Strategic Evolution of Fulfillment in B2B Communications

How distribution has changed and what you need to know to think strategically about this important supply chain function


In addition other forces that can impact the method used include global delivery requirements, customer expectations, production flexibility, cycle time and financial implications. The highlights of each are as follows:

Push distribution

  • Provides materials without any action on the part of the recipient
  • Distribution is based on pre-established parameters
  • Distribution is according to a pre-planned schedule that anticipates needs
  • Potential of burdening recipients with excessive quantities of certain items while "going short" in others
  • Lacks the flexibility to respond to dynamic changes in marketplace needs
  • Generally requires an extensive inventory of materials

Pull distribution

  • Responsibility is put on the intended recipient to define requirements
  • Recipients receive the support that is needed
  • Process uses information from the point of sale in a strategic manner
  • Provides materials "on demand" in response to a request
  • Does not require maintaining excess inventories; generally involves print on demand
  • Success depends on ability of the system to react

Taking it a step further, a pull scenario can lay the groundwork for the electronic storage, retrieval and archival of information and documents. This makes it easier to ensure the current version of materials can be produced and sent to an audience at all times.

Essential Components

In order to be strategic with distribution processes, an organization has to pay particular attention to both the functional elements of a distribution process and the personnel who are assigned to execute the task. Both "push" and "pull" require elements of each, although specifics may vary.

First, a strong information technology component is essential. In a push scenario it is needed for the traditional inventory management function as well as the manipulation of shipping files; in a pull scenario it is needed for the creation of a Web site and the on-demand production capabilities that may be needed. Depending, too, on the content of the packages that need to be fulfilled and the required personalization, the IT function may be needed here as well.

Second, formal processes are vital whether considering push or pull distribution in order to ensure consistency, timeliness and accuracy. The processes, however, may be more complex in a pull scenario when a more multi-faceted approach that includes the Web component, the production function and fulfillment is taken.

Third, complementary production equipment is needed in order to ensure quick turnaround fulfillment of materials being requested. This is especially essential in order to maintain the credibility of the pull process, which requires on-demand production of items requested. In an ideal world, one organization or outsourcer would handle all phases of the workflow, including pre-fulfillment creative design, contact center support, and finishing and assembly work.

And finally, the impact of the personnel cannot be minimized. With the recognition that distribution is strategic, the staff called on to execute this function must not only have the training and required skills to perform the work but understand the process in its entirety in order to ensure successful execution. With the pull method, too, unlike in the past, computer skills are essential, which takes this competency to a new level.

The world of distribution has changed for good and, in the estimation of most, not only to the advantage of the recipient of the communications but to the benefit of the sender as well. No longer is the distribution process considered a "back end" necessity. It is considered an integral and strategic component. In the B2B world it is especially critical since intermediary channels — the dealers, the retailers, the representatives, the outlets — are essential to supporting the end user customer. Communications with these audiences must be consistent, available and correct. This makes it especially critical to think strategically about how we get them there and what is communicated in the process.

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