Many distributors will be happy to see 2013 drift away into the sunset, and for good reason too. A good number of our customers are distributors and we listen to their concerns on a daily basis. What we have found is that distributors have seen 2013 as a transition year. Revenue may be up on previous years but that is mainly due to efficiency initiatives rather than growth.
The distribution industries therefore have become leaner than a few years ago and most are learning to do more, with less. So what will 2014 bring for distributors? Here are a couple of our predictions.
1. Data management will drive ROI
Whether you like it or not, data will be the hot topic of 2014. From a recent survey conducted by MDM, distributors are prioritizing clean data and analytics to make their sales and marketing efforts more effective.
Distributors need to embrace data to push forward with their business because this is where the future lies. Introducing business intelligence gives distributors the ability in act quickly to an ever-changing market and make decisions based on fact rather than gut instinct.
One of the main drivers for Amazon’s success was understanding their data and more importantly acting upon their findings.
Data has been collected at every customer touchpoint during 2013 – transactional data, social media, surveys, CRM, the list goes on, but this is only going to increase in 2014. Big Data may be an IT buzzword but the reality is that it won’t be restricted to the IT department; in fact it will become a company wide process because data touches almost every job role. The challenge distributors will face is mining their data to get the answers they need from an abundance of data ‘noise’.
2. Innovative technology will start being adopted
Introducing new technology into a market can be met with skepticism but it is vital to keep improving efficiency. Think about the ‘news’ when Amazon was exploring the possibility of using drone delivery. Unmanned deliveries would be a huge technological step. This may be a step too far for most distributors but is a very real concept.
There are other technologies breaking into the market that could have a profound effect too. For example, 3D printing could be used in prototyping new products or to create replacement components for products on sale.
Robots and pickers already play a key role in warehouses and 2014 will continue to see numbers rise.
2014 may be a big year for transportation too with crude oil prices remaining at a similar level and a possibility of higher delivery costs, distributors with excess capital may look to invest in their fleet. New technologies in motoring such as hybrid, gas and more fuel-efficient vehicles may become the norm in most fleets.
3. Consumer behavior will change B2B
Every business person is also a consumer so the selling process between B2B and B2C may be more similar than you think. 2013 has seen the online shopping experience grow even further and this will trickle through into B2B. Business customers are increasingly looking to replicate their consumer buying on e-commerce platforms. 2014 will mean distributors will meet the demand for multichannel capabilities such as new e-commerce platforms so B2B customers can access everything seamlessly from their computers, smartphones or tablets.
Customers want to do business with the companies that make the process easy, and that means taking big steps to meet the multichannel demand. Because of the change in customer behavior it will have a hugely positive or negative effect on distributors. The ones who work pro-actively using CRM tools, BI software and effective e-commerce platforms will understand the trends better meaning they can retain their existing customers as well as bring on new business.
Overall 2014 looks positive for distributors, but the threat comes from online competitors. To keep pace, distributors need to introduce new technologies to really understand their customers’ buying behavior at a granular level.
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