What are we talking about?

Acceleration in business, while necessary, causes extreme stress, and sometimes painful change – change that doesn’t always turn out for the good. For example, how do you “redefine yourself” when you face unpredictable, complex markets? Can you, in fact, redefine in the face of such conditions? Create a definition, and by definition of business acceleration, your definition is instantly obsolete. Sartre’s Nausea comes to mind.

One thing seems to be clear: these new definitions or redefinitions as they are called must extend beyond traditional channels into what is being called multi-channel areas. The “clearly defined” somewhat stagnant single channels are being forever disrupted into a kind of free-for-all, or first-come, first-serve atmosphere.

So, current wisdom states that winners in such an environment have to be above everything else, resistant to disruption. What are we talking about?

Some allude to the necessity for what they call a collaborative network, which in theory, builds in such resistance and minimizes the disruption. But in that model, Vendor A, for example, may serve Client X, Client Y and Client Z – all with the same product. Even granted that Vendor A’s product is quality driven, how do clients X, Y and Z differentiate in the marketplace if they all buy from the same guy? And, what happens when Vendor A disappears, or changes to become more “lean” without telling anyone? Even connecting with customers on their terms will not solve the problem of not having “it” when the customer wants “it” or “it” doesn’t work right. No amount of collaboration will help if the collaborative partners are gone, or new “partners” don’t possess the knowledge or skill required to build the thing in the first place.

Do such things happen? Ask any manufacturer, or any service provider. But yet the current wisdom continues, despite the solution not solving anything, stating that everything – the planning, the sourcing, production down to the fulfillment of a product – has to be able to be accessed by everyone in the value chain to be resistant to disruption. Who is kidding who?

How is that possible? Can just “anyone” know the requirements of Vendor A’s product, and what distributing that product might mean downstream to the chain? One of our graphic designer’s jokes, “I can take anyone off the street and teach him what I do.” Really? I mean, really?

Besides, what’s wrong with disruption?

If everyone knows what I know because I have achieved true collaboration, how do I: 1)differentiate myself and my business, 2)gain a competitive advantage and 3)make a profit? If everyone knows what I know and how I do things, how do I make money? The answer is I don’t. Someone once said you make money on information no one else has, not on information everyone else has. If everyone makes what I make, or knows what I know, I’m in the commodity business, and that’s a tough business for anyone.

So what are we really talking about when we talk about being resistant to disruption? Can you resist disruption? Should you? Think about it this way.

RedPrairie Corporation is a global supply chain and retail technology provider that sponsored the CommerceinMotion program as part of its continuing Commerce Studies initiative. In their most recent report — Commerce in Motion: A New Framework for Turning Transformational Business Trends into Sustainable Competitive Advantages, which you can find at http://goo.gl/pfs6G , they argue that products, people, presence and process are new 4Ps for keeping operational excellence in supply chain and help create that resistance to disruption. The original four Ps you will recall were: product, place, price and promotion. They argue that “the experience” is now the critical differentiator between companies, and that people are the most important component of that strategy.

You’ve heard this before, about experience and about people. Doug Stephens talked about Steve Jobs’ Impact on Shopping in revolutionizing retail experience( http://goo.gl/ulD4D). The Luxury Institute wrote in a recent report that customer experience is the new luxury battleground (http://goo.gl/L2Uzr). Apparel magazine did a stunning study on understanding how multichannel shoppers are reshaping the retail experience (http://goo.gl/uk1D1). Etc. Etc.

So, it is the people who produce the experience – right? But wasn’t that always the case? My father taught me that when I was growing up: the customer is always right. Is the current wisdom suggesting that has changed? That people make the difference?

The report – which is worth reading – says that improving customer experience/satisfaction is the top driver for investing in workforce management. “In order to improve the experience, these organizations are realizing the need to integrate their Workforce Management solutions and processes into their entire supply network.” And, here’s the kicker: “the desire to have the right staff on hand to meet peaks in demand is a consistent goal for all businesses today.”

So, what was the goal before today? What does “customer experience” really mean? What the heck are we talking about?

Before Wal-Mart, are we saying that the local grocer didn’t meet the needs of the customer? Have the needs shifted that much? And isn’t “the experience” by definition a fluid condition, changing like weather with revolving situations that were just as complex yesterday as they are today?

The report goes on to argue that success relies on the ability of a company to work “faster, cheaper and smarter” than the competition in getting products from origin to destination. Well, now we’re on to something. Or are we?

When I started in advertising, I met a lot of smart people (and some not so smart). One of the smartest was a designer by the name of Ed Beane, whom you have heard me talk about before. Ed owned his own art studio, and had one main client: Sears. “When Sears calls and says jump, I ask, ‘how high?’” Ed told a story once about a salesman in the printing industry. Printers, Ed considered, were a notch below designers.

“The printing salesman used to make a sales call and ask for a piece of paper. On the paper, he would print in clear letters: Fast – Cheap – Good. Then, he would tell the prospect, ‘Pick two, you can’t have all three.’ When the prospect frowned, not understanding, the print salesman would recite his sales pitch, pointing to the words as he spoke: ‘If you want it Fast and Cheap, it won’t be any Good. If you want it Cheap and Good, it won’t be Fast. And if you want it Fast and Good, it won’t be Cheap. Now, how do you want it?’”

Ed then elaborated his philosophy, which was identical to the printer’s, only he said it differently. “We’re order makers, not order takers,” he told me. He said that his pricing model was exactly like the printer’s, only with his client, he never had to spell it out. It was an understanding. It was “value pricing.” Service. A total focus on the customer. It worked for Ed. It works for us.

Ed always wore suites with tie pins. He had great manners, a smile on his face (always), and he died several years ago. Supply chains don’t need (I’m not making this up) “new ways to embrace strategic workforce management strategies that turn transformation into competitive advantage by aligning business and talent strategy, minimizing the gaps between workforce supply and demand, fostering a culture of creativity and innovation, and empowering employees to drive engagement.”

They need more Ed Beanes.

For more conversation, or to discuss your business, go to http://intrln.com/contact or call 847-358-4848 and talk to human beings.…

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