QuickTake: Distributors' Vision to Transformation - Modern Distribution Management

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QuickTake: Distributors’ Vision to Transformation

In a debrief on core themes from MDM’s 2023 SHIFT conference, Mike Marks and Tom Gale discuss a clearer vision for distribution emerging.
MDM SHIFT 23 Welcome CrVesna Brajkovic

Lead photo: MDM CEO Tom Gale (center) delivers opening remarks at the 2023 MDM SHIFT Conference, held Sept. 18-20 in downtown Denver. (Photo: MDM/Vesna Brajkovic)

For the first time since 2020, wholesale distribution companies seem to be gaining traction in their business transformations and have a more definitive vision for where they want to take their companies in the next two to three years.

At least, that was the notion that colored many of the conversations among top distribution executives attending MDM’s SHIFT | The Future of Distribution annual conference, which was held Sept. 18-20 in downtown Denver. 

There is no sector of wholesale distribution that’s been untouched by disruption. Distributors across every vertical have been gearing up to adapt to a future that’s more clearly being defined by a hybrid sales model, powered by digital capabilities and built on data analytics, and backed by a team able to execute on the transformation.

That’s why MDM built its SHIFT conference content this year around the research, case studies and conversations its team has had over the past couple of years, all of which point to a future of distribution built on four areas: a hybrid sales process, digital capability, data analytics, and company culture.

These conversations have been happening for years, so what’s shifting the vision into actual transformation? Mike Marks, founding partner of Indian River Consulting Group, joined MDM CEO Tom Gale on MDM’s QuickTake podcast to debrief on what’s different this year. Marks served alongside Gale as a moderator, presenter, and facilitator during SHIFT.

During past SHIFT conferences, many similar concepts for business transformation were shared, but distributors were still in organization mode. Now, Marks says, they seemed to know where they need to go. 

Mike Marks

“Last conference … everybody was still sort of looking at it as: what do I need to do first? Everybody was still looking at things as projects,” Marks recalls. “What was really interesting at this [year’s SHIFT conference] … they’ve put all the pieces together in order. And they’re actually spending money.” 

Marks says the conversations among distributors, especially those who attended SHIFT for multiple years, seemed to be productive at identifying the low-hanging fruit and working toward making decisions to progress their business forward.

“People have underestimated the magnitude and the speed of this change,” Marks says. “There are a lot of the traditional distributors waiting for some trigger events that they can react to. And if they’re waiting for some trigger event, they’re not actually starting. By the time they figure out they have a trigger event, like losing a key supplier or losing a couple of key customers, it’s going to be too late to do anything.” 

But the opportunity is there, Marks says, and the conversations at SHIFT were encouraging.

Having a clear vision for the future will be critical, Gale explains. 

“The disruptions aren’t going away,” Gale adds. “The uncertainties that AI is going to present aren’t going to go away, but also the potential of AI is also going to grow. So I believe with all the uncertainty and disruption, that’s just going to be part of normal life going forward. I still think that a lot of companies have figured out what the pieces they need to work on to get to a vision where their company is going to be able to be healthy and compete really well going forward.”

Listen to the full debrief, which dives deeper into artificial intelligence’s role in digital transformation and takeaways from key conference sessions, via the audio player above. Bookmark our MDM Podcasts page to find this episode, and our entire library of episodes, all in one place.

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