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It was fitting that the topic of change acceleration was on the agenda at Activant’s recent 2010 Executive Forum. As one attendee summed it up: “It seems the world is changing, markets are changing, how we deal with our sales folks is changing, the finance industry that supports us is changing, how we look at our customers is changing …”
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Sessions by guest speakers and Activant EVP Kevin Roach addressed customer segmentation and profitability, globalization, coaching top sales performers, and the M&A climate in North American distribution. More than 60 top-level executives across a wide range of product sectors extracted value from the sessions as well as the networking opportunities and fresh perspectives from other industries.
A few key takeaways for me: First, there was an optimism at this event that has been absent for the better part of two years. Some sectors and markets are experiencing very strong sales numbers after holding up throughout the summer. Every company has adjusted to much leaner operations, as a result enjoying a return to profitability.
Second, everyone is paying much closer attention to cost-saving and efficiency tips. I heard a lot of high-level strategic discussion of trends and best practices, but there was just as much conversation about nuts-and-bolt ways to increase profits and productivity.
Third, we are in a volatile transition period for wholesale distribution, where we’ll see more consolidation and shifts in how distributors have to define their value to suppliers, as well as to customers. Distributors of every size have to become more strategic in their thinking and nimble in how quickly they adapt to changing conditions. Sessions such as this provide a high-return event, where there is a real exchange of ideas. These events challenge long-held assumptions about how successful distributors can create competitive advantage moving forward.
A highlight for me was the final night, when 10 of us at a table after dinner spent more than an hour sharing highlights and takeaways from the previous two days. There was some furious note-taking! More importantly, there was a ton of experience shared at the table, a lively discussion about management issues, and a focus on future opportunities that are growing clearer as the business cycle has started to improve.