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NAW Members Challenged to Innovate to Dominate

Again, this year, over 300 members of the NAW attended the annual Executive Summit in Washington DC. The theme of this year’s summit was “Innovate to Dominate”, based on the latest edition of the NAW’s book series, Facing the Forces of Change. It was a well-attended executive summit for good reason.

As noted in the foreword in the recently authored 12th edition of Facing the Forces of Change, “the future (distributors) face, is right now”. The book content fueled the theme of the summit. If distributors do not act and develop a digital strategy and face the realities of change in the industry, suppliers and customers will simply move forward without distributors. The summit agenda challenged distributors to look at evolving e-commerce and B2B marketplace trends. It challenged traditional distributors to evolve into digital distributors, and act to develop strategies and plans that will ensure a profitable future for the wholesale distribution industry.

In this year’s summit kickoff, “Distribution Disruption and an Industry Call to Arms”, 30-year industry veteran, Ian Heller, Founder and Senior Partner of Real Results Marketing, explained the strategies, strengths and risks of distribution’s new disruptors. He also laid out a plan for distributors to defend and grow their businesses in the future. He concluded that:

  • Artificial intelligence is driving a revolution in distributions

  • Assortment, availability and delivery excellence is being commoditized

  • The rise of B2B marketplaces is inevitable, and that they …

    • Carry almost everything

    • Reach almost everyone

    • Make ordering efficient and effective

    • B2B functional transaction capabilities have set new customer expectations

After frightening the audience with the industry trend realities, he offered a plan to dominate.

  • Become a technology “fast” follower

  • Surround customers with services B2B marketplaces cannot provide

  • Develop your own B2B marketplace strategy

From a “fast” follower of technology standpoint, Ian gave guidance to distributors on “what to do right now”.

  • Create a strategic plan

  • Conduct a current technology evaluation

  • Have IT vendor meetings

  • Create an AI expert position (either in-house or out-sourced)

  • Attend conferences (to get educated quickly)

In my opinion, his council is in line with one of the top requirements seen in the wholesale distribution industry.

Distributors need to innovate for the digital future with new B2B selling models. They need to leverage creative and innovative e-commerce solutions that are required to be a digital savvy wholesale distributor.

It was clear at the summit that of greatest importance in wholesale distribution is B2B selling. The ideas of customer centricity and the use of data and agility throughout the distribution stream need to be top of mind. Embracing new next-practices allows for more opportunities in all areas of business, including marketing, commerce, sales, and service. In short, traditional wholesale distributors must transform quickly into digital distributors.