New technologies have the potential to make supply chains more efficient and more transparent than ever before. Unfortunately, implementing the right technologies in the right way is often easier said than done. Here are tips for selling smart supply chain solutions.
Every company is filled with people who have different opinions about which technologies can boost performance, and most are eager to share theirs.
If you’re selling smart supply chain solutions, talking with the right people is essential to your success. On the other hand, talking with the wrong people can cost a Fortune 500 company billions of dollars.
Know Your Audience
There’s a lot on the line when it comes to making supply chains smarter, and two kinds of people will usually influence the process. First, there are techies. I know techies well because I was one. Coming out of college, I had two engineering degrees and zero knowledge of the way a supply chain operation worked. Techies have a seemingly instinctive inclination to try to force new technology into use, but that’s not always productive.
The ultimate litmus test of any new technology is whether it can be used in a real-time operations environment consistently.
The people who end up making that call are in the second group. These are the operations people. They’re typically the end-users, and if you get them to buy into new technology, getting buy-in across the value chain becomes a relatively straightforward process.
Get to the End-User
In my own career, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of teams that achieved pioneering feats in biotech and the oil and gas sector, and now at ThroughPut, where we’re building artificial intelligence-powered supply chain solutions. I’ve found that the key to successful technology implementations is getting to the right end-user fast.
You want to involve people who understand your goals and the challenges you face because they’ve seen them before. Anyone who is not the end-user will end up being a bottleneck in the implementation process.
I’ve worked with probably 25% of the global Fortune 500 supply chain over the past three years, and I’ve noticed that people will often introduce you to someone they think is an end-user, but it’s rarely the person you actually want.
Recently, for instance, I met with a client’s innovation team, which should have been followed by a meeting with operations. Instead, the organization brought in its techies to audit our software platform and see whether we had parallel capabilities to other systems.
The problem with the above scenario is that the techies aren’t the end-users of our tool. The operations people — who said they were “fighting for their lives” in the face of pressing operational problems — needed a solution fast.
Ultimately, we were able to get the technology to the people who needed it, but the process took 10 months. Had it started with the right introductions, it could have been wrapped up in three.
Straight to the Top
ThroughPut has worked with clients in more than 15 industries, and I’ve observed patterns that not many companies are in a position to see. That’s why I can confidently say that if you want to demonstrate the value of the smart supply chain, skip the techies. They assess tech, not operational problems.
Don’t waste time with supply chain and procurement departments either. Supply chain managers and professionals aren’t typically working with operations in real-time, so they often have an incomplete picture of operational needs.
Instead, go straight to the C-suite. Family business owners, CEOs, and chief operating officers are doers; show them how your technology allows them to do more, and they’ll embrace it. No one understands the pain of missing deliveries, unhappy customers, and critical delays like the ones steering the ship.
Similarly, chief financial officers care about return on investment. They have real problems to solve, and they understand how more responsive supply chains can improve earnings per share or cash flow. Demonstrate the financial value your solution adds, and they can make all the decision bottlenecks evaporate.
State of the Supply Chain
While some forward-thinking companies are starting to explore the impact of AI on logistics, most tech firms aren’t yet having serious conversations about smart supply chain.
A recent Forrester survey found that AI is used far more in marketing, product management, and customer support than in supply chain management despite the fact that businesses are losing thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars on supply chain inefficiencies each year.
According to Gartner, 87% of businesses lack business intelligence maturity, meaning they don’t have the infrastructure to take full advantage of AI solutions. Most tech firms are moving in the right direction: digitizing assets, migrating IT infrastructure and data to the cloud, and maybe even working with blockchain ledgers. None of this is exactly groundbreaking, and we still have a long way to go.
If you’re selling smart supply chain solutions, follow these tips to save time and help drive the smart supply chain revolution forward:
1. Focus on end-users.
If there isn’t an operations person in the room — a true end-user of your technology — don’t take the meeting. Everyone is part of a digital transformation these days. Make sure you’re talking to someone who has real-world experience managing freight and a real understanding of operations.
Otherwise, the conversation isn’t worth your time. You might be educating an audience on the future of supply chain, but you’ll see very little immediate impact.
2. Identify problems and solutions.
You’ll need to come prepared for meetings with decision-makers. Make sure you’ve identified a part of the supply chain that has a persistent problem and demonstrates at least three ways your technology can help. Show your expertise and ask good questions about alignment and specific pain points.
3. Avoid ‘innovation managers.’
Like techies and middle management, innovation managers tend to be people with little experience in operations. That’s often why they’re scouting new technology instead of making critical operational decisions.
4. Find Kaizen AI experts.
These are people who are responsible for continuous improvement of business processes. They’re always looking for technology that can save money and time and increase throughput.
Getting your supply chain solution into the right hands can be an exhausting process, but it doesn’t have to be. Be strategic about the conversations you have and focus on getting your technology in front of the people it can help the most. Chances are, they’ll be glad you did.
Co-founder and CEO of ThroughPut Inc.
Ali Hasan R. is the co-founder and CEO of ThroughPut Inc., an artificial intelligence supply chain pioneer that enables companies to detect, prioritize, and alleviate dynamic operational bottlenecks.