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For distributors, the rate of change within an already volatile, ultra-competitive market seems to be accelerating rather than slowing down. As mid-size and smaller distributors battle for market share with bigger organizations and of course, Amazon, relevance has become a critical success factor.   Unfortunately, smaller companies may not be able to win if they focus on competing against the massive logistics capabilities of Amazon, or the giant catalogs and sophisticated tech stacks of the mega distributor. The good news, however, is that there are significant opportunities – based on smart B2B commerce strategies – that can only be pursued by more nimble organizations.

These opportunities – what we’ve defined over the past few years here at Insite as ‘disruptors’ – can appear to be challenges at first glance. A deeper look, however, reveals some real advantages for small to mid-size distributors that can be used not only to stay alive, but to thrive in this increasingly complex B2B marketplace.

Once again this year, Insite’s B2B commerce experts have identified the top disruptors for distributors in 2019. Our blog series will uncover the hidden opportunities within these disruptors – and ways to start building smarter, more advanced B2B commerce strategies to take maximum advantage of each and every one.

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Stay with us as we summarize 2019’s disruptors, and then explain more in posts each week over the next month.  To begin, here are the primary factors leading distribution disruption in 2019:

 

          1. Manufacturers Assessing the Digital Readiness of their Distribution Channels. We’re starting to see many manufacturers asking for proof of “digital readiness” from their distribution channels. Although many manufacturers want to remain loyal to their channels, they can’t allow those channels to fail and potentially damage revenue potential or even their brand reputation. In the past, manufacturers have tried rewards to accelerate the digital transformation of their distributors but we see that strategy changing in 2019. More and more, the competitive intensity of the market is forcing manufacturers to mandate digital readiness on the part of their distributors.Although pressure from these new requirements might cause some sleepless nights, it does bring the need for a more aggressive plan to increase digital capabilities to the forefront. The executive suite may be more likely to allocate more budget faced with these mandates. Manufacturers focused on digital readiness also provide an opportunity for small to mid-sized distributors to develop strategies that aren’t geared toward a 100% online buying solution. Distributors can take advantage of this disruption to plan and design hybrid B2B commerce environments that adapt to the needs of the complex B2B market.
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          3. Technology and Infrastructure Itself. It’s a common misconception that distributors must buy a massive, powerful tech stack to manage every aspect of the enterprise, including B2B commerce. The resources – both financial and human – required to manage these types of IT environments are outside the realm of possibility for many organizations. Oracle, for example, may seem like the “best” solution, but for most smaller distributors, they are not a realistic answer. Instead of helping them compete, they simply bury distributors in integration and management overhead.The real answer is identifying solutions that meet most requirements for mid-size distributors right out of the box. Although they may not have the marketing budgets of Salesforce or another big budget CRM, there are many quality, affordable tech stacks that meet most B2B commerce needs. Understanding how to select the right B2B commerce platform that can manage data while providing robust, native, B2B capability is key, whether it’s InsiteCommerce or another solution.
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          5. B2C Brands are Entering the B2B Space. More and more well established B2C brands are beginning to enter the B2B space, likely responding to a downturn in brick and mortar sales combined with the lure of trillion-dollar B2B commerce forecasts. Although it may be daunting to face competition from a major brand like Ace Hardware – with their robust social media networks and well-established brand recognition – these big companies actually have a major problem. Despite a recognizable brand, they do not understand the B2B commerce experience. Although customers may try these new brands once, they often return to smaller distributors who have a much better understanding of their goals – and their desired buying experience.Smaller distributors know that by focusing on strategies that improve the efficiency of the buyer and the productivity of the buying cycle overall, they can win against B2C brands entering the market. They can even use the increased attention from competitors’ massive new marketing campaigns as a way to siphon off new business, as the bigger brands fail to provide the right level of service B2B commerce demands.
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          7. Data Driven Marketing. Considering a move, or attempting more advanced strategies with data driven marketing can seem overwhelming. But many small to mid-size distributors have a big advantage over the more impersonal interactions of an Amazon, or a mega distributor. The reason for that is typically smaller organizations have a much better understanding of their customers and how they like to buy. It doesn’t take an expensive tech stack to begin to uncover ways to collect and analyze data at a micro-level. Think about ways you can look at your existing data with the intent of discovering patterns and trends.  This naturally leads to brainstorming strategies that increase share-of-wallet whether it’s through digital cross-selling, upselling and/or other common promotional methods.It’s important to understand that NOT having a virtual “sea” of data can be an advantage. Gathering, analyzing and using smaller data sets – and adding in-depth, personal knowledge of customers to that data – can make digital tactics much more effective the first time around.

          In the coming weeks, the B2B commerce experts from Insite will provide in depth analysis of the ways these four disruptors – manufacturer pressure, technology, B2C and data – will change the market for distributors in 2019. Plus, we’ll explain ways to transform these challenges into opportunities. And we’ll explain why the small to mid-size distributor is uniquely suited to use these disruptors not only to survive – but to thrive, even against their biggest competitors.

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          Interested in seeing how our predictions held in 2018? Download last year’s eBook “Major Disruptors in 2018” and let us know if Insite’s B2B commerce experts got it right.

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