For a measure of how e-commerce and cloud computing are obliterating old business relationships and creating new, unexpected, and deeper partnerships, look no farther than distributors that are embedding themselves much more deeply in their key accounts’ day-to-day operations.
In times past, the underlying rule of business was that good fences made good neighbors. Customers and suppliers would interact, visit back and forth, and gradually get to know each other’s business needs, wants, and abilities. They would build mutual respect, might eventually become friends, might even get families together for an evening or a special occasion.
But there were still more walls than windows. Business was business, and companies would never have expected direct visibility into each other’s operations.
Business is still business. And you’ll always have some secondary accounts—the occasional orders, or the regular customers who are just interested in a simple, static buy-and-sell relationship—where there’s no need or reason to disrupt the old rules.
But at least for your top accounts and your best prospects—the ones you most need to protect before Amazon or Grainger Supply comes to call—the walls are becoming more porous. That’s good news for all concerned, and the change has been driven by the very same signature market disruptor that many distributors see as a potentially deadly competitor.
It was Amazon that introduced the bright, cheerful, easy-to-use e-commerce platforms that transformed retail sales and now set the standard for the speed and functionality customers expect in their business transactions. It was Amazon, again, that first began experimenting with the “if this, then maybe that?” product referrals that became a cornerstone for CRM systems that now anticipate customers’ needs before they’ve even formed the thought.