Any distributor looking to make advances in automation and digital technology efforts knows that data is the key. But data is of no benefit if it isn’t clean. That notion is a main focus point this year for the three distributors who participated in this week’s MDM webcast, Technology’s Role in 2021 Business Planning.
Vicki Hafele of Duncan-Parnell, John Janthor of Radwell International and Rene Savage of Stellar Industrial Supply have all used periods of downtime in 2020 to strengthen company-wide focus on the importance of clean data and analytics in positioning their companies for success.
“It’s really all about data. If you place an order on our website and the data is clean, that order is going out and nobody is touching it,” said Janthor, VP information technology – global at Radwell.
Fortunately, all three businesses were already invested in forms of technology that made the disruptions of COVID-19 slightly less disruptive when many people had to suddenly work from home in the spring. Cloud computing, VoIP and familiarity with Microsoft Teams all helped to make transitioning to remote work less painful for those employees who were able to be out of the office. However, sales teams still found themselves with unexpected downtime when they couldn’t visit customers in person.
“We knew business was going to be down, so we made a strategic decision to use the time to invest in tools, invest in improving our business for the future,” said Savage, VP, technology solutions, at Stellar.
The company’s senior leadership team started having working sessions to “define everything that sucks about distribution,” she explained, and then go about fixing those issues. Part of the solution is to remove obstacles to productivity and automate as much as possible while looking at data integrity, machine learning and artificial intelligence opportunities.
Prepared for the Future
With business down at Radwell, the sales team had to reinvent itself and focus on highly servicing existing customers. That meant helping them to leverage PPE needs but also using CRM and analytics tools to analyze what products those customers might be running low on or which items were most likely to fail soon and need replacing. “Productivity was down but we made it up in a lot of areas that prepared us for the future,” said Janthor.
Although e-commerce had not been a top priority in the past for high-tech and capital equipment-heavy Duncan-Parnell, web sales and services are increasingly becoming a focus for the supply distributor to architects, engineers and construction companies. But as the company shifts toward more investment in e-commerce, it is also putting an emphasis on existing technology capabilities that they never had much time to dig into before. Namely, automation, alerts and business rules available through Epicor’s Prophet 21 system that do things such as automate marketing messages to new customers and copy the regional sales director in that customer’s market.
“We’re just trying to do some customer service and things for people that we hadn’t done before,” said Hafele, treasurer. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it really helps a lot.”
Hear much more from Hafele, Janthor and Savage, including what came out of their data analytics efforts this year and why they’re prioritizing customer centricity for 2021 by listening to the free webcast on demand.