B2B Marketplace

Manage Complexity & Maximize Value in Your Tech Stack as a Distributor

Content Marketing Manager

A strong tech stack is imperative for a digitally powered distributor, but finding the right fit for your needs is complex —especially with the plethora of options available for your ERP, PIM, and even artificial intelligence. From there, how do these technologies communicate with one another? It’s all about managing the complexities, auditing your current tech stack, and defining future priorities for your business. 

At MDM's Shift: The Future of Distribution conference, Nautical Commerce Founder & CEO Ryan Lee was joined by a panel of distribution leaders to discuss how to maximize value in your tech stack and help drive your future tech portfolio needs.

The panel included ecommerce experts: 

Joe Bennett, Senior Vice President North America, Unilog

Brian Friedle, Vice President of Business Development, White Cup 

Steve Levy, Vice President Enterprise Architecture, Infor

Ryan Lee, Founder & CEO, Nautical Commerce 

Moderator: Tom Gale, CEO, MDM 

Selection

First, the leaders discussed the explosion of technology tools available to distributors and how to choose the right ones that fit your business model. 

“The right way to do it is not to forget the value of being a B2B distributor business. It’s that relational component of the sale,” Ryan Lee, founder & CEO of multi-vendor ecommerce platform Nautical Commerce, said. 

Ryan said he likes to think about optimization on two axes:

  • Low-value items that are high cost 
  • High-value items that are low cost 

“So what you really want to optimize for is preserving the things that make B2B and your relationships special, but really automate the things that are just low value and don’t add real, meaningful move-the-needle experiences for your customers,” he said.  

Steve Levy, Vice President of Enterprise Architecture for Infor, said communication is the key to success in transformation, technology, team motivation, finding the right resources, and setting expectations and goals. 

When picking the right business applications, Joe Bennett, Senior Vice President of North America at Unilog, shared he likes to have the people who will use the application help lead the decision-making process. If it’s an ERP, that would include your inventory management, pricing, and sales teams. 

The key takeaway for technology selection is to over-communicate with your team and implement a strategy your company can get behind. For a multi-vendor ecommerce system, consider a crawl, walk, run approach. This allows you to limit the scope of your projects by setting strict KPIs (key performance indicators) you can hit. 

  • Crawl: The Concept Phase
    • Draft a vision and strategy 
  • Walk: Implementation/Pilot
    • The testing and learning phase
  • Run: Reinforcement/Production Phase
    • Launch your new technology tools with confidence

“If you can take these projects, even if it’s a massive digital transformation of your platform, and stage it, you will significantly de-risk your project,” Ryan Lee said. 

Implementation

During the panel, Levy said implementation is the risky phase. If projects break, they typically break in implementation. Without 100% buy-in within your organization and clear communication on the strategy to implement these new technology tools, the initial vision can fade, and the project falls apart. 

Brian Friedle, Vice President of Business Development at White Cup, said implementation is never going to be perfect. Knockdown milestones and take the project through to the end. Sticking to your crawl, walk, run model during this phase of the project will help ensure you see the finish line. 

Some businesses have been through multiple implementations as they have move from ecommerce platform to ecommerce platform to find one that better serves their needs and can scale with their business. This requires a replatform — often a long and tedious process.

Ryan Lee, Nautical founder, says the best technologies can "replatform without replatforming."

“(It’s about) embracing and extending what you’ve already done,” Ryan said during the panel. You have a very successful business. You’ve operated for decades, if not a century, as an effective distributor. You don't want to throw that away.”

Embrace what has worked by keeping the tools that provide meaningful value to your business. 

This can still be achieved while augmenting with new pieces of technology to advance your tech stack. 

Integration

While human communication between teams is imperative during the selection phase of your distribution tool set, integrating that technology within your current tech stack is the next major challenge. 

This integration, often performed via APIs (Application Programming Interface), is what enables communication within your tech stack. While APIs are often mentioned when choosing new technologies, there can sometimes be a lack of understanding of what APIs enable. 

Levy called APIs the key piece of the puzzle that architects have to understand to see what dots need to be connected and what programmers use to connect the dots. 

“I look at APIs as the connective tissue between systems. It’s where data moves,” Ryan said. “In the explosion of APIs, you need experts that understand what data you’re getting, how to leverage that (data), and how to build actionable capabilities.” 

But there’s no point in spending resources and money during implementation if you don’t have a well-thought-out organizational change management (OCM) and training plan. 

An OCM plan will: 

  • Reduce resistance within an organization by keeping employees on track with a central plan 
  • Bring a faster speed of adoption 
  • Increase proficiency within the organization

“With good or excellent OCM, a project is 80 to 95% likely to meet objectives. With only poor OCM; a project is only 16% likely to meet objectives,” according to a report by the Boxley Group

As the panel reiterated throughout the discussion, communication with your team is essential when managing and building your tech stack for the future. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are underlying principles discussed above that will help guide your business growth. 

The Next Step for Distributor Commerce

Once you’ve made it a priority across your organization to focus on growing revenues online, be sure to work with a vendor built for multi-vendor ecommerce — like Nautical Commerce. We can help you grow beyond your current inventory by onboarding third-party vendors and enabling your current suppliers. Contact us here for more information.

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