Just watching the companies fighting their way through the challenges of this economic downturn one can appreciate what it means to go after intelligence aggressively. There is a small healthcare products manufacturing company in Los Angeles for example that has decided to throw down the gauntlet of transforming its supply chain, sourcing and marketing systems to be more focused on rapid response times to customers. They decided that in the midst of an economic downturn, getting aggressive about how they used intelligence could make a huge difference in their ability to survive and grow.
As it turns out their strategy of aggressive intelligence is paying off with increased orders from e-commerce sites the business development teams had been working with for years. One of the senior managers of this firm is in my graduate-level course in International Business. Paradoxically, the recession forces his retailing customers to go multi-channel much faster than they had anticipated. The result: an entirely new channel for his company as well.
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
President Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. "Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Coming Out Swinging…With Knowledge
It’s time for more companies to get up and dust themselves off from this recession and start fighting back – with knowledge. The easy strategies of using continuously dropping prices, sacrificing margins or even bundling products to the point of unprofitability are, to be blunt, weak. How much better to fight the good fight of bringing the knowledge in our companies to the forefront of our customers’ unmet needs and knocking out their problems for them? That’s the plan at this manufacturer and it is working.
Instead of complaining about how about how bad this recession is, there are those courageous companies who instead look at their customers’ knowledge and process problems as their own. They attack these problems with an intensity they would in their own company. The use intelligence aggressively to serve their customers. That’s the key take-away from the small manufacturer I’ve gotten to know in L.A. from one of my students.
Key Lessons Learned
After visiting my students’ company last Friday and hearing how pervasive the mission they are on is getting engrained into their culture, a few key take-aways emerged:
- Everyone sees themselves as fighting for their customers’ victories, not just their own. This pervaded the assembly areas, and certainly included sales and service. Every person I talked to, from the manufacturing supervisors to the sales managers, directors and VPs saw the recession as a fight they would help their customers win. It wasn’t about them; it was about helping their customers get through this too. The term “we got their back” came up several times.
- Using data mining to find patterns in special orders to create new build-to-order product configuration. This manufacturer is taking their histories of special orders and looking for patterns in the data to create entirely new combinations of special order products. While these special orders were costly to produce at the time, they do provide a glimpse of what is selling. The result has been product line extensions quickly created with an increased probability of success.
- Looking for new ways to help their customers be successful in multi-channel management strategies including increasing emphasis in e-commerce. This was a big one as the company acts as a light manufacturer for trading partners in China and Taiwan and has better availability on specific healthcare products than their competitors globally. As a result of the decision to get aggressive about how they manage data, they can now provide price and availability across all healthcare products on a 24/7 basis in three languages, and two Chinese dialects. This has been one of the key areas where they are helping their distribution partners open websites in specific Chinese provinces and throughout the Pacific Rim. The result is their sales are growing in the midst of this recession.
- Product catalogs customizable within hours for any given reseller’s needs in three languages and two Chinese dialects. The online product catalogs are organized in an enterprise content management system so they can create specific subset catalogs and push them to a partners’ website within less than 72 hours if needed. This is a major competitive advantage and further shows how aggressively this company is using intelligence.
What’s so unique about this company is that while the recession is certainly a major concern, there is no dwelling on it. There is instead a mindset of using the recession as a reason to fight harder than ever for customers and get aggressive in their use of intelligence.
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