Digitalization of multi-stage sales channels in B2B retail

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Tips & tricks for customer experience with SAP – #3: Chain structures

In the “Tips & tricks for customer experience with SAP” rubric, we provide some helpful practical tips. The third part deals with so-called chain structures in the SAP Sales Cloud. These help to map complex sales channels – also directly in the standard system.

Digitalization doesn’t stop for complex sales channels. Potential in standard systems frequently should be exploited. In the retail and food industry, sales channels are often complex and multi-layered – especially in B2B. Producers and manufacturers not only sell their products directly to dealers, but also through several intermediaries. In the course of digitalization, companies are faced with the challenge of digitally mapping these complex sales structures. So the question is can these paths be mapped in a central standard sales system such as the SAP Sales Cloud?

Hello Fabian. Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us. To start with: What’s your tip, summarized in one sentence?

Fabian: Complex sales structures can be mapped in the SAP Sales Cloud Standard using chain structures in accordance with data protection law and with “inheritance logic.”

What are the challenges of complex sales channels and their digitalization?

Fabian: The best way to explain this is to use the example of a food manufacturer. The manufacturer’s goods are usually not sold directly, but in several stages first to intermediaries, who then sell to shops and customers, or even to several intermediaries. In the manufacturer’s CRM system, the route from production to the point of sale should be completely traceable for the end customer. Why? For example, service requests may arise on the way through the retail chain to the customer. Then the manufacturer has to be in a position to process these requests using the right data and assign them to the appropriate sales channel. The transparency of the data is also necessary in order to be able to trace payment flows.

Infographic of a manufacturer's chain structure: Digitalization of multi-stage sales channels in B2B retail
Figure 1: Example of a manufacturer’s chain structure

The manufacturer has stored data for each company in the CRM system. In addition, each company that sells the first company’s products keeps its own data (e.g. customer numbers) in its system. The aim is now to create the greatest possible transparency of the data structures among the selling and buying companies at the manufacturer. The question is: How can all this data be mapped uniformly in a system at the manufacturer without a lot of effort?

The challenges posed by the GDPR also do not stop for the food trade. The protection of customer data is an important component in every project relating to the SAP Sales Cloud.

How did you overcome these challenges?

Fabian: The multi-stage delivery and sales channels have to be put into a structure. The different levels of sales vary greatly depending on the industry and company. Even if manufacturers operate in a similar industry, companies and their sales structures cannot be compared directly with one another because each organization has a different focus. A so-called chain structure is then developed, which graphically depicts sales channels and mutual relationships in the first step, for example in the form of a process diagram. Only in the second step is a solution for technical mapping in the standard system sought.

The complex relationships with all their associated data should be mapped to the standard in the SAP Sales Cloud by means of individual adaptations. This should make it possible to retrieve all associated customer data, including those of the intermediaries working for the customer. Thanks to the “relationships” level, the SAP system offers the opportunity to solve this problem without having to use another system instance. Figure 2 shows how such a network of relationships can be mapped.

Infographic of Relationship network of chain structures: Digitalization of multi-stage sales channels in B2B retail
Figure 2: Relationship network

An “inheritance logic” is found so that the company is protected under data protection law. The manufacturer Sample GmbH in Figure 2, for example, maps its own authorization attributes to the chains and end customers. Attributes such as data protection agreement, promotion authorization, conditions, and visit authorizations are assigned.

On the relationship level, approvals for marketing activities, but also visit approvals are passed from top to bottom (for example, from a chain to an end customer if it is assigned directly to the chain), but not the other way around. This is called “inheritance of an attribute.” The inheritance logic at the manufacturer of this project is only used for fields at the customer level. These authorizations indicate that an agreement has generally been reached with the customer. This has no effect on specific contact people, as the GDPR also applies here.

This makes it clear that for each structure, also with regard to data protection and marketing authorizations, an individual logic should be developed, which, like the relationships, can be mapped to standards.

What are the advantages of this approach?

Fabian: This manufacturer’s example shows that there are standard solutions for highly complex challenges. With good planning, it is possible to extract the maximum functionality from a standard system. The most important prerequisites for this are structure and a well-thought-out procedure, because the system with all its functions should remain operational in the long term. Often, systems such as the SAP Sales Cloud offer potential that should be exploited. Here, we have shown an example of what such potential utilization can actually look like. In addition to the classic functions offered by the SAP product, complex challenges can also be mapped in it.

What should you do if you’re confronted with these challenges?

Fabian: In everyday IT consulting life, we often see highly complex relationships maintained in Excel lists. The question of how this can be digitalized is often put on the back burner. Standard systems often do not seem to meet the requirements. However, systems as extensive as the SAP Sales Cloud offer opportunities that allow for a great deal of individuality. Don’t be afraid of digitalization! There is a solution for every problem – there is a digital mapping option for every process that meets your needs.

Would you like more tips and tricks or are you confronted with a challenge you can’t solve by yourself? Talk to our experts.

Thank you for your tips, Fabian!

Fabian Egner is Solution Architect in the SAP Customer Experience Solutions sector at valantic CEC Deutschland. He supports the implementation of SAP Sales Cloud for customers in national and international projects in all industries.

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