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Thriving in the Age of Amazon: Embedding yourself in your customers’ business

May 15, 2018

For a measure of how e-commerce and cloud computing are obliterating old business relationships and creating new, unexpected, and deeper partnerships, look no farther than distributors that are embedding themselves much more deeply in their key accounts’ day-to-day operations.

In times past, the underlying rule of business was that good fences made good neighbors. Customers and suppliers would interact, visit back and forth, and gradually get to know each other’s business needs, wants, and abilities. They would build mutual respect, might eventually become friends, might even get families together for an evening or a special occasion.

But there were still more walls than windows. Business was business, and companies would never have expected direct visibility into each other’s operations.

The walls become more porous

Business is still business. And you’ll always have some secondary accounts—the occasional orders, or the regular customers who are just interested in a simple, static buy-and-sell relationship—where there’s no need or reason to disrupt the old rules.

But at least for your top accounts and your best prospects—the ones you most need to protect before Amazon or Grainger Supply comes to call—the walls are becoming more porous. That’s good news for all concerned, and the change has been driven by the very same signature market disruptor that many distributors see as a potentially deadly competitor.

It was Amazon that introduced the bright, cheerful, easy-to-use e-commerce platforms that transformed retail sales and now set the standard for the speed and functionality customers expect in their business transactions. It was Amazon, again, that first began experimenting with the “if this, then maybe that?” product referrals that became a cornerstone for CRM systems that now anticipate customers’ needs before they’ve even formed the thought.

In distribution, the transformation is enabled by a rapid shift to cloud computing that offers a modern, intuitive interface, effortless upgrades, and deep micro-vertical functionality.

The new tools of the trade

You still aren’t erasing all the boundaries between your own business and your customers’ day-to-day operations. But that’s all the more reason to count on the new tools of the trade. They include:

  • Business intelligence and artificial intelligence that help you tailor and streamline your offers, using platforms like Birst and Coleman;
  • Everyday access to customers’ inventory systems, so that you can see where their stocks are low and (strongly) recommend a refill;
  • Tablet devices that connect every sales representative directly to your ERP, giving them real-time access to account and inventory records that turn them into valued advisors to your customers, not just vendors of products;
  • Warehouse management systems that optimize your logistics, so that every order is picked, packed, shipped, and delivered as quickly and accurately as possible;
  • And underlying it all, a cloud-based enterprise system that receives continual security updates, to ensure that your customer’s sensitive business data is at least as safe on your system as it is on their own.

Working from your strengths

The common thread that binds all of these innovations together is the in-depth technical knowledge and personalized touch that have always been the signatures of a successful distributor. You’ll never match Amazon or Grainger with the breadth of the inventory you can keep on hand. Amazon, in particular, will always have more money to throw at…well, just about any question or problem that comes their way.

But they’ll never develop the deep, long-standing familiarity that comes from years or decades of being good neighbors. In a tough, competitive environment, neighborliness isn’t enough on its own to keep you in business. But by enhancing and extending that relationship with technology tools that are tailored to distribution businesses, you can deliver superior value to your customers and continuing success for your own business.

Filed Under
  • ERP
  • Technology
  • Trends
  • Distribution
  • Birst
  • CloudSuite Distribution
  • CloudSuite Distribution Enterprise
  • Coleman Artificial Intelligence
  • Distribution SX.e
  • M3
  • Worldwide
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