Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors

About the NAW Institute

The NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence conducts research into strategic management issues affecting the wholesale distribution industry. Our research is conducted with best practice wholesaler-distributors, and we publish leading-edge research studies with practical application for wholesale distribution firms of all sizes and across all lines of trade.

NAW Institute's Mission

“To sponsor and disseminate research into strategic management issues affecting the wholesale distribution industry. The NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence aims to help merchant wholesaler-distributors remain the most effective and efficient channel in distribution.”

Groundbreaking Research

The NAW Institute’s best projects are those that wholesale distribution industry executives bring to us, because those are the projects that will solve real-world business problems. Learn more about submitting a proposal to the NAW Institute.

If you have questions about the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Publishing Program, please contact Ruth Stadius at

Check out our Publications and order your research studies today.

The research priorities of the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence center on the strategic management issues that leading wholesale distribution companies view as most important for improving their business performance and profitability. The research priorities are updated on a rolling basis, beginning with surveys and discussions, and culminating with issuance of a formal list of the NAW Institute’s research topics for publication.

Criteria for selection of research topics include:

  • Importance and relevance of the research topic to the NAW Institute’s Mission
  • Potential contribution to advancing the state of knowledge in wholesale distribution
  • Probability of the research to have a practical impact on improving wholesaler-distributors’ business processes and profitability
  • Assurance that the topic is researchable
  • Originality of the proposed research
  • Quality of proposal development
  • Qualifications of the researcher(s) to conduct the project.

Current research topics for publications include:

  • Business Relationships
  • Financial Management
  • Innovation
  • Marketing
  • Operational Efficiency
  • Profitability and Pricing
  • Sales Management
  • Strategic Planning
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Talent Management
  • Technology
  • Trends in Wholesale Distribution
  • Value Creation
  • Warehouse and Inventory Management

The NAW Institute supports work that includes a primary research component in order to advance the state of knowledge in wholesale distribution. No one research approach or methodology is favored over another as long as the form is appropriate to the objectives of the research. We encourage development of work that—in addition to the primary research component—includes a practical, prescriptive aspect that is written in business language. Our objective is to apply the primary research in such a way that it is usable by industry executives immediately.

The NAW Institute encourages consultants and academicians with expertise in wholesale distribution to submit a proposal to the NAW Institute for consideration as a research project. Proposals may be submitted to Patricia A. Lilly, Executive Director, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence, 1325 G Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3134. Email:

About the CRDBP

In January 2009, the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence and Texas A&M University’s Industrial Distribution Program launched an alliance dedicated to furthering the understanding and application of best practices in wholesale distribution. In doing so, the NAW Institute and Texas A&M combine the research and brand power of two well-known organizations serving wholesaler-distributors. Together, the NAW Institute and Texas A&M have formed a new entity—the Council for Research on Distributor Best Practices or CRDBP.

The field of wholesale distribution continues to experience dramatic change. Distributors have faced challenges in the form of expanding service offerings, pricing pressure, cost controls, and spiraling logistics costs for many years. For more than 50 years, the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence has provided cutting-edge research and publications for sharing best practices. As the field of distribution continues to become more competitive, the need for higher levels of research to identify and document new best practices becomes ever greater.

The CRDBP is dedicated to furthering the understanding and application of best practices in wholesale distribution. The mission of the CRDBP will be to assist wholesaler-distributors and their suppliers through creating strategies for competitive advantage.

Through the CRDBP, NAW has published the following groundbreaking research studies:

Optimizing Channel Profitability: A Playbook to Align Manufacturer–Distributor–Customer Relationships

Optimizing Human Capital Development: A Distributor’s Guide to Building Sustainable Competitive Advantage Through Talent Strategy

Unlock the Power of Inventory Analytics: Aligning Working Capital to Customer Experience to Maximize Your Bottom

Driving Profitable Growth: A Distributor’s Playbook to Generate-Manage-Sustain Competitive Advantage

Pricing Optimization: Striking the Right Balance for Margin Advantage

Sales and Marketing Optimization: Developing Competitive Value Propositions in Distribution

Customer Stratification: Best Practices for Boosting Profitability

Optimizing Distributor Profitability: Best Practices to a Stronger Bottom Line

NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellows

The Fellows Program was established in 1999. It is intended to recognize outstanding individuals from the academic and consulting communities doing excellent work to expand the body of knowledge about the wholesale distribution industry. When it comes to research and authoring practical reports that can assist distribution companies to be more profitable, these Fellows are our crown jewels.

J. Michael Marks

J. Michael Marks, Managing Partner of Indian River Consulting Group in Melbourne, Florida, became a Fellow in 2002.

Indian River Consulting Group (IRCG) is an experience-driven firm that continues to focus on the wholesale distribution channel.

Prior to forming IRCG, Mike held the position of Executive Vice President at Lex Electronics, a vertically integrated electronics distributor in Stamford, Connecticut. Prior to that, he was Director of Corporate Training and Development at Ducommon Inc., an industrial distribution company in Los Angeles, California.

Mike is coauthor of

Brent R. Grover

Brent R. Grover, Managing Director of Brent Grover & Co. in Pepper Pike, Ohio, was named a Fellow in 2005.

Brent advises owner managers of closely held distribution and manufacturing companies on the challenges of strategy and ownership succession.

Brent, former CEO of National Paper & Packaging Co., served as Chairman of the NAW Member Association: National Paper Trade Association in 1993.

Brent is author of

Barry Lawrence, Ph.D.

Dr. Barry Lawrence, Director of the Industrial Distribution Program and the Global Supply Chain Lab (GSCL) at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, was named a Fellow in 2009.

The GSCL is the nation’s premier distribution-focused research lab, providing state-of-the-art distribution and supply chain research solutions to the wholesale distribution industry. The lab partners with the distribution industry to help companies solve complex problems. These partnerships have resulted in millions of dollars in cost savings, inventory reductions, and margin improvements.

Barry also heads up Texas A&M’s efforts with the Council for Research on Distributor Best Practices (CRDBP), an alliance between the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence and Texas A&M University’s Industrial Distribution Program that launched in 2009 to further the understanding and application of best practices in wholesale distribution. The mission of the CRDBP is to create competitive advantage for wholesaler-distributors through development of research, tools, and education.

Barry is coauthor of

Mark Dancer

Mark Dancer, CEO of the Network for Business Innovation in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was named a Fellow in 2017.

The Network for Business Innovation is on a mission to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence around the discipline and practice of business innovation. Disruption, disintermediation, digital transformation and social trends are impacting customer experiences, go-to-market possibilities and business model design. However, there are very few precedents for business innovators to follow. We are working with market leaders, industry associations, universities and social organizations to gather experiences, thought leadership, ideas and solutions. Our blog and podcasts help us connect game-changing ideas with practical advice and innovation best practices. We draw on 30 years of channel design experience across a vast range of industries in developed and emerging markets to develop actionable plans. We lead with ideas, add knowledge and push for progress.

Mark is author of

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND! Digitizing the Sales Process Research Consortium

Following the popularity of the first and second Digitizing the Sales Process Consortia, a third consortium has been added to the schedule. If you are you ready to digitize your sales process, act now to reserve your seat.

As technology rapidly advances, the sales process is quickly being transformed. With consumer habits changing due to these advancements, social selling has become a very common practice across all industries. For distributors, the use of digital tools to enhance, supplement and/or replace different components of the sales process is becoming more and more commonplace.

To assist leading-edge wholesaler-distributors in transforming their social selling practices, the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence is partnering with Texas A&M University on a new research consortium called, “Digitizing the Sales Process,” (DSP). The DSP consortium is sponsored by the Council for Research on Distributor Best Practices, an alliance between the NAW Institute and Texas A&M

If your company wants to be on the cutting-edge of creating and implementing a digital selling strategy that guides your organization and ensures that technologies are aligned with your other business processes, you will want to seriously consider participating in this consortium.

Consortium Dates

Kick-off Meeting:
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Final Meeting:
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas

For More Information

Patricia A. Lilly
Executive Director, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence


Click on the brochure cover to download the 11-page brochure and learn more about this consortium.

What Does Digitizing the Sales Process Mean?

Digitizing the sales process does not mean replacing people with technology. Rather, it is the implementation of digital tools that will allow the organization to utilize its people more efficiently, making them better salespeople. Using digital tools allows companies to save time compared to traditional methods and allows them to invest in other areas of the business that have not yet been explored. These tools will also improve communication among teams and increase clarity throughout the organization.

Tools from social media to CRM and mobile apps will also reach more customers and allow for greater retention of current customers. As customer buying patterns change, so must selling strategies change. If distributors want to keep up, they must train their teams to better understand the power of digital tools and technologies for generating leads and driving sales. These tools give salespeople a greater capacity to be creative and enable them to reach out to customers in a variety of different ways.

The sales process consists of the fundamental steps for taking a customer from discovery as a prospect all the way through to managing their experience, then maintaining and enhancing the relationship. The potential for digitizing these processes is significant since all sales processes are information based and can, in theory, be digitized. That said, many processes will be difficult to digitize for quite some time due to a lack of data or the complexity associated with system implementation. More complex processes will logically be handled by a human sales force until such time as data are available and/ or systems become sufficiently efficient to implement and operate.

The Sales Process (see Figure 1) begins with lead generation, a process naturally adaptable to digital data mining processes. The next step is prospecting which can also be carried out to a great extent through digital processes though some information may still need human intervention for the time being. The selling step has many opportunities for digital tools but, perhaps more than any other process, still offers significant opportunities for a human sales force to add value. The post-sales step has experienced the greatest amount of digitization, with the introduction of ERP systems, but the opportunities to sustain and upgrade relationships (traditionally customer service representatives and sales force responsibilities) remain sub-optimized.

What Will Be Developed

  • Current best practices in leveraging digital tools across channels, customer types, industry vertical environments, and relationships
  • Comprehensive documentation of current technologies and resulting processes being used in the distribution industry
  • An assessment tool for digitization of the sales process that a firm can use to develop and sustain its digital strategy
  • Process Mapping and comparison to best practices for implementation of new distributor technologies
  • Processes to determine what digital tools will best support the sales team and which would be most efficient for different customer types
  • A design of differing models for a digitally supported sales force
  • Processes to develop business plans for launching new digital tools and achieving return on investment
  • A Framework for designing the Digital Sales Process and Digitally Supported Sales Force

How It Works

A team consisting of professional researchers from Texas A&M’s Global Supply Chain Laboratory and Talent Incubator Program led by Dr. F. Barry Lawrence and Dr. Esther Rodriguez Silva will analyze growth opportunities with consortium members to determine how to optimize the sales process through the use of digital tools. Best practices in this area will be included in the analysis.

The consortium meetings will provide an opportunity to discuss initial findings from a variety of sources as well as allow for discussion of the key benefits from digitization of each step of the sales process. The meetings will also allow for discussion of the implications for these technologies. Ultimately, the consortium will create a community with shared knowledge that will together work to move digitally enhanced distributor models forward.

Consortium members will meet at Texas A&M on the kick-off date, October 1, 2020, to discuss initial findings from the background research conducted by the research team, understand the research process and priorities, and direct the research team on topics of interest and desired outcomes. The final meeting will also be held at Texas A&M on April 29, 2021, to present final results and individual company assessments.  In between the meetings, each company will have an individual two-day meeting with Texas A&M researchers for process mapping and an initial assessment of the firm’s digital strategy.

Benefits for Consortium Members

  • Current sales process mapping
  • How to leverage your sales assets
  • Identify advanced sales techniques and tools
  • Digital best practices assessment
  • Engage in creation of a digital strategy

Value to Consortium Members and Deliverables

Consortium members will guide the research study and specify which alternatives, best practices, technologies, and services are of interest to them. These studies will focus on the digitization of the sales process to increase efficiency and drive profitable growth.

  • Consortium members will have access to a shared knowledge base that is created from the consortium.
  • A Digital Assessment tool that compares  digital strategy to best practices will be applied to each member firm. Specific findings will be provided to individual consortium members.
  • Overarching findings on best practices (observing confidentiality for individual firms) will be delivered to all.
  • Each consortium member may send up to 5 members of their team (up to a $10,000 value) to the two Research Summits developed and delivered on Digitizing the Sales Process in the Fall of 2020 and the Fall of 2021.
  • Each consortium member will have the opportunity to work with the research team to map their current sales process and strategies.
  • Each consortium member will engage in the creation of a digital social selling strategy that will guide organizations as a whole and ensure digital tools are aligned with the sales process.
  • Consortium members will learn best practices and understand where their organization stands compared to the rest of the industry.
  • Consortium members will learn how to leverage digital assets.
  • Consortium members will be able to build relationships with other participants and continue communication post consortium.

About Texas A&M University

Texas A&M’s Global Supply Chain Laboratory (GSCL) is the nation’s premier distribution research lab. They bring cutting-edge distribution and supply chain research solutions to the wholesale distribution industry. The lab provides total solutions for companies by providing research expertise, project execution support, IT implementation assistance, education and training for end users. The GSCL is now joined by the Talent Incubator Program focused on cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions.

Consortium Membership Fee

The membership cost of the consortium is $25,000 per company

For More Information

Patricia A. Lilly
Executive Director, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence