The Future of Distribution: Key Insights From MDM’s SHIFT Conference

Innovative leaders from across the country gathered at MDM’s SHIFT conference in Denver this past week to discuss the future of distribution, combining their predictions with practical strategies teams can apply today to outpace the competition. We were honored to have several of our own leaders sharing their insights during the sessions, including White Cup VP of Marketing Helen Piña and VP of Product Kristen Thom. 

While there’s so much to digest and expand upon in the coming months, here are a few key takeaways we’re eager to share. 

Distributors Are Struggling to See the Full Impact of Digital Transformation 

While most distributors recognize the importance of digital transformation, and have at minimum begun the journey, they are far from seeing the returns they expected from it. 

McKinsey partner Andrew Wong shared that although 90% of distributors invest in digital transformation, they only see 25% of the projected value from these initiatives. This is often because they underestimate the costs and time it takes to implement and maintain these projects, and they fail to account for the larger impact new technology has on their teams and processes. The ability to manage change is the most critical factor in successful digital transformation. 

Investing in technology that provides valuable business intelligence and empowers your employees to take action will also help you see returns faster. For instance, many distributors use ERP systems to manage operations, but it’s not always easy for sales and marketing teams to access the insights needed to see the strongest value from them. Having real-time data on customer orders and payments, purchasing trends, and available inventory at their fingertips helps everyone have more productive and profitable conversations. 

As more of your technology stack moves to the cloud, it’s also crucial to think about how new solutions will connect seamlessly and securely with your existing ecosystem. The ability to access data from your ERP, CRM and eCommerce systems and allow your entire team to act on them within a single platform is essential. 

Our panel discussion on minimizing complexity and maximizing value in your tech stack also offers solid recommendations for choosing the right solutions, overcoming integration and implementation challenges, and measuring success. 

Sales Teams Are Finding New Ways to Add Value

Maria Boulden, Executive Partner of Sales at Gartner, shared tremendous insights on the shifting B2B ecosystem. Despite the growing confidence in online purchasing, there’s a notable increase in buyer’s remorse in digital transactions, underscoring the need for balance between human and digital interaction. The ideal approach involves using technology for prospecting and relying on sales reps to help buyers understand value, make the right buying decisions for their particular needs, and validate that purchase. 

Buyers who interact with a sales rep are twice as likely to experience value affirmation and nearly twice as likely to complete a high-quality deal when they have the right balance of digital tools and human interaction, she said. 

When sales reps have clear insight into purchase histories, including online purchases, at both account and contact levels, they can bring added context to those conversations. They can also be more proactive in managing relationships where they can see all the relevant details for a specific customer, such as shipments and payments received, in a single customer scorecard within their CRM.

Smart Distributors See Technology as a Teammate

While distributors have been slower to adopt artificial intelligence relative to their peers in other industries, about one-third are using it in at least one capacity, according to a recent report from MDM. Leading ERP and CRM software systems are beginning to incorporate elements of AI to automate manual tasks and enhance customer relationships.

For sales teams in particular, these solutions don’t replace sales reps, but they do help identify customers’ best opportunities and act on them faster. 

By some estimates, AI can reduce the time your team spends on forecasting by up to 30% through helping to find leads with the highest probability of closing, and by up to 50% through autonomous prospecting and dynamic campaign strategies. 

Sales and marketing teams can use generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Claude to create customized campaigns and craft personalized emails. 

With AI, your team can also use insights from your inventory, orders, eCommerce activities, and customer service interactions to help reps have more productive, profitable conversations. AI can even be trained on historical data to help you forecast sales with confidence. 

Anne Vranicic, VP of Marketing for Valin Corporation, said her team started their AI journey by automating “low value tasks,” such as automating notifications, reporting, and follow-ups. Now they’re using AI to more quickly identify customers to call on and add context to the conversations. 

Her sales reps are now spending less time sorting through past emails and lists and more time building rapport. They’re also investing in solutions they can implement quickly, rather than those that require extensive customization.

Embrace the Future of Distribution With These Sales Enablement Strategies

As you navigate these changes, you’ll need to rethink your team’s approach to sales, pricing, customer service, and more. At White Cup, we combined decades of industry expertise with the latest technology to create the most critical, complete and collaborative platform for distributors.

We bring business intelligence from your ERP and eCommerce solutions into a CRM designed specifically for distribution. This gives your entire team insight into their next best opportunities and the ability to act on them with automation.

Our whitepaper, Successful Sales Enablement in a Shifting Sales Landscape, offers a roadmap to help your sales team thrive in this new era. 

Check it out today and schedule a time to talk with us to learn more when you’re ready.