’s ERP system to its ecommerce platform, at MidwayDental.com, via middleware software. The 10-month project enabled Midway Dental to double its product catalog to more than 80,000 SKUs while providing better customer service, Midway says.
MindHarbor wrote the code for the middleware using the application programming interfaces for Epicor Prophet 21, also known as P21, an ERP system from Epicor Software Corp. designed for distributors. The goal in writing the program, says Heather Larson, director of operations and business services for MindHarbor, was to make sure data could dynamically flow between Midway Dental’s ERP system and its new commerce platform.
“Tying the two systems together creates more operating efficiencies, and we don’t have to manage them separately,” says Mark Lockhart, corporate technology director for Midway Dental Supply.
Real-time pricing improves service
Another feature of Epicor P21 is the ability to deliver data, such as pricing and inventory, in real time.
“P21 has a sophisticated pricing engine,” Larson says. “Being able to capture and move that data between the ERP and the website allows sellers to fine-tune information to buyer’s needs.” Without that integrated flow of information, “the data would have to be manually pushed to the website,” she adds.
In addition to providing real-time data flows, Midway’s new website provides sales representatives with a portal that allows them to use that information to assist customers.
Sales reps play a bigger role
Sales representatives can aid buyers in new ways, Lockhart says. For example, with the buyer’s consent, sales reps can log into a buyer’s account, then walk him through how to troubleshoot an order. “This allows sales reps to provide buyers help when they need it,” he says.
Prior to the new system, the lack of functionality in Midway Dental’s ecommerce site kept sales representatives from providing such extra service, the company says.
The new ecommerce site also allows buyers to place customer orders, negotiate contracts and quotes, and manage pricing and contracts. Midway Dental can also create custom websites, or microsites, for large dental groups that allow each group to set up buying preferences and designate authorized buyers. Each microsite connects to Midway Dental’s ERP system.
Midway Dental sells to dental practices and dental groups. About 90% of the company’s orders are placed through its website or initiated on it and completed offline. “That’s the model we want to keep pursuing,” Lockhart says.
While buyers cannot pay for an order at checkout, they can pay an invoice through the website using their credit card. “This lessens the workload for the accounting department when it comes to collecting accounts receivable,” Lockhart says.
Expanding customer loyalty and education
Midway Dental plans to expand the functionality of its website by adding a loyalty program and expanding its education center.
The latter provides dental practices with access to professional education classes hosted through Midway Dental’s website. “It’s an engagement tool that let’s dental practices see more of what our site has to offer,” Lockhart says.
The distributor’s long-range plans for its ecommerce site include enabling customers to initiate returns online and use more advanced site search capabilities. Another future service will be the ability of customers to pre-purchase supplies online for several months or a year in advance to ensure they’re in-stock of critical supplies, using the ecommerce site to track remaining inventory.
“The goal is to create an all-in-one experience for the user,” Lockhart says.
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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