Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
December 5, 2017  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

More and more, I find that developing a capability plan for new digital competencies and business processes is a critical responsibility for distributor leaders. Many leaders still have much to learn about digital technology and the advantages it can create for their business. To reach the ultimate success from using digital tools requires that distributors employ people with new knowledge and skills who will carry out new or improved business processes. It is the combination of new people competencies and new business processes that delivers the customer experiences, supplier partnerships and distributor profitability that distributors need to successfully compete in the digital age.

In my last post, Going Beyond the Basics of Digital Innovation, I shared three essential rules for you to use to help share your vision, mindset and plans for achieving results from your digital investments, and discussed the first rule in detail. In this post, I will explore recent conversations with leaders about the second rule. As a reminder, the three essential rules that are emerging for gaining success through digital innovation are

  1. Technology is not your strategy. Your strategy should guide your digital investments and use of digital tools. As distributor leaders work hard to gain a personal understanding of digital technology, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that without their strategic vision, the use of digital tools will falter.
  2. New results require new behaviors. Digital tools enable new results for your business, and it is the responsibility of leaders to identify what new behaviors are required by your employees, customers and suppliers for successful execution of your strategy.
  3. Innovate to automate. New capabilities and often people are required to take advantage of digital tools and distributor economics require careful management of staffing levels to remain profitable. One solution is to use digital tools to automate jobs and to allow space for new roles and positions.

The key to defining new digital behaviors that drive your business forward is to recognize that behaviors emerge on the initiative of knowledgeable and skilled people and through required actions defined by business processes. Success is one part personal initiative and one part business process mapping. To help distributors get started on identifying and enabling new behaviors required to execute your business strategy, I offer two questions for your consideration and exploration. Both questions focus on people competencies. I will come back to business process planning for digital distributors in my next post with a discussion of the third rule for digital success: automate to innovate.

  1. What is your plan for developing new digital competencies in your business? Digital success often emerges organically in a distributor’s business, as events unfold and the power of digital tools becomes apparent. However, the best growth for digital innovation is achieved through the use of “fertilizer” and that is through new digital knowledge and skills planted in your sales, marketing, operations and financial teams. For success, your business must have the skills to capture and act on digital footprints left by customers and prospects on your e-commerce platform and websites. You must be able to launch your own digital marketing programs and work with your suppliers on their programs. You must have tablets that can e-enable your salespeople, allowing them to deploy their efforts at the right account and the right time, and to leverage new and deep online knowledge as they upgrade their value-selling skills. Your finance team must have new digital perspectives to judge your return-on-current-investments and to direct the best use of your capital assets toward new investments. If you don’t have a multi-year plan for developing these capabilities, you will be left behind. Worse, you will not be able to react to new threats and take advantage of new opportunities as they emerge.
  2. Can you articulate the new behaviors required to generate results from your digital tools? In all of my books and research with the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence, I have advocated for the use of competency models as a strategic tool for distributors. A competency model is a list of competencies that are essential for your sales, marketing, analytics, operations and other roles in the digital age. Each competency is accompanied by a definition, but more importantly, by the good, better and best behaviors that demonstrate that an individual is acting on the competency for the betterment of your business. These tools can be constructed by your people, perhaps with a little outside assistance. The power of a competency model is achieved in multiple ways, including:
  • Recruiting the right people for your job by translating competency models to job descriptions for recruiting.
  • Helping your people understand the new skills and knowledge essential for their success and contribution to achieving your strategy. When used most effectively, competency models are providing an online tool for self-diagnosis and personal development planning.
  • Enabling first-line managers to guide and coach your people against an objective standard, one that goes beyond the manager’s personal assumptions and experiences, and one that is blessed by senior management.
  • Tracking digital competency levels and development across teams and the entire organization, because the online tool is executed as a 360o process by people, managers, leaders and leadership teams.

Please Share Your Ideas and Experiences

I will cover the third and final rule for digital success in my next blog post and I would very much like to hear from you. If you’ve purchased my new research report, CEO Insights on Innovating the Distributor for the Digital Age, I would enjoy a conversation about how it fits with your business and where you are going. Your ideas and insights are essential for shaping my ongoing Fellowship with the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence. To get things started, reach out to me at

P.S. Don’t miss this SAP-sponsored webinar on December 7 featuring me, “Digital Technology Is Making a Difference: Are You Still Sitting on the Sidelines?”

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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 B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.