In a recent Forbes article, “Moving Beyond On-Demand To The Real-Time Economy,” Kyle Jackson predicts, “In the near future, we’ll see the demand for instant gratification and access to information intensify even more. On-demand is no longer just a gimmick; it’s a reality. As the dust settles on these changes, a new real-time economy will emerge.” This prediction is consistent with our work for Innovate to Dominate: The 12th Edition in the Facing the Forces of Change® Series, arriving in mid-November, and the Forbes article is an essential read for innovation-minded distributors — especially since Jackson highlights a connection between data, artificial intelligence and trust.

In a real-time economy, consumers and businesses will expect distributors to remember preferences and make decisions. I believe the best value chain players will act on broad and deep data for every customer’s unique business, one that goes beyond purchase histories to reflect decision making, trade-offs, business processes, productivity drivers, outcomes and more. Building this data set will require very close collaborations with customers, and trust is essential.

Jackson explains, “… as the world transitions to real time, companies may need to find ways to make data instantaneously available in all settings, whether at a desk or on a walk through the park.” I believe that as distributor employees work side-by-side with customers, both parties will work with data that combines the information in distributor databases and customer databases, processed by artificial intelligence and emotionally intelligent workers.” My conclusion? Pooling data will require extreme levels of trust, but it has the potential to create equally extreme levels of customer and value chain performance.

The best B2B innovations are about getting ahead, not catching up. The real-time economy is coming, and there are no immediate best practices for distributors. However, distribution leaders can gain immediate advantage by starting to build the trust required for ever-increasing collaborations around data, artificial intelligence and business processes. Below are four recommendations offered by Jackson, but with my commentary added for distributor implications:

  1. Hire a chief integrity officer who will oversee areas of the business such as privacy, ethics in AI and compliance. Distributors: If you have not created a chief innovation officer position, or created a formal innovation task force, consider doing so immediately, and add integrity to innovation responsibilities as a foundation for building trust.
  2. Invest in future work technologies such as VR, mixed reality and voice recognition to move away from traditional interfaces. Distributors: Recruit appropriate experts and service providers to work as your innovation ecosystem.
  3. Prioritize soft-skills training to increase the quality of your customer interactions. Distributors: Training around emotional intelligence skills is an excellent start. Ask your senior human relations staffer to find more related training.
  4. Reinvent how work gets bundled into jobs and create optimal human-machine combinations. Distributors: Find out what your most advanced customers are doing to reinvent how they will do work in the digital age and become an expert to help all of your customers transform.

These recommendations are aligned with two chapters in Innovate to Dominate: The 12th Edition in the Facing the Forces of Change® Series:

  • Chapter 1: Enable the Future of Business
  • Chapter 5: Create. Connect. Collaborate.

In total, Innovate to Dominate is a roadmap for distributor innovation and a call to action for distributors to lead the value chain and markets in the digital age. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to preorder Innovate to Dominate today! When you preorder your copies today and enter FFC10 in the Discount box at checkout, you will save an additional 10% on every copy you purchase.

As a Fellow of the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence, I am committed to NAW’s cause of helping distribution set the standard for B2B innovation and supporting every distributor’s efforts to not only survive but thrive in the digital age. Please share your stories of innovation with me at my new email address: [email protected].