Innovation starts with your customers

Warehouse conveyor packages

April 10, 2020

While innovation is a concept that’s been circulating at the top of distributors’ minds for years, many still struggle with what innovation and adaptation means for them. The drive for transformation is encouraging distributors to reach for new processes and technologies, but true innovation is more complex than purchasing all the bells and whistles. The key to understanding, and ultimately achieving, innovation is to start with the customer. According to Dirk Beveridge, founder of UnleashWD and proud Infor partner, “Innovation is leading customers to a better future for which they are willing and capable of rewarding you.” It’s not about shunning technology; it’s about being strategic in what tools you use to strengthen the customer relationship and improve their experiences.

The difference between looking better, and being better

Owning the latest technology looks great for positioning, but what if your new application doesn’t do anything to help your organization meet the needs of your customers? Bouncing between multiple cutting-edge applications might look better – but it isn’t doing anything to help your organization improve. Remember that as a distributor, your goal is to serve your customers – and they can see through the veneer of gadgets. If communication and productivity are not increasing and your performance indicators are not changing, your customers will know. When you set off on your transformation journey, don’t innovate to look better, innovate to be better. Consider pivoting to technology that helps you better engage with your customers while strengthening relationships.

Let your customers tell you how to transform

Innovation is about sustainable growth, adaptation, and differentiation. The processes and tools that give you a competitive edge should be largely informed by the needs of your customers. The key is to observe your organization from the outside in, relying heavily upon the experiences and needs of your customers. Engage with customers through journey mapping to understand their goals, their pain points, and how they define success. In the eBook, Distribution As We Know It Is Dead, Beveridge includes a list of questions to ask customers to better direct their transformation efforts, including:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • What is the outcome you’re most focused on?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What negatively affects costs? Productivity?
  • Why is the job important to the company?
  • What do you need to get the job done?

The role of technology

Once you have identified the needs of your customers, it will be easier to direct your organization through the transformation journey. If your customers expect you to provide more than just products, consider offering value-added services such as kitting and assembly and distributor-managed inventory. If your customers are requesting more precision in the pricing and configuring stage of the sales cycle, seek out a dynamic tool to help your organization configure, price, or quote. If your customers want to pivot from sales counter purchasing to an automated or digital exchange, seek out tools that will help you integrate and monitor eCommerce sales. There are platforms, applications, and other technologies designed to respond to most pain points – it’s a matter of listening to which ones can best be applied to your organization and customer base.

Drillmex, Inc., a cutting tool manufacturer in North America used similar tactics to identify the needs of their customers as the business scaled, and sought out a tool to address customer relationships, eCommerce sales capabilities, and other value-added services. Making the transition from a manual to an automatic minimum-maximum system provided them with greater visibility into their inventory – helping them serve more customers without adding strain to their existing workforce. As Drillmex, Inc. leans into their transformation journey, they continue to seek additional tools that are relevant to the needs of their customers and organization to ensure their solutions are helping them grow forward, not back.

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