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Using Tech to Succeed in Wholesale and Distribution

It’s no secret that COVID brought huge disruptions to the wholesale and distribution sectors. But they only complicated a space that was already challenging.

Margins have long been tight, the range of services increasingly broad, with customers wanting ever-higher quality and specialist support across the entire supply chain. And yet they never want to pay more for it!

To continue reading this CEOs briefing download it below.

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth knowledge center, which have more useful content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Cyber Security is a Leadership Challenge

These days perhaps half of all companies face a Cyber Security attack. The usual response is to insist that it’s the IT team’s problem. But in our experience, the buck stops with the CEO. This short video explains how you can quickly educate yourself about Cyber Security and how Freeman Clarke can help.

Visit our Cyber Security knowledge center which includes more content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

My company is under cyberattack! What do I do?

What to do if and when your company suffers a cyberattack.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How do you start a Cyber Security plan?

So many CEOs, however capable, are unsure about how to start a Cyber Security plan. Gerry explains where and how to start.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How can a CEO get the sales team focused on Cyber Security?

So many security risks come in through the sales team. Listen to our quick guide to getting the salespeople to take these risks seriously.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How to judge your real level of Cyber Security risk

A quick guide to assessing your company’s actual risk of cybercrime, and how to get started on prevention.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How to get Cyber Security on the C-suite agenda

Cybercrime is a clear and present danger to mid-market companies. Here’s how to get your executive team to make it a priority.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

3 Steps to Online B2C: How to Create a New Channel

Some retail stores will recover, but spending may never quite return to previous levels. Restaurants and hotels will re-open, but it may be years before business is fully restored.

In the meantime, consumers are buying online like never before, online purchasing has increased by some 50% to 75%. Many consumers have adopted online for the first time, and, of course, many will retain this new habit forever. The SARS outbreak of 2003 permanently changed consumer behavior in Asia; Covid-19 will do the same throughout the world.

So all consumer products businesses must ask themselves the question: how do I create and grow a B2C online channel?

Consider the experience of two different F&B wholesalers the coronavirus took from thriving concerns to the very edge of survival. Pivoting to direct-to-consumer sales seemed their best shot at staying alive.

The first company is a mid-sized restaurant supply firm. When all the restaurants closed, the company had to find a way to keep selling their stock, much of which was perishable. They hit on the brilliant idea of selling directly to consumers after all. The established grocery delivery services were already overwhelmed, people were afraid of supermarkets, and many shelves were empty anyway.

At first it went well. They were successful with high-profile guerilla marketing, and, while they were used to selling in bulk, it wasn’t difficult to repurpose areas of their warehouse to process individual orders for certain products. They put in place new delivery arrangements and temporary customer service and returns handling.

But within two weeks they became a victim of their own success – overwhelmed by orders, the website crashed. And in the rush to serve their new customers nobody stopped to figure out if they were even making a profit. Now they’re burning through cash, deliveries are late, and they’re losing the goodwill of their customers. Their brand and the reputation of the management has been genuinely damaged, and their next step is uncertain.

The second company is a well-established meat supplier for high-end restaurants. They too nearly panicked when their customers closed their doors. But instead of rushing headlong into a new market, they carefully (but quickly!) considered which products would be more appealing to consumers and how best to fulfil orders. These guys have seized market share and created a new platform for growth.

These stories are being repeated quite literally all over the world. Some companies have pivoted nimbly and look well-placed to survive and thrive in the direct-to-consumer market. Too many others won’t last through the summer.

The ultimate question is, How to pivot? We’re not talking about stopping the bleeding but creating another long-term channel of substance. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy. But this is a whole new opportunity for the long-term; here’s how to get it right from the start.

Step 1: Understand What to Sell and What’s Not Worth the Bother 

Many wholesalers and bricks-and-mortar retail stores are creating a new online, direct-to-consumer channel.  Here are just a few of the sectors in which we’ve seen mid-market businesses pivoting in the past few weeks:

The first step for any business is to take an honest look at your products and consumers. Successful wholesalers understand the sophisticated business demands of retailers, and successful retailers understand how shoppers behave. But the online buying journey and rationale is different.

What’s selling right now and why? Where are you making money now, and where would you make money online? And who are your customers, what do they buy, and why? Don’t make any assumptions; let the data lead you to the answers. These will be the products and people to focus on. (If you’re having issues with reporting, we can help.)

Look for opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. The idea is not to squeeze every penny you can out of your customer, but to serve them better. If they’re buying a cleaning spray, do they need paper towels? If they’re buying pet food, do they need grooming products? Such tactics may seem obvious; after all, we see them whenever we use Netflix or Amazon. Still, companies pivoting quickly to direct-to-consumer sales may miss the obvious opportunities!

This is also a good time to ask yourself what you can get rid of. It’s time to jettison products that aren’t moving, especially if they’re perishables.

With every product you sell, the questions should be quite simple: am I actually making money with it, and is it sustainable?

These are challenging marketing questions, and your own team may have the skills and knowledge. Or you make need external help. Be honest with yourself about the capabilities and limits of your team.

Step 2: Understand How to Sell It

Marketing, technical and operational skills need to blend to create an attractive, convenient and reliable engine for bringing people to your products, helping them to buy, delivering, and handling service issues. Establish clear ownership for each function and establish who is accountable for joining all these up.

With direct-to-consumer, every aspect of this journey is critical in how consumers make judgments about your brand. Online DTC marketing skills like SEO, paid search, newsletters, and social are different from B2B wholesale and retail marketing. Your marketing team may be able to adapt, but they will also need new tools and data to support this transition. Effective integration with price comparison and aggregator systems often makes the difference between success and failure.

While a utilitarian website may have been fine for, say, the above restaurant wholesaler, they will not retain their new customers without an attractive and easy-to-use front end. On the back end, companies like Amazon have inflated customer expectations and simple things like poor packaging, picking errors, unreasonable shipping costs or stock outages can have a very negative effect on your brand.

We can’t stress this enough: streamlined operations are vital to saving time and money and keeping errors to an absolute minimum. Delivery, packing, returns, and customer service are all critical in direct-to-consumer. Each step can make the difference between success and failure. The cost of one wrong delivery, with the subsequent customer service calls, return and resend can wipe out the profit on twenty correct orders.

Front-end to back-end systems may initially be joined by manual efforts when volumes are small. But as the business grows, you must have a plan for systems integration and automation. Customers need accurate product, stock and pricing information; back-end systems must be able to rapidly process new stock; dynamic and intelligent pricing must be automated.

To get live quickly may require much of this to be outsourced, at least at first. Either way, you must always own your brand and set the standards for the customer experience.

So set a realistic plan divided into a series of simple and agile sprints. Ensure clear roles, good communication, and a commitment to jointly overcoming problems. In our experience, success is built on collaboration, fact-based decision-making, and a can-do attitude.

Step 3: Evolve and Build

Creating a start-up within an established business creates new challenges. You’ve got to be smart, and you’ve got to rapidly evolve and grow.

What worked on Day 1 may not be right after a month, and probably won’t be right after a year. Decisions about insourcing and outsourcing will need to be revised to start building margin and to create a sustainable core of skills internally. Third party logistics (3PL) and fulfilment strategies mitigate short-term capital barriers and accelerate speed to market but slick systems integration and automation are the real key to scalability.

Reputation management will become increasingly important. Minimizing issues and errors not only maximizes profits and cash but it also retains your brand promise. Review and rating tools and aggregation engines can become an important part of your marketing strategy.

But these are mid- to longer-term questions that you can tackle after you’re smoothly taking orders and your customers are happy.

Just remember that short-term solutions have a tendency of becoming permanent, and it may be necessary to confront dependencies on other organizations that can end up being serious risks. For example, Amazon is a convenient answer, but they can be very particular; you may or may not want your brand associated with them, and one change to their algorithm may put your business in jeopardy.

We do know for sure is that online is the key to survival. No ambitious business can ignore the consumer revolution that has been accelerated by Covid-19, and the need to embrace multiple routes to market to minimize your risks and maximize your opportunities.

If you have questions or concerns about your own transition to B2C, then please get in touch. We’re helping our clients navigate these issues right now, and we’re always up for a low-pressure chat.

Visit our Knowledge Center which includes all content related to this topic. You may also want to look at our Digital Transformation Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Business after COVID-19: What’s the New Normal?

The COVID-19 pandemic is a historic world event. It is already causing widespread societal and economic change.

Even if lockdowns are relaxed over the coming weeks, we will have to face COVID-19 for many more months.  And new ways to live and work will have become entirely normalized by the time this pandemic is behind us.

It’s reasonable to ask ourselves what these changes may be and what they will mean to our businesses.

Visit our COVID-19 knowledge center, which have more useful content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Introduction & Part I: Streamline Systems to Control Costs

How AEC Can Succeed with Digital: Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought global business to a halt, and the architecture, engineering, and construction sector (AEC) is no exception.

To find out more about how mid-market Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) companies can get more competitive through their digital strategies or how to streamline your company’s systems to control costs, please visit our AEC Knowledge Centre.

Our priorities, of course, should be to stay healthy and do everything we can to help our businesses weather the storm. But we also believe it’s healthy to look beyond the crisis.

Believe it or not, we’re optimistic. Despite all the uncertainty in 2019, mid-market AEC businesses enjoyed overall growth. And before the interruption of the pandemic, we saw strong indications that growth would have continued into 2020.

The worrisome trend in AEC was the intensifying pressures on the bottom line. A Deloitte report claimed that profitability would be threatened by intensifying competition, supply-chain constraints arising from tariffs, and talent shortages.

In other words, in recovering from the crisis, AEC will face the same pressures it always had, only more so.

There isn’t much any mid-market AEC company can do about all of these problems. But there is a straightforward way to make your business more competitive: streamlining your systems with a comprehensive digital roadmap.

Two things you can be sure of: first, that the recovery is going to be long and difficult; and second, that IT is central to navigating it. The companies who get IT right will see great opportunities. Those who hesitate are in danger of being left behind.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how AEC can use digital strategies to improve the bottom line. Please feel free to get in touch with questions and comments; we’re always up for a low-pressure chat. In the meantime, we hope you’re staying healthy and productive.

How AEC Can Succeed with Digital

Part I: Streamline Systems to Control Costs

First and foremost, mid-market AEC companies must streamline their systems to improve the bottom line. Here are three places to start.

Project management. It’s a no-brainer: project management is at the core of the AEC industry, and you reduce costs by getting better at planning, executing and managing. In our experience, this is often at heart a reporting issue, a company unable to plan and execute well because it lacks access to straightforward, timely information on scheduling or pricing.

Payment systems. In the AEC sector, we often see inefficiencies in payment systems that drive up cost. For example, a site manager under deadline pressure often deals directly with suppliers, securing a good deal and a quick turnaround. But then the delivery driver can’t find the site. Or the paperwork is inaccurate or lost. Or nobody is quite sure how the delivery fits in with the schedule. Everybody’s doing their best, but the lack of a simple, flexible system creates hidden admin costs, not to mention a lot of frustration all around.

Health and Safety. Many mid-market firms see H&S as a kind of necessary evil. But it’s an excellent idea to reconsider your H&S systems when looking to control costs. It’s critical to have clear, user-friendly processes, systems, and technology for a number of reasons:

In terms of specific software, much of the AEC industry runs on COINS, Netsuite and SAP. These may not be the best packages for a particular company. Or they’re not used well, so they don’t deliver the promised efficiencies. Either way, don’t assume you’ll have to start again from scratch. The idea is to take a careful look at your company and find the inefficiencies. Look for ways to tweak or repair before letting a salesperson talk you into scorched earth.

If you have questions about how to streamline your AEC company’s systems to control costs—or any questions at all about how mid-market AEC companies can get more competitive through their digital strategies—feel free to get in touch.

In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for our next AEC post: Getting Onsite IT Right. If you would like to access the full series sign up here.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.