Bridge the Disconnect Between Tech and Culture in the Use of Big Data

Written by Mike Marks on Tuesday, 04 April 2017. Posted in Digital Distribution, Distribution

Only 1 in 5 e-commerce executives across industries rate their organizations as having a “world-class” data-driven culture, according to Clearhead’s 2016 Digital Optimization Benchmarking Study. While the study of 144 e-commerce executives found that most have analytics technology in place, staffing shortages, skills gaps and cultural barriers have meant that for many companies, “the technology that can improve customer experience, such as analytics, testing and personalization, sits on the shelf.”

And when it comes to acting, the survey also indicates decision-makers are reluctant to embrace data-based insights when they run contrary to their existing beliefs.

This has concerning implications in distribution, where the use of data is key to profitable channel management.

I recently spoke about “Big Data Analytics for the Wholesale-Distributor” at the University of Innovative Distribution. Customer data, analyzed with an open mind, should drive decisions on what your approach to field sales looks like going forward – a critical decision all distributors need to make given the ongoing shift in how customers are buying and shopping. For example, data can reveal which customers are candidates for lower-cost sales channels, which are OK in the current channel and which are candidates for more intensive, strategic sales and marketing initiatives.

But distributors – even those with analytics already in place – are often dogged in their adherence to intuition and stories rather than data when making decisions. Like the companies in Clearhead’s study, these companies also lack the manpower or cultural will to make the most of the data they already have access to.

In fact, actionable data is one of the industry’s biggest untapped assets for spurring growth.

Managers must bring this same level of stubbornness, instead, to the analysis of and reliance on big data in decision-making. They must build data analysis into their monthly or weekly processes and make it part of their routines to counter resistance from naysayers.

Distributors must also avoid the impulse to put the cart before the horse by throwing money at new sales reps before they’ve acquired the customer insights required to properly direct their efforts. Distributors who are struggling to make use of existing market or customer data should consider spending money on market research or data analysts rather than on yet another field sales rep: If the better tools and data provided to reps can make them 10 percent more effective, it will have the same impact as a 10 percent expansion of the sales force.

A renewed emphasis on data will give you a clearer view into what makes your customers tick, helping you to understand what they are really buying and how it aligns (or doesn’t align) with what you are selling.

Download the Indian River Consulting Group white paper “Five Keys to Unlocking Profitable Growth” for more tips to help you align your investments with real market opportunities.

About the Author

Mike Marks

Mike Marks

Mike Marks co-founded IRCG in April 1987. He began his consulting practice after working in distribution management for more than 20 years. Over the years, his narrow focus in B2B channel-driven markets has created an extensive number of deep executive relationships within virtually every business vertical in construction, industrial, OEM, agricultural, and healthcare.

Mike has led project teams that improve market access by aligning resources to growth opportunities serving manufacturers, dealers, and distributors. Clients have ranged from small privately owned firms to many of the industry’s market share leaders. Ownership structures have included owner-operators, private equity, ESOPs, and publically traded firms. Mike is proud of the teams work and the confidence clients have shown with additional project work.

He has written extensively, and is frequently quoted on many industry issues. He has substantial board experience on both public and private distribution firms. His contributions to the field include serving multiple terms as a Research Fellow with the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, permanent faculty at Purdue University’s University of Industrial Distribution, eight years as Graduate Adjunct Faculty in the Industrial Distribution Program at Texas A & M University, and rendering several precedent-setting expert opinions in contract disputes between manufacturers and distributors.

Prior to forming IRCG, Mike held the position of Executive Vice President at Lex Electronics, an $800 million vertically integrated electronics distributor in Stamford, CT. Mike’s path to management in his early career was through increasing responsibilities in sales and sales management. He also completed a tour of duty as a manufacturer’s representative.

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