5 Ways to Innovate a Supply Chain Business

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5 Supply Chain Innovations that Help Manufacturers and Distributors Grow

Every supply chain business must innovate in order to keep customers interested and add new customers to the fold. Here are five ways distributors and manufacturers can innovate and improve in order to grow.

Supply Chain Business Growth – 5 Innovations that Help Manufacturers and Distributors Grow

Companies that do not innovate can quickly become obsolete, and that goes for supply chain organizations, too. But introducing new products isn’t the only way to get the attention of customers and grow.

While manufacturing industry growth is a bit slower than expected in the US for 2015, MAPI Foundation forecasts a 4% increase for 2016 and a 3.1% increase for 2017, with growth in the computer and electronics segments outpacing the rest of the field. Rather than waiting for modest growth to occur as a natural outcome of a slowly-improving economy, supply chain manufacturers and distributors – should look for ways to innovate if they want to grow more quickly.

Innovating within your manufacturing or distribution company may allow you to serve new customers; but that’s not all. Innovations also send a message to existing customers that your business is committed to making continual improvements for the future, and creates a spirit of intrigue among them about what might be coming next. They will be more likely to see your supply chain business as a valuable partner in the supply chain, and as a result, offer you additional suggestions that can help you innovate more effectively and quickly.

Taking proactive steps to innovate can even put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to change. As a manufacturer or distributor, leading the way by innovating puts you in the position of being a leader, rather than a supply chain business that must scramble to keep up with the companies that are driving change in the industry. As Steve Jobs so wisely said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

5 Ways Manufacturers and Distributors Can Innovate to Grow a Supply Chain Business More Quickly

Introduce product innovations and evolutions

Manufacturers that are committed to internal continuous improvement are far more likely to be able to introduce new products more often as well as upgrades and improvements that lead to additional sales. Likewise, distributors that source upgraded or improved options for their customers will have more opportunities to resell to existing customers and bring new accounts on board.

Innovate the account management process

Like consumers, more and more B2B buyers expect to be able to reach out to a knowledgeable sales or account professional online, day or night, even outside of a company’s regular hours of operation. These same buyers also expect that supply chain organizations will facilitate the means for them to order online, track shipments and progress, set up automatic re-ordering, pay invoices and otherwise manage their accounts online, without ever speaking to a company representative if that is their preference. Introducing account management innovations like these can mean the difference in landing new accounts and generating additional sales as well as creating customer dependencies that make it less likely they will shop around or defect.

Innovate manufacturer and distributor delivery methods

Perhaps more so than any other distributor, supply chain giant Amazon demonstrates the need for innovations when it comes to manufacturer and distributor delivery methods. Like consumers, B2B buyers are coming to expect for shipping costs to be included in pricing up front, and for that delivery to occur quickly. While you may not be in a position to scramble an army of drones or facilitate same-day or next-day delivery, anything you can do to cut costs and decrease time customers spend waiting for their orders can help you compete.

Innovate your marketing approach

What words would you use to describe your marketing copy and channels? When it comes to marketing, there is no reason that your marketing cannot be innovative, engaging, entertaining and intriguing, even if your products aren’t. Innovating your marketing approach by staging publicity stunts, getting mentions and wins in ‘best of’ contests, revitalizing your brand’s visual image and taglines, and telling customers about your brand’s values and corporate social responsibility programs are all ways that you can infuse new life into your marketing.

Ensuring that your brand is ‘alive and well’ in new media channels (email marketing, social media, blogging, etc.) will better help you reach the new generations of Millennial and Gen-Z B2B buyers that are replacing retiring Baby Boomers.

As a supply chain business, you can also help create demand from your buyers by stimulating demand directly among their customers. We recently published an article that describes four ways that distributors and manufacturers can generate demand by marketing to consumers and end-users, rather than simply marketing to their own buyers.

Innovate the company culture

“It is what it is,” is a phrase that is often uttered along with a shrug of the shoulders, indicating a fait accompli; or, in other words, a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept. In some ways, company culture is “what it is,” in that it cannot be faked. But just because it cannot be faked, does not mean that it cannot be improved.

Innovations and investments made to improve your corporate culture, when genuine, will often produce impacts far greater than improving employee satisfaction. They can improve hiring outcomes, reduce employee turnover, and increase employee engagement, all of which have a direct impact on improving sales and decreasing costs. Marks for customer satisfaction, loyalty and referrals are also much higher for brands that are known for their innovative corporate cultures.


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