Navigating the Broken Supply Chain

By Zilliant

Sep 22, 2023

The broken supply chain, and the global economy that flows through it, may never go back to the way things were. B2B companies cannot afford to wait for a return to "normal." They also can't expect to keep pace in this new era with the tools of a bygone age.

Can a Product Alternative Strategy Help You Navigate the Broken Supply Chain?

Sales operations leaders are weathering the supply shortages by using data science-driven revenue and operations intelligence solutions. These solutions help identify product alternative opportunities and deliver them to sales reps in the form of highly targeted customer actions. They can also be delivered directly to customers as they browse for products on eCommerce sites.

inventory campaigns

The Broken Supply Chain and a New Era of Revenue Intelligence

Do you remember the last time the global supply chain functioned more or less normally? Ever since the word “coronavirus” entered the global zeitgeist, normalcy evaporated. For many, 2019 might as well be 1919 in terms of relevancy to current market conditions.

You know what things look like today. Factories have fallen way behind in productive capacity. This has led to exorbitant wait times for everything from steel to copper to baby formula and new cars.

Container ships are now routinely backed up at ports. Shipping costs have exploded due to inflation. The price of oil is rising thanks in part to Russia's war in Ukraine. Labor shortages and strikes are now further clogging the timely flow of goods across the globe.

Read more: How to Keep B2B Contracts & Agreements Profitable and Compliant

And of course, we must consider the ongoing impact of COVID. New virus hot spots in China have led to the halting of exports. Then, a rush of shipping activity as port cities come back online followed. China shipping delays have become yet another unpredictable monkey wrench in the supply chain.

china shipping delays

Truthfully, the global supply chain will likely never be “fixed.” That is, if by fixed we mean put back to the way things were.

We can't predict how long we will be at a crisis point with regard to the supply chain. We should accept and move forward with the knowledge that we've entered a new era. Yet, it will be nearly impossible to find success using the tools of a bygone era.

Read more: Zilliant's 3-Part Supply Chain Series

“The legacy systems in which companies and supply chains invested so much over the decades, and which they can't seem to give up, have put many well behind the times,” according to Supply Chain Brain. “E-mail, spreadsheets, phone calls and other labor-intensive methodologies still dominate our way of doing business. We're using 20th-century solutions to solve 21st-century challenges. But the turmoil of the last two years has shown that our reliance on antiquated practices is not sustainable.”

We couldn't agree more. Customers increasingly come to Zilliant seeking a way out of the old patterns of thinking. They want to prepare for a data-driven and action-oriented future.

Let's explore a new way to mitigate the revenue-cratering issue of product shortages with product substitution (or product alternative) actions. First, we'll discuss why spreadsheets and email are the antithesis of this ideal future state.

Can Inventory Campaigns Be Done with Spreadsheets?

Zilliant Director of Product Management Brian Hirt previously wrote that “a mixture of inflation and scarcity is driving up costs across the board; it's important to keep sellers focused and flexible to changing market conditions. Compiling account-specific actions in a spreadsheet and blasting them out over email were less than ideal two years ago. Now, these methods are revenue killers.”

Read more: Meet the New B2B Sales Model

This pronouncement has only become more accurate. As we heard from a Zilliant customer at MindShare 2022, you can even add CRM systems to the list of legacy tools. They were originally meant to facilitate customer conversations but often lead to time-wasting busy work.

What that customer discovered by using Zilliant Sales IQ™ and Campaign Manager™ is the power of pushing data-science-driven actions to sales reps. The actions tell them exactly what they must do daily to help their customers and hit their revenue targets.

Read more: How to Equip Sales Reps to Sell Excess and Stockout Inventory

This solution helps the customer-facing sales rep do his or her job better. It also simplifies and streamlines the back-office function of the process. The traditional method of implementing a large-scale product substitution campaign for a big B2B company used to be like this:

  • Inventory managers comb ERP or business intelligence tools to identify each low-inventory and difficult-to-buy product and log the data in a spreadsheet 
  • The spreadsheet is emailed to a product manager, who enters in-stock substitutes for each product line 
  • The product manager analyzes recent transaction history to identify which customers are buying these items with sufficient frequency - the spreadsheet grows 
  • The data is shared with the vice president of sales, who tasks the sales operations manager with communicating this product substitution campaign with each intended sales rep via email 
  • Sales reps may or may not open the spreadsheet and scroll down hundreds or thousands of lines to find their names 
  • A small fraction of the sales team reaches out to these customers, with underwhelming results as they lack any further guidance 
  • There is no reliable way to measure success or track sales rep behavior in relation to the campaign

product alternative

There is simply no time to run this kind of manual process anymore. There is no room for the error or the underwhelming results those manual efforts often produce. Companies are finding that they need to do more than just use spreadsheets, ERP systems and business intelligence to stay competitive.

“Many rely on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and business intelligence tools to gather information, but are missing the piece of the puzzle that unlocks actionable insights … companies need to polish their data, prioritize actions, and boost internal and external collaboration,” writes Supply Chain Brain.

This is how Zilliant is placing that final puzzle piece.

How Do Product Alternative Actions Work in the New Era of Revenue Intelligence?

Data and how quickly a company can decipher and do something smart with it define the new era. How can we apply this rubric to the money-losing, time-consuming problem of product shortage? Can we use our own data to drive more revenue and margin in this scenario? Additionally, can we alleviate the administrative burden described above?

With Sales IQ™ and Campaign Manager™, doing so is literally a matter of button clicks. The advanced data science and AI powering Sales IQ™ identifies substitution opportunities in minutes. Meanwhile, the flexible, user-friendly Campaign Manager™ application enables sales operations and category managers to properly scope, filter and publish those to sales reps. The opportunities are delivered in the form of guided actions with talk tracks to Sales Planner™, CRM, CPQ, eCommerce, or any other commercial system.

What is Sales IQ™?

Sales IQ™ is the leading B2B revenue intelligence solution, using advanced data science to identify incremental revenue opportunities within a company's customer base. Sales IQ™ determines what products and quantities customers should be buying based on the buying patterns of similar customers. As a result, Sales IQ™ customers typically see a 5 to 15 percent increase in same customer sales.

What is Campaign Manager™?

Campaign Manager™ is an application that allows sales management and operations teams to scope, refine, prioritize, and publish campaigns based on Sales IQ™ or custom, user-defined insights. Together, Sales IQ™ and Campaign Manager™ produce and deliver targeted action types including Growth, Recovery, Product Substitution, Inventory, Win-Back, Prospecting, Contract Compliance, and more directly to sales reps.

Next-generation revenue operations and intelligence solutions transform painfully slow manual processes to work like this:

  • Product managers identify the low-inventory and difficult-to-buy products along with their in-stock substitutes 
  • Upload the product mapping and call on Sales IQ™ to identify all customers that are currently buying the low stock items with sufficient frequency 
  • Once identified, sales operations teams can use Campaign Manager™ to create and scope a campaign to get an action out to the sellers for the target accounts. For example, only surfacing actions for customers that have purchased the products in the past six months, have purchased the products a minimum of five times and at a volume of at least 2,000 units Sales reps see a simple product substitution action when logging into their 
  • CRM system, which prompts them when there is an opportunity to convert sales to a comparable product in stock 
  • Embedded talk tracks provide contextual guidance and with just one click reps can view the relevant spend history within the product substitution recommendation 
  • With the scoping ability inside Campaign Manager™, sales reps don't get overwhelmed by all possible product substitution opportunities. They only see the actions that will make the greatest impact. 
  • Closed-loop tracking enables reporting on how each sales rep is performing against his or her assigned substitution actions as well as the revenue impact attained

inventory campaigns


Yes, you can mitigate the revenue and margin impacts caused by the broken supply chain. You can do so by using your data and an action-oriented system to substitute products in a timely, relevant fashion. Product substitution is one of many out-of-the-box action types included with Sales IQ™ and Campaign Manager™.

Talk to Zilliant today to learn how to enter the new era of revenue operations and intelligence.

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