Although customers are unique, they share a common aspiration. Each and every one is looking for ways to make their lives easier, to the point where they’ll give their business to partners who can simplify their lives. Now helping a customer and solving a business need is one way to earn their business. But in order to keep it, being easy to do business with is just as important.

Distributors today are recognizing that customers have more choices than ever. Thanks to the adoption of digital technologies, customers are enjoying turning to their computers to place orders rather than picking up the phone. While having fewer order-takers on staff may sound attractive, there are a few challenges with directing customers to online portals.

Naturally, it’s a lot of work to set up a web portal with an impressive inventory of products, not to mention keeping real time data up to date with accurate pricing and availability. But not giving customers the tools they need to do business with you could cost you the accounts, so the investment and labor is worth it.

But not all customers want to create their own purchase orders and manually re-enter them in your web-order entry system. And who can blame them? Twice the work and triple the time, sounds like a bad idea. Although it would make your life easier if customers stopped sending those orders in via email and fax, it doesn’t make sense for your customers.

Since you’re in business to serve customers, asking them to do more work isn’t going to drive loyalty. And actually it can send your customers to your competitors. Not only because they might be easier to work with, but it might encourage them to shop around for price comparisons. And it also might lead Google to market your competitor’s products via targeted advertising.

Fantasizing about perfect orders and having all customers EDI-enabled or ordering through online portals is simply not a reality. But turning to business tools like sales order automation can fill the gap and allow your customers to continue to do business with you in their preferred format. Ultimately, being successful is a combination of recognizing the individual needs and preferences of your customers while harnessing technology to manage and improve the customer experience, as well as internal operations.