In 2012, MDM is recognizing distributors that are innovative in their approach to their markets. Specialty building materials distributor C.H. Briggs is the first of two featured this year.
2012 MDM Market Mover
Company: C.H. Briggs
Headquarters: Reading, PA
Leadership: Chairwoman & CEO Julia Klein
Details: Integrating and adapting technology to improve customer service must play a key role for today’s distributor. Specialty building materials distributor C.H. Briggs shares the successes they have had in this space and where they plan on taking it tomorrow.
In wholesale distribution, “good enough” has long been a common theme for technology’s role in the business. But “good enough” was never good enough for C.H. Briggs, a specialty building materials distributor based in Reading, PA. “You can’t just accept what you’re told,” says CIO Scott Withers. “You have to ask yourself: What can this mean for me tomorrow?”
Following that philosophy has made C.H. Briggs a leader in adapting technology. In April, C.H. Briggs became the first company to go live with Inforce Everywhere, a collaboration between ERP provider Infor and customer relationship management provider Salesforce.com integrating traditional ERP back-office functions with customer and market information, while tying in data from social media, as well.
By integrating these systems and information sources, C.H. Briggs comes closer to being able to create a “customer social profile” that will enable the company to better understand its customers’ buying behaviors, as well as the drivers behind that customer behavior.
“When it comes to operations, we know that there’s not a whole lot that really differentiates us from our competitors,” Withers says. “But we want to change that. We want to really engage our customers and become a partner they trust.”
Chairman and CEO Julia Klein sees engagement as the future of technology in distribution. “Distribution has always been about systems of record: What did we buy, what did we sell, and can we track it?” she says. “That’s just not enough in a faster social world.”
While many distribution companies are still questioning the value of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, C.H. Briggs has built an active presence on those platforms. When asked about measuring the ROI, Klein laughs. “’What’s the ROI on social networking?’ is really kind of a dumb question. It’s like asking ‘What’s the return on the telephone?’ Nobody would ask that question,” she says. “It’s not really a question of ROI; it’s a question of relevancy.”
Customers and vendors want to do business on their terms, Withers says. They want to interact when, where and how is convenient for them. And the same goes for employees. They want to interact in the business world with the same tools they use in other parts of their lives. “We have developed a social habit,” he says. “Our employees are social.”
Beyond that, integrating a company’s core operations systems with social technology can help you better leverage the data you have. “Social can mean easily shared,” Klein says. “What good does having all this data do if it’s kept locked in the heads of the head accountant or sales managers?”
Part of C.H. Briggs’ success comes from approaching technology as an enabler rather than a solution, Withers says. The technology is still developing. But with the developments related to Inforce Everywhere, “all of a sudden we see the path to our vision,” he says.
C.H. Briggs isn’t sitting back and waiting for the technology to come to them. Klein regularly communicates with Infor about what her company needs. “I talk to them all the time about what it’s really like for a midmarket company,” she says. “The needs aren’t the same for us as they would be for a multibillion-dollar company with 200 IT people on staff. We need tools, and all those tools need to be mobile and social.”
Klein already has her eye on her next technology move: “big data” – allowing the use of the massive amounts of data generated across their systems to become more agile and responsive.
“We can look at our customer segmentation, overlay that with a cost-to-serve model and then track those trends over time,” she says. “…Next year I think we’ll be able to take it a layer deeper, and a layer deeper after that. That’s a place where technology is going to give us some incredible insights. It’s going to be really revolutionary for our industry.”