Business Strategy - Indian River Consulting Group https://www.ircg.com/blog/category/business-strategy/ Indian River Consulting Group specializes in helping distributors and manufacturers accurately diagnose problems and identify risk-bound alternatives so they can take their next steps confidently. Call us to learn more at 321-956-8617 or contact us now. Mon, 14 Nov 2022 13:59:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 https://www.ircg.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/favicon.ico Business Strategy - Indian River Consulting Group https://www.ircg.com/blog/category/business-strategy/ 32 32 Managing Change in Digital Transformation: How to Build the Path of Least Resistance https://www.ircg.com/blog/digital-strategy/managing-change-in-digital-transformation-how-to-build-the-path-of-least-resistance/ https://www.ircg.com/blog/digital-strategy/managing-change-in-digital-transformation-how-to-build-the-path-of-least-resistance/#respond Mon, 14 Nov 2022 13:49:08 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/?p=12305 Let’s say you’ve greenlighted the adoption of technology in your business, whether that’s implementing automation for certain processes or adopting an ecommerce platform. That’s great – it’s important, in fact, especially if it’s the way your customers prefer to shop and buy. It’s also critical in an era of labor shortages – when productivity is …

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Let’s say you’ve greenlighted the adoption of technology in your business, whether that’s implementing automation for certain processes or adopting an ecommerce platform. That’s great – it’s important, in fact, especially if it’s the way your customers prefer to shop and buy. It’s also critical in an era of labor shortages – when productivity is top of mind. 

To ensure your digital initiatives stick, they must come from an area of real need to ensure that you’re not building bigger gaps between what your customers need and what you provide. It’s about the way your customers want to buy (and how your team can facilitate the smoothest process in doing so). 

A project that requires people to change won’t come without resistance. After all, the only people who like change are babies with dirty diapers.  

Executives must get everyone in the organization truly on board or the impact you’re looking for won’t be realized. And today, when employees are experiencing pandemic burnout and just trying to get their jobs done, you face even more hurdles.  

Before you even begin, what are the change requirements that are needed to bring your digital-transformation strategy to life (and sustain it)?  

Engage your team. 

The guiding light through your change management journey should be: Participation creates commitment. If a higher-up comes down from his office and shares a new plan with his employees, details how it’s going to work and then walks away … that plan isn’t getting adopted (or it’s not getting adopted to the level that the organization is hoping for). 

Get your team engaged from the get-go.  

  • Provide opportunities for your employees to participate in the idea stage because these are the people the change affects.  
  • Get feedback from your frontline workers and sales reps. Ask how the transformation will affect their daily interaction with customers. Get them excited about the possibilities by clearly demonstrating and why the changes are happening.  
  • What are the benefits? Make sure your team understands how it makes their life easier.  

Contrary to popular belief, digital change is not about replacing sales reps. Automation of mundane tasks or greater insight into customers enables reps to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. Executive leadership needs to clearly define a desired state that leverages where their target customers will be in several years and pinpoint how their sales team can use the technology to achieve this.  

>> Read more on how to improve employee engagement 

Have plan clarity.  

Once you’ve spent the time getting your team to buy into the need for change and commit to a vision, the next step is to create a plan and communicate it clearly.  

Some common steps include: 

  1. Identify overall project objectives. 
  1. Define what products/services the digital transformation project will deliver, including client requirements. 
  1. Identify elements that are key to project success. 
  1. Map out and assign project team roles. 
  1. Map out and document the implementation process. 
  1. Document available resources. 
  1. Develop cost analysis. 
  1. Create a project schedule. 
  1. Create a risk management plan. 
  1. Define quality management plans as well as how and what you will monitor. 

Remember, everything depends on your people. A leader’s job is to get people to want to do  
what is in the organization’s best interests.  

>> Learn more about building an investment roadmap for digital transformation 

Change is complex. 

It’s like raising a plate of food. If you raise one side of the plate too high or too quickly, everything falls off. You want to apply some pressure to employees to adopt the change and implement the technology – a little pressure can create more output – but you don’t want to apply too much pressure, or everything will just break down. 

Understand that digital transformation at any scale will be revolutionary for your employees, but it might look incremental from an outside perspective. Focus on the internal. As Peter Drucker, a management guru, said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If you don’t deal with the culture, nothing will happen.  

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6 Steps to Improve Your Customers’ Experience with Your Company https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/6-steps-to-improve-your-customers-experience-with-your-company/ https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/6-steps-to-improve-your-customers-experience-with-your-company/#respond Tue, 23 Aug 2022 15:26:39 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/?p=12279 It’s probably safe to assume that we all understand what the customer experience refers to: how a business engages with its customers.  But the critical part of the definition is that customer experience, or CX, refers to engagement at every touch point in the buying journey, whether it’s an interaction with marketing, sales, drivers, or …

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It’s probably safe to assume that we all understand what the customer experience refers to: how a business engages with its customers. 

But the critical part of the definition is that customer experience, or CX, refers to engagement at every touch point in the buying journey, whether it’s an interaction with marketing, sales, drivers, or customer service.  

CX also includes personal relationships and trust. It’s the total of all interactions a customer has with your brand. 

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for the customer to be taken for granted. Maybe you thought, “I have excellent products and customer service, and no one is calling to complain.” Makes sense: If no one is complaining, then there must not be a problem. However, that is probably not the case. 

Now more than ever, the customer experience can make or break a company. We live in a world filled with options, and customers can easily go online to compare products that meet their needs faster, easier and cheaper. Gartner found that companies who create complex, nonlinear paths for buyers create uncertainty during the buying process, resulting in a 30% decrease in purchasing. 

The companies that will succeed are the ones who are starting to take a closer look at the customer experience and buying journey to better understand how customers view and interact with them. 

It’s time to do something different to support your customers, and the first step to enhancing the customer experience is to map it out. Clearly define steps and actions to take to better the buying journey. 

Creating a good CX strategy requires a well-thought-out program, but there are a few things you can do right away for immediate results: 

  • Add more staff to do daily pre expedites  
  • Show customers how to order earlier to improve their fill rates 
  • Provide substitutions, including selling products sourced from competitors  
  • Allocate hard to get product to good – not big – customers  
  • And most importantly, create an ongoing program focused on the customer experience  

Remember, CX is also about building strong relationships and trust with customers. If you must market a competitors’ product to secure a customer’s regular order, it’s worth it. You’re now seen as reliable – a company they can trust and turn to, even when the supply chain threatens their order.  

How to Create a Program that Focuses on the Customer Experience 

Enhancing your customer experience requires you to go directly to the source: the customers. Don’t involve your sales team in this process. Although they’re great at their jobs, salespeople are trained to listen and respond rather than listening to understand.  

Set a Goal and Make a Plan 

What are you hoping to learn from conversations with customers? Define a goal. This is not about how you sell them more, rather it is understanding their life and their challenges. How do they spend a typical day, what are their responsibilities, what are the resources they have available to do their jobs, where do things go wrong,  what drives them up a wall, what brings them joy, and what are their goals and what would they like to change? 

Once you’ve determined your goal, identify the people to interview. The people you target should align with the goal of your program. For example, if you want to learn more about the perceptions of your company, talk to newer customers about how they found you and what they think thus far in the relationship. 

Create an Interview Guide 

Create an interview guide and design the interview questions around behavioral segmentation, which just means group customers by what they’re searching for and what they value. Keep the list of questions short; your customers are doing you a favor by being interviewed, and their time is valuable.  

Some questions to include could be: 

  • We’re trying to improve our customer experience. Can you describe the challenges and frustrations that exist in your role today? 
  • Without naming names, how does your preferred supplier hep you deal with those challenges?  
  •  What would help you the most in services or support that you can’t find in any of your suppliers today? 

Interview customers with non-sales staff, such as operations, human resources or finance folks, and don’t go in blind. Prepare for the interviews by building rapport with the customers willing to participate, pick the best time that works for their busy schedule, ensure you have a reliable way to record the conversation and practice the interview first. 

While in the interview, focus on self-reporting. The conversation should be all about the customer – not your company.  

The notes your team collects will help later on, and they’re critical in the ongoing evolution of the interview guide. The interview questions will likely go through multiple versions, and that’s okay. You want to optimize your guide: Delete questions if you already know the answer and add questions gained from new insight. 

The result of the adaptive interviews is that you have a better understanding of each customer segment, including how they interact with your company and what your value proposition is to them. 

Map the Key Customer Touch Points 

Build a list of pain points from the customer interview insights, focusing on the biggest areas of friction first. These could be things like order-to-cash process, the order fulfillment process for standard products versus custom products, demand forecasting or getting a quick answer without having to search through the company website. 

Add context from your customer-facing team to this map, then validate all the gathered information in a focus group of customers.  We recently completed a customer journey map for an industrial distributor and it was six feet long to provide readability.  The executive team has already made major reductions in the number of steps. 

In a McKinsey study about CX, almost two-thirds of their respondents cited “the ability to act on CX issues in near-real-time” was a top priority.”  

Armed with a detailed understanding of your customers’ pain, frustration and/or unmet needs, your next step becomes clear.  

Map the Steps for Each Process 

Design your own buyers’ journey map using a flow chart. (Gartner goes into detail about the new customer journey map, and this resource offers a step-by-step guide.)  Start with existing customers. The majority of a distributors’ revenue comes from flow business, or repurchases of product, so create different maps for flow and projects. Don’t forget to factor in the less-predictable human element (e.g. is there a bottleneck in the flow due to one person’s manual processes).  

Implement Solutions for Each Mapped Process 

Digitize everything possible, starting with your customers’ largest friction points. The ideal is to automate 20% of the events that create 80% of their friction. What tools can you implement to smooth those out? Understand that speed – and anything else that makes your customers’ lives easier – are weapons. Use them.  

And reduce the steps. Shift from a go/ no-go approval process that can delay service to a customer to post-action controls and conduct a LEAN analysis to eliminate waste and artifacts from the past.  

Recognize That This Is an Ongoing Process – Not a One-and-Done Project 

Much like the interview guide, the close attention to your customer experience shouldn’t be a one-and-done project. You want to ensure the buying journey is simple and the customer is happy, so build a data-driven performance feedback loop.  

  • Create a place to store and integrate data from multiple sources 
  • Use predictive analytics, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, to anticipate customer needs earlier 
  • Conduct regular data reviews in scheduled meetings with defined actions 

By consistently setting aside time to identify pain points, you can ensure your customer experience is always improving. 

And don’t forget: If you want to succeed at this, you must get out of your echo chamber and separate the message from the messenger.  

Annette Franz, a customer experience thought leader, said: “You can’t transform something you don’t understand. If you don’t know and (don’t) understand what the current state of the customer experience is, how can you possibly design the desired future state?” 

Operating in your echo chamber gets you nowhere fast. Talk to your customers, get to know their struggles and learn how you can be a better partner for them, and your company’s profit margins and reputation will benefit. 

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6 Distributor Best Practices to Improve Employee Engagement https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/6-distributor-best-practices-to-improve-employee-engagement/ https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/6-distributor-best-practices-to-improve-employee-engagement/#respond Wed, 17 Aug 2022 17:24:44 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/?p=12265 Employees don’t want to be worker bees – they want to feel like they are part of something important. Great leadership and communication play key roles in employee engagement. Although many top executives love to talk about their “open-door” communication policies, how many follow through?   According to one Gartner survey, only 13% of employees are …

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Employees don’t want to be worker bees – they want to feel like they are part of something important. Great leadership and communication play key roles in employee engagement. Although many top executives love to talk about their “open-door” communication policies, how many follow through?  

According to one Gartner survey, only 13% of employees are completely satisfied with their workplace experience. In addition, McKinsey & Company also found that a third of employees who recently left a job quit because they didn’t have caring leaders. Another third left due to a lack of career development and advancement potential, and 35% more said they quit because they did not have sustainable work expectations.  

Monetary compensation is no longer enough to attract and retain great employees. To cultivate a thriving culture in the “Great Attrition,” leaders must go above and beyond to create an environment that values transparency, integrity and communication.  

Town Hall Meetings vs. the Grapevine 

Successful companies are made up of forward-facing employees who genuinely care about where the company is going and how they can play a part in its success. Unfortunately, getting people on board with a company’s vision can be challenging, especially if there is a lack of transparency.  

Most businesses have two types of communication: official communication and the “grapevine.”  

A grapevine occurs when employees talk amongst themselves about management, company policies and where the business is headed; it’s the perfect place for rumors to start. Without intervention, a grapevine can lead to unfounded fears about layoffs, poor management and budget cuts. Without clear communication, good employees may lose confidence and leave. 

Nature abhors a vacuum and if management is not forthcoming with what staff wants and needs to know, the grapevine will create the answers.  This then puts executives on the defensive trying to deny the rumors. 

Companies that focus on communicating with their employees with “town hall” meetings and one-on-one interactions generally don’t have a problem with grapevines because employees aren’t left to wonder about the company’s future. Instead, they are given information upfront and encouraged to be open and honest about their issues and concerns. 

When distributors value clear and transparent communication, employees feel more engaged, valued and purpose-driven, which will benefit your organization. So, how can you improve your company’s communication strategy?

6 Best Practices for Improving Communication & Employee Engagement 

With so many people working in remote and hybrid environments, companies must work harder than ever to keep up communications and encourage engagement. I’ve outlined several steps you can take to drive employee engagement and establish transparent communication in the workplace.  

1. Conduct employee engagement surveys 

Conducting an employee engagement survey every two to three years is a great way to get a pulse on your workplace culture. Ask employees if they know and understand the company’s values and vision and allow them to grade your management. Surveys can provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of your leadership, communication initiatives and employee satisfaction. Identify areas that need improvement, and make a plan to address them.  Sopmetimes it hurts, we recently had a distributor owner rated in the bottom decile of all CEOs by his employees. 

2. Allow employees to play a role in shaping goals 

Employees who have a role in defining their company’s goals will have a sense of ownership and be more engaged and committed. Remember, there is a difference between being compliant (following along with someone else’s objectives) and being fully committed. Employees who are actively engaged in their company’s future have higher labor productivity and make fewer mistakes. 

3. In volatile times, double down on transformation efforts 

When COVID-19 hit, many businesses focused on what was happening around them instead of looking inward. Supply chain constraints, customer relationship management and revenue losses demanded their attention. Unfortunately, this meant that distributors weren’t paying enough attention to their team; great employees left to find better opportunities, and mediocre ones stayed behind to collect a paycheck. 

In volatile times, distributors must intensify the focus on transparent communication and employee engagement. When customers are struggling, you need your best team members on the job to find solutions. Sit down with your employees and explain where you are going, what roadblocks the company faces and what they can do to improve things. You’ll be surprised by your employees’ resilience when they feel indispensable.  

4. Remove ambiguity by developing a clear plan with employee input 

Confidence comes from communication. Create a crystal clear vision for where your business is going, what that will look like and how employees can be involved. Then, communicate that vision to your team and give them the ability to provide feedback. Embrace employee-driven innovation – they’re the most familiar with day-to-day issues that need attention. 

The best way to remove ambiguity in your organization is to: 

  • Define your “North Star”  
  • Communicate goals with your team 
  • Give employees the tools to develop a plan 

5. Have “human” leaders in your organization 

According to Gartner, a “human” leader is authentic, empathetic and adaptive; they act purposefully, show genuine care and respect for their employees and support their team’s unique needs. Unfortunately, only 29% of Gartner survey respondents said that their leaders were “human” leaders.  

Outstanding leadership goes hand-in-hand with productivity and team performance. Great leaders will be open and transparent, create growth opportunities for their team and be open to feedback. Human leadership is only possible in an organization that has embraced transparent communication.  

6. Create a scoreboard to give employees something to strive for 

People are naturally competitive. One McKinsey study found that more than half of employees are driven by non-financial recognition. This means engagement often comes down to factors other than money, such as the chance to be seen and recognized by management and peers. Encourage engagement by creating a scorecard to reward motivated employees.  

The Need for Transformational Change in Distribution 

Widespread labor shortages have wreaked havoc on the global economy. Employees don’t just want bonuses and pool tables – they want flexibility, ownership and open communication. If you don’t make changes, you may wake up one day to find that your best employees are gone.  

Distributors who want to stay in the game must do something different; go the extra mile and create a roadmap towards establishing clear and transparent communication at every level of your organization. 

Think about all the studies cited about poor leadership and frustrated employees.  What is the commercial impact if a firm had strong human leadership?  What would that cost compared to other investments? 

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3 Strategies for Distributors to Weather the Supply Chain Crunch  https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/3-strategies-for-distributors-to-weather-the-supply-chain-crunch/ https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/3-strategies-for-distributors-to-weather-the-supply-chain-crunch/#respond Tue, 22 Feb 2022 16:00:36 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/?p=12115 The supply chain is now the equivalent of a wild pendulum with sporadic oscillations.

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As we’re all aware: The supply chain is no longer as dependable as it used to be. It’s now the equivalent of a wild pendulum with sporadic oscillations.  

Demand is also fuzzy and seems to be ever-changing. Think about the start of the pandemic, when there was a massive shortage of masks and gloves. People were doing some really interesting things to find and stockpile these supplies. Now companies give away masks and gloves because they have so much backstock. It’s the same scenario that’s going to play out in the automotive industry. Right now, there’s a shortage of chips. Manufacturers are still making cars while they wait, so once they have the chips, there’s going to be overstock of vehicles and companies offering major deals and incentives to buy a new car.  

The current challenge is inflation. There are steep increases across the board. Because of inflation and an uncertain supply chain, manufacturers are hearing the same refrain from their distributors: “You have to stop passing the price increases because I can’t pass them on to my customers” or “When are you going to deliver product to me?” 

It’s obvious that the exaggerated pendulum of a supply chain will be with us throughout this year and potentially into 2023. So how do distributors deal with the consequences and resulting inflation? 

In an inflationary environment, you have to watch closely for changes and, when you recognize a change, react quickly. You must be ready and able to make changes within the day or hours – not weeks. Being agile determines whether you succeed (and survive) an inflationary period. 

How Distributors Can Respond 

Distributors need to be closer to their supply chain partners. Share more data and look for the best price. The companies that are more aligned with their suppliers are the most successful during unpredictable times. 

Get customers to behave differently. You have to figure out what the customer really needs and provide that, which might go against what they “want.” For example, although the cleaning industry is a recession-proof industry, it’s still supply-chain-dependent. Distributors can tell their customers not to schedule orders for rush delivery. You could say, “I’ll deliver 80% of your A items monthly and cover the cost of the freight, and you can add to that order any time you want, but you can’t change the order without a 30-day notice.” 

Here’s another example from the healthcare industry: A hospital called their distributor and requested 80 respirators, but the distributor could only provide 20. Although the hospital was insistent, the distributor remained strong and said, “I can only provide 20, but I’ll give you 20 every month, and you can start to backfill the rest.” 

Use the features and parameter settings in your ERP system. Most distributors have dynamic scheduling and safety stock; however, many of them don’t actually use these features. If a distributor is using their inventory management system to its fullest potential, over 75% of the line items they order from suppliers should be computer generated. That means no human touches on those orders; they’re automatically being sent.  

Most distributors have about 30% of their orders being computer-generated because it’s hard for some employees to let go and let the technology run that part of the show.  

Surprisingly, you don’t have to buy more or new software to be successful: You just need to utilize what you paid for more effectively. If you don’t know how to use your systems, make sure your staff gets the proper training.  

If distributors follow these steps, roughly half of the supply chain crunch and resulting problems would disappear. You can weather wild swings in the supply chain pendulum. You just have to be agile and ready with the right tools and strategy to respond. 

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The Two Areas of Business Distributors Must Focus on If They Want to Win https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/the-2-areas-of-business-distributors-must-focus-on-if-they-want-to-win/ Wed, 30 Dec 2020 06:00:06 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/the-2-areas-of-business-distributors-must-focus-on-if-they-want-to-win/ As practices continue to shift, there are two trends distributors should be paying close attention to in today’s market. One is understanding the role of technology, and the other is attracting and retaining talent.

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talent and tech

This article was originally written in September 2019 and was updated in December 2020 to take into account COVID-19 shifts.

As practices continue to shift, there are two trends distributors should be paying close attention to in today’s market. One is understanding the role of technology, and the other is attracting and retaining talent.

Attracting and Keeping Talent

It cannot be denied that recruiting qualified talent is no easy feat. There has always been tension between the way “things used to be” from the experience of more mature leaders and “how it is today” from the mindset of younger professionals. That has not changed.

Distributors must revisit their recruitment strategies to reflect these questions. Training and education opportunities must remain at the top of this list. It does not end there. Compensation packages alone are not enough to lure potential applicants; they want to work for a company that values work-life balance and prioritizes social responsibility. Like it or not, that is the truth.

COVID-19 pushed most administrative jobs out of the office and into people’s dining rooms and home offices. There was growing pressure from employees over the last several years around working from home, which many companies resisted. The genie’s now out of the bottle and the focus needs to be on how to ensure employees retain the connection that sharing a workspace with colleagues provided. Forcing this with happy hour calls or other cyber-events is something Boomers would think is a good idea, but younger staff might find artificial.

Another consideration in keeping the team engaged: Despite having more time available from not having to commute it seems we’re all busier.

We all have nine hour-long conference calls scheduled back-to-back every day and end up running behind with our shirts advertising what we had for lunch. This might feel productive but it’s not. Try extending the duration of calls so there is time for catching up with your teams. Try to buffer calls by 15 or 30 minutes so there is time to digest and reflect on any new information that was received instead of just rushing to the next call, for which of course you’re already late.

Working from home has always brought productivity and data security concerns, but there are many ways to monitor these. The mistake not to make is to apply a lowest common-denominator approach and let the potential of having one bad apple guide policies that are big brother like and apply universally.  

The “we can attract millennials by having cool breakrooms” phase is over. A previous client went as far as to put a golf simulator in to try and attract millennial talent. It was never used. In fact, it became a company joke that the only employees that used it were already on their way out (or high enough up that no one could fire them for not looking busy all the time). Focus instead on training and work flexibility.

In terms of retaining top sales talent, there are additional considerations. Instead of throwing them to the wolves as was common back in the day, build them a playbook. Consider each employee as part of the team and teach them the plays they need to win. Specialize your sales team. Give each player their own job, their own unique set of responsibilities based on their experience and their ability. This will free up your most expensive talent to do the most valuable work at the greatest return. There is no reason your top-performing salesperson should be doing inventory counts.

Using Technology and Data to Add Value

Along with securing top talent, it is no secret that technology and data are driving the future, but there are pitfalls to collecting data that you will never use. If you are a data geek, you can never have enough data.  But if you are a normal human being, eventually the data becomes overwhelming and you suffer from data fatigue. Even if you collect every piece of data under the sun, only share what your employees really need.  Some distributors are using adjustable dashboards where leaders see the full picture, but employees only see what was necessary to their function. They are changeable in real time and data can be removed and added as needed, even throughout a day, week or month. This removes the noise of historical or non-essential at the end of a day when everyone is in crunch mode trying to get orders loaded.

Rather than throwing money at the latest and greatest software, invest in effective technology that can collect data that will help predict customer needs, anticipate market fluctuation, and make better business decisions.

At the same time, invest in getting employees comfortable with data. Putting in a CRM system and starting to collect data does not go far if employees are not onboard. A recent client had a robust Power BI setup that no one was using. The company was trying to force and mandate usage and it was having no effect or a negative effect as employees actively avoided using it. On our recommendation, they were able to shift their approach and pull employees along by showing the value the system could have to them. Employees who embraced and checked their Power BI dashboard were the ones that saw it make them more money (or helped them catch  sales or an error they would have normally missed). The key was to not get too frustrated with the lack of adaptability and instead learn why and prove the value in the only way sales reps understand ($).

Companies must blend experience with the data. Even the best data models could not have predicted the rapid change that COVID-19 has brought about. The models that have survived the best are the ones that used both data and the expertise/experience of people that have been through uncertain times. Trust and verify. Finding someone that can call BS when the data has holes (or no historical precedent) will be invaluable in time of uncertainty and rapid change. Distributors must know that if they continue to play with the old set of rules, they will lose.

Learn how Indian River Consulting Group’s strategic advisory, sales compensation and speaking services can help you respond to and leverage disruptive forces in the coming year.

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3 Distribution Trends to Take Advantage of in 2021 https://www.ircg.com/blog/distribution/3-distribution-trends-to-take-advantage-of-in-2021/ Mon, 28 Dec 2020 13:17:55 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/3-distribution-trends-to-take-advantage-of-in-2018/ Customer expectations have been changing for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic simply magnified and accelerated them in 2020.

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Customer expectations have been changing for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic simply magnified and accelerated them in 2020. Being on the defensive is only a strategy if you want to lose slower. For distributors who are willing to play offense, there are three major trends to watch and take advantage of in 2021

B2B customer expectations have changed online.

Customers are no longer happy to only have a basic online buying process; they expect their experience to be as good as the experience in their everyday B2C life. As a distributor, you are judged by the standards of Amazon or Uber, not the mom-and-pop competitor across town that still hand writes all their orders. Customers demand control, dynamic shopping experiences and access to what they see on their own landing page. 

With so many channels available, they will no longer put up with your archaic ordering system and will actively punish you for having it by buying less or buying elsewhere. Customers are often not broadcasting those purchasing shifts, and unless you are constantly monitoring, you may not notice the change for months.

Is your ecommerce giving you an advantage or holding you back? Do you have any data to support your opinion?

Technology natives influence buying decisions – and they don’t want to talk to you.

Millennial and Gen Z are the first generations to grow up completely immersed in technology. Technology is natural to them and their daily lives. Unlike previous generations, they have no need to adapt technology to their life, it is a part of everything they do. Because of the expectations of technology, the selling role has shifted so far that it has become an entirely new discipline. 

In fact, your customers do not want to speak to you. No matter how much your sales team wants you to believe differently, it is true in the vast majority of cases. In national interviews across a broad range of industries, the same theme is expressed: “I don’t want to talk to a salesperson unless I have a problem. I can check my own prices and if all you are going to tell me is what I can already find on your portal, what use are you to me?” 

The new expectation is to stay out of the way until you are needed. However, once you are needed it better be fast. In fact, they expect you to have anticipated it.  

Are you still “selling” your customers or are you anticipating their problems?

Uncertainty has grown.

There is not a consultant or industry expert worth their salt that is not talking about uncertainty. Things we knew with 100% confidence six months ago are now flipped on their head. Your customers are worn out and scared even if they will not admit it to themselves. Yet, with uncertainty comes opportunity. Every critical event is another opportunity for you to become “stickier” and more important to your customers. For successful distributors, the two biggest levers are credit and returns. 

  • Credit: Pick the companies that align best with your value proposition and extend extra terms or forgiveness periods. Break your rules, but give them piece of mind that you will not be their enemy when uncertainty comes to their business.
  • Returns: Get flexible. Projects dry up quicker than ever and a “guaranteed project” means nothing. As with flexible credit terms, pick your winners and be ready to do things much more leniently with returns to keep them happy and relaxed.

Are you the “trusted partner” for your customers?

Learn how Indian River Consulting Group’s strategic advisory, sales compensation and speaking services can help you respond to and leverage disruptive forces in the coming year.

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How to Reduce the Cost of Sales to Thrive in a Post-Pandemic Market https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/how-to-reduce-the-cost-of-sales-to-thrive-in-a-post-pandemic-market/ Sat, 07 Nov 2020 00:25:11 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/how-to-reduce-the-cost-of-sales-to-thrive-in-a-post-pandemic-market/ The world of distribution has proud roots dating back to the end of WWII. But making historical assumptions on the journey of transforming sales models can result in costly pitfalls, especially in a post-pandemic world. The market is changing too quickly.

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How to Reduce the Cost of Sales to Thrive in a Post Pandemic MarketThe world of distribution has proud roots dating back to the end of WWII. But making historical assumptions on the journey of transforming sales models can result in costly pitfalls, especially in a post-pandemic world. The market is changing too quickly.

Now more than ever is the time for leaders to evaluate selling costs. Distributors must ask the following questions:

  • What is the difference between a sale and a transaction?
  • Is our current sales system reflecting how customers are actually buying product?
  • Are costly resources being wasted with outside field reps ultimately performing customer service tasks instead of initiating new business?

It may be uncomfortable at first to challenge long-held beliefs. For instance, some distributors worry that if a field sales rep is removed from a territory, that volume will disappear. But our research shows that around 90% of sales to existing customers are repurchases rather than new sales. Data-driven insights like these can lead to thoughtful cost-cutting redesigns like replacing generalist sales reps with positions more suited to what the customer really values to save big money down the road – while maintaining or even improving customer service.

Leadership Drives Transformation

Remember, academic research runs about five to 10 years behind what you are currently doing. The pandemic has incited five years of digital transformation in a matter of months, only widening the gap between the leaders who have been innovating and those who haven’t. The most successful distributors in this moment are able to:

  • Analyze big data: Detail-oriented leadership actively fights for clean data to make sure it’s usable for guiding transformation processes to cut sales costs. For instance, segmenting customer data can help reveal customers who do not need the economic investment of a field sales rep, leading to a more productive territory design.
  • Effectively implement change: Leaders who have been using project management tools in transforming business process design for years are well positioned to face the kinds of exponential changes happening today. Those who have responded by hoping that those market changes are linear are facing a severe uphill battle of playing catch up.

Lifestyle leaders often choose to take the path later while professional managers know the journey to building these skills is long, but that it’s well worth the payoff.

4 Ways to Reduce Sales Costs 

Ultimately, earning a higher financial return than your competitors comes down to two things: price advantage or cost advantage or both. While the wholesale distribution market rarely has control of setting prices, the landscape is wide open for building a strong competitive advantage by reducing selling costs without sacrificing service. Here are four strategic levers successful distributors use to lower sales costs:

Role Specialization

Customers are never going to confess their problems to a website, just as field sales reps should not spend valuable hours tracking orders and writing quotes. That’s why it’s important for distributors to break down existing sales jobs into their component pieces and determine if the right people are doing the right activities.

Role specialization ensures that the most specialized professionals only work on high-value tasks. Nuanced work with the highest return, like developing new business, is assigned to the highest-paid team members like sales reps. Specialization groups lower-value activities like managing quotes with appropriately-trained staff who are positioned to fulfill those tasks quickly. Redesigning for specialization is a process, but it’s the first and most impactful change distributors can make to increase sales efficiency and reduce costs.

Digitize Artisan Processes

Unique imperfections are great for artists handcrafting pottery, but not for sales processes. Gone are the days of transcribing customer orders from a fax or a phone call. With so many automated tools available, sales labor costs can be greatly reduced by investing in inexpensive digital solutions. Digital sales tools are also more responsive, consistent and reliable.

Separate Market-Making Activities from Market-Serving Activities

Providing excellent service to current customers should not interfere with creating new ones. Market-serving activities protect revenue streams with customers by managing a frictionless customer service experience. These involve a predictable flow of less-specialized tasks like managing returns or providing information. This allows distributors to pull these activities out and group them together with less costly resources like an outbound telemarketing group, digital customer service tools, or even creating a hybrid inside/outside team of salespeople.

Market-making activities require specialization to effectively displace competitors or increase distributors’ share of customers’ wallets. Keeping market-making activities separate frees up more expensive workers like field sales reps to initiate, build and expand relationships with customers. Too often, field salespeople become involved in managing recurring transactions instead of passing these market-serving activities off to inside salespeople.

Create a Clear Value Proposition

Traditional value propositions are changing. In the past, salespeople have been the value proposition, relying on the “sell myself first” angle. But analyzing the gap between what distributors think they’re selling and what customers are actually buying reveals opportunities to pull customers into a stronger relationship with their distributor, not just their salesperson.

For example, arming salespeople with unique support tools like services or subscriptions can strengthen a customer’s connection to their distributor. This lets salespeople get out of transactional activities and into helping customers solve problems and creating recurring revenue streams. Salespeople are still critical. But in shifting the value proposition off salespeople’s shoulders, those reps can work on expanding the number of relationships between the customer and the distributor, eventually becoming a secondary contact as the business itself becomes the draw.

Increasing sales efficiency does not happen overnight; it often involves turnover and learning curves for new systems and digitized processes. It means relearning customer segmentation and making tough choices to create stickier value propositions. But effective distributors know how to wield their data to guide cost-cutting transformations. And great leaders can clarify the benefits by leading their teams toward maximizing profits in an exponentially changing market.

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2 Proven Ways to Add Real Value for Customers Instead of Just Cutting Prices https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/2-proven-ways-to-add-real-value-for-customers-instead-of-just-cutting-prices/ Wed, 23 Sep 2020 08:09:18 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/5-value-drivers-that-don-t-involve-cutting-prices/ When asked how you can provide them with more value, most customers will instantly suggest a price cut. After all, it is the easiest way to compare multiple vendors and as the old adage goes, “It never hurts to ask!”

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Price Value IRCGWhen asked how you can provide them with more value, most customers will instantly suggest a price cut. After all, it is the easiest way to compare multiple vendors and as the old adage goes, “It never hurts to ask!” For a distributor though, discounts are the surest way to erode margins and start the all-too-frequent race to the bottom.

Realizing this, well-intentioned distributors look for other ways to provide value, offering things like “load up and buy now” programs or back-end rebates instead. But promotions like these – which can lower customer inventory turns and hold back customer margins – do not always provide real value. Here are two better ways to provide customer value that do not focus on traditional price cuts and instead leverage the growing trend of data analytics.

Provide documented cost savings.

Most distributors are not actively documenting customer cost savings, which is a big mistake, because customers tend to discount the impact of a distributor’s efforts unless they are quantified. Whether you’ve enabled your customer to avoid costly downtime through safety initiatives, heroic recoveries or other programs, or helped them cut holding and shipping costs through vendor-managed inventory engagements, you’ve had a quantifiable impact whether you’ve measured it or not.

For example, let’s say distributor X is a supplier of consumable-based products to an industrial market. When it came time for customer A’s multi-annual contract to be rebid, many competitors low-balled the SKUs on a per-item basis as the traditional “large bid” process typically goes. This time, distributor X took a vastly different approach. Instead of racing to the bottom with an apples-to-apples price war, the distributor strategically adjusted its per-item pricing based on caveats tied directly to supply chain behaviors for the various items. (Some prices went up while others went down.) The drivers behind these behaviors were assigned tangible and relevant values that were to be tracked and reported on throughout the engagement to demonstrate the total value provided to the customer by distributor X.

Despite submitting a bid that was noticeably higher than the competition (and well above its previous contract value for the same items with similar annual volumes), distributor X was awarded the business. How did they do this? Knowing that they would surely lose the contract if item price was the main comparative factor, distributor X made proactive efforts to set the stage for a conscious apples-to-oranges comparison by the customer during bid evaluation.

Before the RFQ was released, distributor X began Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) conversations with customer A’s key decision-makers and explained how their upcoming bid submittal would likely be higher than the competitors, but for good reasons that would ultimately improve the net value enjoyed by customer A.

By proactively estimating the number of labor hours that could be saved (or even repurposed) and demonstrating the potential reduction in downtime based on prescribed behavioral changes, distributor X was able to offer a TCO with actual documentation of savings that outweighed the product price cuts being offered by the competition. Just a few months into their renewed term as the incumbent supplier, distributor X was able to show how their supply chain management innovations had put two hours per day back into the hands of a purchasing agent, one hour per day for both of the shift managers, and four hours per week for a payables coordinator. In addition, they were also able to prevent the stock-out of a critical item that would have halted all production for at least the better half of a day.

Share what you know.

What hard-earned knowledge do you have that your customers lack? Could you give them guidance in terms of succession planning, supply chain management or data analytics? Alternatively, what have you experienced or seen work with businesses that look like theirs? Specifically keep in mind where you could share best practices to add value without impeding your other clients’ existing competitive advantage. 

Thinking back to the industrial consumables example from earlier, what other accounts (existing or new) consume similar items but do not manufacture competitive equipment nor provide like-services to similar end-users in overlapping geographies? As a distributor, you can build a solution once and sell it multiple times, providing cumulative customer value that far exceeds your initial investment.

In today’s world of big data, it is becoming more frequent for a distributor to collect, analyze and share activity and consumption reports directly with customers. This introduces an entirely different topic into the normal conversation that for so long lived on the combination of widget features, benefits and price. In fact, it can even give you a relevant touchpoint for customers who are not interested in the old-school dog and pony show or same day same time next week milk-run visit.

Providing fact-based and customer-specific information such as order, category and product insights around spend, frequency and consistency can deliver new and increased value to your customers, especially if they do not have easy access to this information on their own. Getting this information into the hands of the right folks at an account can ultimately help them make better-informed decisions about running their business, which can in turn quickly make you their supplier of choice.

For example, distributor Y, a leader in the plumbing and PVF market, has been working with customer B, a large service and repair contractor, for many years. Since the beginning, the relationship has revolved around product availability and fair prices. The typical day sees all 10 of customer B’s service trucks visiting any one of distributor Y’s counter locations at least once, but typically two times or more to get the needed materials.

As experts in their field, distributor Y recognized that to continue growing and become more profitable themselves, they had to deliver enhanced value beyond pricing and availability to customers like customer B. After some internal analysis of order frequency and product consistency, distributor Y developed a program for customer B that would reduce the time their service trucks spent procuring material at the counters (away from job sites) and increase their time and capacity for billable hours.

Though there were initial challenges to getting the solution implemented, both sides of the equation realized tangible benefits. Over the next several weeks, customer B increased their average billable hours per day by 25% across all 10 trucks which equates to 25% top-line growth coupled with a highly accretive bottom-line impact. At the same time, distributor Y was able to reduce its cost to serve for this account, which in turn provided increased capacity to service additional customers, with no increase in required resources.

Distributor Y replicated the approach with other similar accounts and achieved scale by launching a formal program offering for service contractors with an attractive ROI for all participants.

Given the moderate complexity of the above examples, your sales reps may need training, new skills, new relationships at accounts and possibly even a new compensation plan to inspire them to find and deliver new ways to provide customer value. But doing so may inspire more productive customer conversations and even increase joint efforts among your internal teams for tackling opportunities and increasing customer-stickiness together.

At the end of the day, it is important to recognize that customers are not gullible. You cannot trick them into thinking you provide value by offering them worthless promotions, bling, trash or trinkets. Only by providing them with real value can you help them grow and earn your place as their preferred supplier. Regardless of market conditions, and whether before, during or after Covid-19, best-of-breed distributors have and will continue to gain market share at an above-average rate by being transparent, innovative and collaborative while leveraging available data to drive informed decisions.

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The No. 1 Mistake in Strategic Planning is Not Focusing on Customer Insight https://www.ircg.com/blog/business-strategy/the-no-1-mistake-in-strategic-planning-is-not-focusing-on-customer-insight/ Mon, 11 May 2020 20:29:54 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/the-no-1-mistake-in-strategic-planning-is-not-focusing-on-customer-insight/ The need for a strong strategy does not stop because of unprecedented times. If anything, troubling times should highlight the importance of a sound strategy based on customer needs and market realities.

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The No 1 Mistake in Strategic Planning is Not Focusing on Customer InsightThe need for a strong strategy does not stop because of unprecedented times. If anything, troubling times should highlight the importance of a sound strategy based on customer needs and market realities.

Strategy starts from the outside in. That is, strategy starts with your customers, both what they need and what they could do without. It’s not enough to just ask your sales team what they think because they won’t think objectively. They’re focused on selling (which is what you want them to do). Their every interaction with a customer comes back to “How can this help me sell them more in the future?” It’s not their fault; it’s the way they are wired. However, you need to be accountable to your customers.

Starting from the inside is the No. 1 error distributors make when creating a strategy. Rather, you must start with your customers and their needs, wants, desires and demands. Many distributors launch their strategies by doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). They get in a room, discuss what they think they are good at, bad at, could improve on and should keep an eye out for. The issue is that this runs a high risk of becoming an echo chamber. If customer challenges are changing, then their expectations are changing as well.

You may think you know your business and customers best and can evaluate what you are doing well or not. But how well do you really know your customers and their emerging challenges? Do you have a source of insight that does not rely on your sales force? How often do you take the time to truly understand what your customers value (or more importantly, don’t value) about your services?

You may have gotten away with building your strategy without proper customer insights in the past but the ability to do so is quickly disappearing. Worthy competition, internet transparency, industry consolidation and uncertain times mean gaining and keeping profitable customers is more important (and more challenging) than ever. Without a clear understanding of your customer’s changing expectations you run the risk of grossly under delivering (not satisfying their needs) and/or over delivering (wasting resources on needs they don’t have).

To build any true strategy, start with customer insights as your foundation.

What is customer insight, and why does it matter?

There are many types of customer insights and depending on your goal and use for the insights, some are better than others. When it comes to strategy, the best source of customer insight is qualitative interviews.

Qualitative interviews involve asking questions to drive an in-depth discussion between peers to find out what motivates or drives customer behavior.

Customer insight, then, is the resulting data. Without it, you are making decisions based on opinions. It takes discipline to utilize data, but it presents the best opportunity for actionable results.

How to get customer insight

The way your customer insight data is collected is key. The better the methodology, the better the results and the usefulness of the data. Poor methods mean constantly questioning the data and its validity. The best way to collect customer data is by going straight to the source. Below are some tips for creating better customer insights.

Conduct qualitative interviews. Qualitative interviews are a one-on-one discussion between trusting peers. It is not a group or panel discussion. It does not have to be in-person. In fact, phone is often better because it removes the temptation of discussing other business. Regardless, it must be a conversation and not an emailed set of questions. While some customers will continue to be in crisis mode, many will appreciate your interest in their business outside the normal chain of communication (especially if the interest comes from an owner or senior executive). Initiating a rapport today, even if it is an abbreviated version of a qualitative interview, may allow for deeper insights in the future with customers more willing to carve out time down the road to discuss broader strategic issues and insights.

Focus their attention. Any visit or call to discover customer insights should be singularly focused. Don’t try to tack it onto the end of a sales call or the beginning of a quarterly review. The interview should be the only focus, or it will be diluted and influenced by whatever the other conversations are about.

Ask guiding questions. Qualitative interviews start with an interview guide. An interview guide is a set of questions that help guide a conversation, not a form to be filled out and answered. The questions are a starting point and the interviewer must dig deeper and ask intelligent follow-up questions. An interviewer needs to understand the source of opinions and get past the surface “fluff.”

Encourage dialogue. Questions should be open ended and encourage a dialogue. Yes and no questions do not work, and will stop a conversation in its tracks. Consider provocative questions such as, “If we were to go away, what would you miss most and what would you do about it?” or “If you were king for the day, what is the one thing that you would change about your business?” or “What is the most persistent problem that you keep working on but it won’t go away?” Use this as an opportunity to better understand their business, not just what you can do for them.

Don’t be afraid of basic questions. Ask basic questions, and don’t worry about admitting you don’t know something. Avoid assumptions. If you don’t ask a question because everyone knows the answer you won’t know if your assumption is true.

Be curious. Always ask the next question. Always ask “Why is that?” Or “Why do you do that?” or “What does that mean?” Have them define terms like “service,” “responsive,” or “relationship.” What do those terms mean to them? Listen to understand, not to respond.

Listen for what’s unsaid. The things that are not said are as important as the things that are. If you do something unique and that you believe is truly valuable, but it never comes up with customers unless you prompt them, then it probably is not as valuable as you think. Pay attention to what you don’t hear. Here’s a great example: We were taking a client through the customer interview process. We conducted dozens of interviews with a wide range of their customers. At one of the read-out meetings, a senior VP interrupted as asked, “What about the gift cards? We need to make sure we don’t forget about the gift cards”. We exchanged looks and asked “What gift cards?” It turns out, every Christmas they give every customer a $200 gift card as a thank you for their business. The Senior VP was convinced that customers loved the gift cards and would buy less if the client were to do away with them. Yet in dozens of conversations, not a single customer brought up the gift cards.

Schedule multiple interviews. Encourage several employees to conduct the interviews. Don’t worry if they are not customer-facing employers. In fact, the ones that don’t normally ask questions tend to be the best at gathering customer insights. They are not concerned about looking foolish or asking obvious questions because they genuinely don’t know the answers. In fact, at multiple companies, the best interviews come from either the finance department or HR — often the least customer-facing of departments. Sales reps go to great lengths to never come across as anything but knowledgeable, which contributes to why gaining customer wallet share through product expansion initiatives often fail, but that’s a different article. Personnel in back-office functions don’t have the same concerns about maintaining the “expert” role.

Watch for themes. Discuss your customer insights as a team throughout the information-gathering process. This is often the most revealing part. Have interviewers share their notes and discuss the potential insights as small team, paying attention to themes as they begin to appear.

Keep it about the customer. Remember, with customer insights, it’s all about the customer. While it’s natural to talk about what you can do for a customer, try to avoid spending too much time on the subject. The goal is finding out what they need — even the things they are not getting from you. If you get stuck, try to get them to compare you with a competitor, or ask about an unrelated side of their business (something you don’t serve) to keep the ideas flowing.

Gathering effective customer insights is both an art and a science. It takes time and practice to perfect. Yet, it is immensely important and forms the foundation of any good strategy.

Remember, this is not the first time our backs have been against the wall. Our country has an unequaled legacy of innovation and your customers, like you, are coming up with creative ways to survive and thrive. These problem-solving efforts will undoubtably bring about permanent changes in the competitive advantage balance. Hearing from your customers today will give you early awareness of emerging solutions and allow you to react quickly to the new landscape.

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Access Now: Distributor Response to COVID-19 – 04/17/2020 MDM On Demand Recording https://www.ircg.com/blog/webinar/join-our-webinar-on-april-17-with-mdm-live-distributor-response-to-covid-19/ Thu, 16 Apr 2020 19:48:21 +0000 https://www.ircg.com/join-our-webinar-on-april-17-with-mdm-live-distributor-response-to-covid-19/ On April 17 MDM CEO Tom Gale and IRCG Founding Partner Mike Marks held a Live webinar you can now watch on demand. Learn the latest updates on how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting customers, suppliers, operations and teams.

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Join Our Webinar with MDM LIVE Distributor Response to COVID 19 4 17 20 250On April 17 MDM CEO Tom Gale and IRCG Founding Partner Mike Marks held a Live webinar you can now watch on demand. Learn the latest updates on how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting customers, suppliers, operations and teams.

This April 17 MDM Live covers topics such as how to avoid group think around the emerging new normal, as well as ways to strengthen your sales team. Plus, we hear from a North American PPE wholesaler and other distributors on how they are pivoting to market conditions that shift daily. The panel of distribution experts includes:

  • Mark Dancer, Network for Business Innovation
  • Jennifer Murphy, NetPlus Alliance
  • Christian Wiltrout, Surewerx
  • Henry Bruckstein, CampaignStars 

Watch the webinar now.

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