“We discovered that the addition of technology, done right, could make a huge difference.”
That was one nugget of perspective dropped by Mass Ingenuity founder Aaron Howard during a recent webcast with MDM CEO Tom Gale and Stellar Industrial Supply founder, president and CEO John Wiborg. During the discussion, Howard and Wiborg offered their views on how distributors can use digital strategies to improve business outcomes.
At first take, it sounds like a rather broad topic. But the two distribution leaders dug deep and noted how companies can foster accountability and kickstart meaningful processes — all en route to creating higher-performance distributors instead of merely automating processes that aren’t strong to begin with. “What it boils down to is really helping our organizations to take data and processes and initiatives and bring them all together into a very cogent and comprehensible system so that they can manage the outcomes that they need to get every day to be successful,” says Howard.
Below are highlights of answers to questions posed during the webcast. Click here to watch to the webcast on-demand in its entirety.
How do leaders build visibility and accountability to manage more dispersed and virtual distribution organizations?
For Wiborg, part of the solution is communicating expectations and openly measuring progress. “You can say, ‘I want this outcome: Get more sales.’ But that’s not going to do it. You’ve got to say, ‘Here’s how you get more sales. And this is a process we want you to observe to do it, and we’re going to monitor and help you get better and better at it, get faster at it, get more nimble at it.’ And then we’ll continuously learn about this process and how we make it better to serve our customers for sure, but to serve all of the constituents that our organizations responsible to.”
What are the meaningful processes and digital tools to create a higher-performance distributor?
“If it can provide very simple dashboards, something really basic — a heat map and some detail that can allow people to get the answer to the question, ‘How are we doing? Fill in the blank,’ without rustling through a bunch of spreadsheets looking at seven different systems — that’s a useful tool,” says Howard. “It integrates the data from a lot of other sources that already exist, whether they be finance, ERP, CRM, etc. And that’s really the kind of tools that will make a difference in terms of moving towards high performance.”
What are the metrics that matter in a more digital-enabled organization?
“We have to know what’s being observed consistently, and with rigor,” says Wiborg. “And we can refine the process so we can make it better; we can make it more efficient. That’s the thing you have to keep in mind — you have to bring a continuous improvement mentality. These processes, you can’t just say, ‘We’ve got this one fixed, locked down, buttoned-down,’ and never to be thought of again, locked and loaded. Because it doesn’t work that way.”
How do you make sure your team is creating better outcomes, not focused on shiny objects?
“When a new system comes along, it has to provide value immediately to the individual,” says Howard. “Not tomorrow, not a month from now. It has to be right now. And the easiest way to provide value is to be able to present the information in a simpler, easier, interpretable manner, with no fuss, no muss, no running around to find, say, Joe, to print out something from another system, you know. As long as it provides that sort of ease of accessibility, clarity of the data and, frankly, a little enjoyable to work with. That’s really important, too.”
What’s the definition of digitally powered continuous improvement in a distribution organization?
“What you find is, when you’re trying to focus on your team on outcomes, and they start getting focused on outcomes, if you’re not getting the outcomes you seek you start unpacking that,” says Wiborg. “And you start getting underneath the covers. And a lot of times you’ll find that you dig in and you find all these points of friction in your business. So, we all need to be faster. We all need to be more cost-effective. We all need to be responsive to customer needs to stay relevant. If you can’t get the friction wrung out of the organization, you’re not going to get there and, it’s really all goes together.”
What is the best starting point to create a digital-enabled organization?
“As you’re thinking about your role in the supply chain, what are the problems of the day, and how can I use the notion of automation and the tools that come with it to create value for the whole supply chain?” says Wiborg. “Then I think that’s kind of the more holistic type of thought you have to bring instead of ‘I need to stand up a web store because everybody’s yelling at me to stand up a web store,’ whoever it is. That’s just one component of what I think of as a much larger question and a much larger opportunity and a much larger risk if you fail to recognize it as such.”