Over the last many years, distributors have faced down one challenge after another including the emergence of big-box retailers, disintermediation by manufacturers, the financial crisis of 2008 and more. Distribution survived because of the strength of their customer relationships and an ongoing commitment to gain efficiencies by investing in business systems and information technology. Faced with new disruptive threats, this trend is continuing as distributors invest in e-commerce platforms and a wide range of digital tools.

However, distributors will not win by engaging in an arms race focused exclusively on technology-driven innovation. Distributors must also differentiate themselves. Disruptors are attempting to change how business is done, frequently by leveraging the convenience of online ordering and the power of data, analytics and artificial intelligence. Disruptors are on a roll, telling their story and attracting customers. Left unchallenged, disruptors will offer customer solutions that co-opt, replace or defeat distribution.

In our research for Innovate to Dominate: The 12th Edition in the Facing the Force of Change® Series, we found that building on distributor traditions as a local business and personal, people-first services are a sturdy foundation for new, human-centric innovations. There is a hitch, however. To drive change, most distributors rely on methods that involve continuous improvement, which is about improving productivity around what a business already does. To defeat disruption by being human, distributors must learn and apply the unfamiliar practices of business model innovation, and especially methods for human-centric innovation. There is a roadmap to follow, but distributor leaders must commit to the journey.

On our recent webinar, “Reboot the Real World: Beating Disruption through Human-Centric Innovations,” sponsored by SAP, we introduced and explored many of our most important findings around human-centric innovation.

Along with our webinar sponsor and co-author of this blog post, Magnus Meier, Global Vice President for Wholesale Distribution at SAP ([email protected]), we explore how distributors can leverage their understanding of why new experiences matter for customers and go beyond merely matching what virtual transactions offer.

We go more in-depth, offering examples and explaining essential concepts for human-centric innovation including:

  • Going beyond targeting segments to serving communities
  • Developing emotional intelligence as a uniquely human capability
  • Overcoming organizational challenges to implement artificial intelligence
  • How to optimize innovation by implementing technology in collaboration with people
  • Reimagining the business of distribution as an artisanal craft
  • The importance of arming managers to manage a company’s culture for innovation

You can replay our webinar, “Reboot the Real World,” including the questions asked by listeners with answers by Magnus Meier and me. And, we encourage you to join in the conversation by reaching out directly to Mark Dancer at [email protected] and Magnus Meier at [email protected].

Ongoing posts for my blog series “Distributors in the Digital Age” will continue to feature discussions with distributors, innovators and thought leaders, and we’ll point out signposts and milestones in the digital age to help every distributor set strategies and track progress.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will order your copies of Innovate to Dominate and use it with your team as an essential tool and roadmap for your company innovations. It will help you plan and track your journey and progress.