Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
March 13, 2019  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Retail isn’t distribution, but lessons from Best Buy as a “disruption survivor” offer essential insights for distributor leaders. As reported recently on Inc.com, Best Buy was nearly killed by losing business to Amazon, but turned things around through a combination of corporate strategy and emotional intelligence. Best Buy was terminally ill, but has become healthy through smart, assertive leadership and real-world innovations around people, relationships and physical space.

Five powerful insights are revealed in the Inc.com article, three enumerated as a list, and two revealed in other paragraphs and an attached video. All are important and relevant for distributor leaders:

  1. Focus on people. After a change in top leadership, Best Buy’s new CEO took action to make sure that the company’s people, particularly those on the front line who serve customers, had a voice. If employees aren’t cared for, they won’t take care of customers.
  2. Turn weakness into a strength. The customer practice of showrooming (i.e., testing products in a real-world store but buying online) was defeated by offering to match online processes. More importantly, Best Buy took steps to more fully leverage its real-world advantages by renting space to suppliers in a branded area and encouraging customers to think of the store as warehouse space for their online purchases.
  3. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Real-world relationships can build human-to-human connections that are very different from virtual interactions. Best Buy found an advantage through human-centric innovations of sending a consultant to a customer’s home to offer advice and support purchase decisions. Best Buy’s advisors are encouraged to develop long-term relationships with customers.
  4. Be confident. Be different. As quoted by Inc.com, Best Buy’s CEO says, “You won’t get me to say a bad word about Amazon. It’s not a zero-sum game. There is a lot of room for both of us.” Traditional retailers will not survive the retail apocalypse by defeating Amazon, but by offering new, innovative value and aligning their business with the future.
  5. Customers won’t predict the future for you. Winning the future requires blending diligent and disciplined customer listening with a healthy dose of creativity. Successful business leaders know how to identify ideas that capture the imagination and loyalty of customers and don’t rely on past successes to maintain momentum.

Best Buy’s experience tells a hopeful tale for retail, and that tale applies to distribution as well, but only if distributors learn from the retailer’s experience and ask questions about how they can use that experience to compete for business customers. To get started, discuss and answer these questions with your leadership team to kick-start your analysis:

  • Have you kept up with investments that keep your people productive and engaged? Do you know if the threat of disruption stresses them? What are your plans for listening to your employees and acting on their wants and needs?
  • Do you have an idea for beating disruption by being different? What are you doing beyond catching up by offering a new webstore? How can you leverage your physical locations in ways that are genuinely new and innovative?
  • Would your suppliers be willing to pay directly for their presence in your physical stores? Would they pay directly for customer experiences created by your salespeople? If not, can you identify innovations to increase your real-world value and your supplier’s willingness to pay?
  • Does your omnichannel strategy consist of equal parts for selling and relationship building? Are you focused on selling through omnichannel models by enabling transactions in the field, on the phone and online? Have you measured how this approach strengthens or weakens your customer relationships? Do your customers agree?
  • How strong are your skills for developing foresight (e.g., the ability to tell a compelling story about the future of customer expectations and market functions)? Have you asked your team for feedback on your foresight? Have you acted on the input to make it stronger?
  • Are you worried that Amazon will defeat your business? Are you working on this worry by developing defensive strategies, or are you developing positive and bold solutions by competing on your terms?

As the lead researcher for the next Facing the Forces of Change® report coming out in November 2019, I read this article with great interest and am exploring strategy and human capital innovations for distribution. I look forward to sharing our findings with you in November. In the meantime, if you have questions, comments, insights or ideas that go to Best Buy’s successes and how they apply to distribution, please reach out to me at mark.dancer@network4channelinnovation.com.

If you haven’t yet read my new challenge paper, Creating Innovations and Shaping the Future of Business: A Look at Commerce, Technology and Human Forces in Distribution, I urge you to order your copy. In it, you will find 25 ideas for kick-starting innovation. Each idea is based on brainstorming conversations that I’ve had with distributor leaders as part of my research for the upcoming Facing the Forces of Change report.

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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 Business 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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