Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
April 11, 2019  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

To survive and thrive in the digital age, every distributor must act on its genius knowledge — that is, knowledge that already exists as well as new knowledge collected from customers. Disruptors, like Amazon, do not have a monopoly on ideas, nor do they have unbeatable competitive advantages.

Winning is about having good ideas that resonate with customers, and relentlessly iterating new services and customer experiences as a dominant process for creating competitive advantage. Knowledge flows from customer conversations and data. Genius knowledge is about acting on intelligence to drive change for customers first, and for your business second.

These are just a few of my takeaways from Inc.com reporting on Ikea’s battle to fight back against disruption. The article is excellent and worth a read. I’ve summarized additional takeaways below, rewording catchphrases for distributors and adding questions that every distributor should consider:

  • Take your real-world customer experience online. Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer at Ikea, has coined a phrase for blending the physical and the digital — “phygital.” Martin Coppola’s concept has a twist, though. For Ikea, it’s about taking their “magical” experience online, not about matching the online experience offered by Amazon. Hint: If you can’t describe how you excite customers in the real world, you will not succeed with differentiated experiences in the virtual one.

Do you offer a differentiated, powerful or magical customer experience in the real world? If not, why not? Is  your real-world customer experience evident in digital shopping and support for your customers? Do your webstore and overall virtual experience offer something different from what Amazon or other disruptors offer?

  • Disruptors have not cornered the market on new ideas. Disruptors, like Amazon, have thrown down a gauntlet and are accelerating efforts to win business customers’ business. They are playing for keeps, seeking to dominate markets. Successful counter strategies are impossible if leaders are intimidated. Rather, leaders should view disruptive innovations as a framework for setting their own goals for generating new ideas and transforming legacy business practices and customer experiences.

Are you intimidated by Amazon and other disruptors? Is your innovation team? If yes, why? Do you and  your team have ideas for new services and customer experiences to offer? If so, have you acted on them? How many and over what period of time? If you haven’t acted on them, why not?

  • Know and grow your potential customers. Ikea is investing in “personalization-at-scale” by sending super-targeted communications to potential customers. These communications reflect what Ikea has learned about online shopping behaviors. Insights are gathered through digital means and also by talking with end users to figure out what end users want and how to be more relevant for them. Ultimately, it’s about acting on insights, not about hyper-sophisticated methods for gathering data.

Do you have a message and communication strategy for potential customers (e.g., prospects)? Is it based on insights of a customer’s total shopping, buying and using preferences and experiences? Has your message for prospects changed as your knowledge has grown? Are you growing new sales and prospects? If not, why not?

  • Rapid iteration is a critical core competency. Speed is critical, but so is having an organized method for entrepreneurship. Iteration is a means to achieve “organized entrepreneurship.” Don’t strive to develop the perfect product or service, because to do so will create a bureaucratic culture that resists innovation and change. Instead, successful innovation processes test, iterate and retest. Ask customers to define successes and failures, and don’t make decisions for them.

How many new services or customer experiences have you trialed over the last year? If this number is small or unknown, why so? Did your trials succeed or fail? Either way, did you iterate and try again? What did you learn from your iterations? Do you have a culture and business process of iterative innovations? If not, why not?

The most important takeaway is that every leader, manager and worker at your company has the potential for creating genius knowledge. Genius knowledge is achieved through culture and process, but it must be cultivated and rewarded from the top down. Iteration is essential, but for many companies, getting started is the priority. Competing as a “genius” is vital for taking the battle to disruptors and for winning. If your company is not creating genius knowledge, you must get started.

I found this article as part of my ongoing research as I write the next Facing the Forces of Change® report to be published by NAW in November. If you have different experiences or ideas after reading this Inc.com article, please share your takeaways with me at mark.dancer@netowork4channelinnovation.com.

And, if you’d like to receive updates related to the next Facing the Forces of Change® study, complete and submit this form and we’ll keep you in the loop.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Channel Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for channel innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between channel leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve channel excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.

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