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TUG Connects 2018 Hot Topic: To Compete With B2B Players Like Amazon, Start Re-Evaluating Your Offerings

As usual, TUG Connects 2018 didn’t disappoint for the B2B distributors and Infor ERP users who attended the recent three-day conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Packed with breakout sessions, roundtable discussions, and keynote speakers, the meeting gave attendees the opportunity to learn about the latest trends, technology, and changes happening in their eCommerce marketplace.

Joe Bennett, Unilog’s Senior Vice President of Strategy, was there to discuss the critical components of an eCommerce site and visit with attendees and colleagues. Bennett said a highlight of the conference was keynote speaker Peter Sheahan, Founder and Group CEO of Karrikins Group. Sheahan focused his keynote presentation on the threat of new competitors in the B2B space, specifically Amazon Business.

The internationally known speaker, author and thought leader explained how businesses underestimated the impact Amazon would have on the distribution marketplace. Despite what he said were clear signs and evidence of their move into B2B markets, many distributors told him they just didn’t see it coming.

To that, Sheahan responded that if companies want to stay in the game, they need to keep their eyes open, their ears to the ground and perform a self-evaluation to determine where they can create the most value – their edge of disruption – for their customers. Here were Sheahan’s key action items for distributors:

Determine where you fit

The wholesale industry is broken into three plays:

  • Volume play – a large-scale supplier that offers hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of products, such as Grainger or Sonepar
  • Niche play – a company that holds a specialized part of the market like Apple
  • Services play – a business that focuses on providing added services for the customer

While a handful of businesses are volume players, Sheahan advised that most small to mid-sized distributors should be services players because that’s where they have the greatest potential to break out from the crowd and differentiate themselves. It’s essential to know where your organization currently fits but, more importantly, where you’d like to be as an industry player. Understand your limitations, but consider where you can build on your foundation to maintain a competitive edge.

Provide value-add

So what do you bring to the table that separates you from the rest? Sheahan suggested if you’re still looking for that “value-add,” then consider creating a service that fills a buyer need or desire so you can move beyond just product offerings. While many B2Bs provide expert product knowledge over their Amazon counterparts, there are additional ways you can outshine the competition like becoming product installers, fabricators, or even field service technicians.

Bennett agreed wholeheartedly and added he’s been telling distributors this for years. “There’s got to be something that you’re doing – especially in the commodities space – that entails more than selling a product,” he said. “If that’s your only value-add, know that someone’s going to do it better than you.”

Be honest with yourself

While this may be tough to do, Sheahan said businesses need to take a hard look at themselves and acknowledge their strengths, as well as their shortcomings. He challenged attendees to define who they are as a company: Are they the best at providing customer service? Do they lack eCommerce offerings? Sheahan explained this self-assessment opens the way for opportunities to improve the good and bad in an organization. Bennett added, “I think this is great advice that can be applied to every business so that we can all cater to our strengths.”

Sheahan emphasized that the threat to existing business models will never stop, so companies must find ways to remain relevant and valuable in the eyes of their customers. Those that succeed are the ones who fundamentally believe that they have the ability to create their future.

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