Much conversation of late centers around the physical supply chain, exemplified by container ships, trucking companies, raw materials, and delivery of products in general. The headaches in each of these areas appear to be compounding weekly in the trade, with unfortunate results for all concerned. Since many of these issues are out of our direct control, how about we as an industry concentrate on what we can change, such as how we communicate and relay information up and down what I’ll call “The Human Supply Chain.” My assertion is that improvements in this area alone could create efficiencies measured in profit dollars, and simultaneously improve the overall value added by any number of constituents along the way.
Information Flow (or lack thereof)
At the heart of the communication story for any industry stakeholder should be delivering “quality information in a timely fashion.” Too often incomplete details are provided, which precipitates multiple back-and-forth messaging which creates extra work. Or a report is provided in PDF format, when Excel is the common language of choice for a salesperson, buyer, or merchandiser. Whether manufacturer, distributor, rep firm, or dealer, all roads lead to the consumer, so at every level this exchange of knowledge is imperative to improve the customer experience. Comprehensive product build sheets, timely receipt of order and ship confirmations, tracking and inventory status and more combine in this “info pool.” Taking a more progressive view, how about anticipating what downstream or upstream partners need in advance, and making every effort to supply that accurately, the first time?
Data-driven Means First Having Data
As the owner of a manufacturer’s rep firm, I’ve experienced a wide disparity of information distribution and standards. It is our decided goal to be “data driven,” for example being able to examine item-level detail of what a reseller has purchased, so that sensible assortment expansion may be suggested. To make ends meet in our corner of the business, we work with numerous suppliers, some who are willing and able to provide such insights, and others that are challenged in this regard. Refinements here could have a compounding effect on sales, as would timely and accurate comparative sales reporting. In a world where we all seek a competitive edge, wielding such details and applying them to the sales process could benefit both buyers and sellers, and ultimately the bottom line. Tightening up how we format, exchange, and utilize data will provide a needed assist.
The Great E-mail Runaround
If there was one pet peeve for me, it would be how we communicate via e-mail. Exchanging messages this way has become ubiquitous, so why does it appear that misuse of this tool is rampant? It starts with being clear, concise, and courteous, and extends to understanding the basic protocols of correspondence. If someone is copied on an email, chances are they are involved in the conversation, so a “reply all” would be in order. Conversely, responding to a large group that clearly should have gone only to the sender is another head-shaker. Keeping each other informed is what it’s all about, but we regularly see this medium being abused. Making strides to enhance the “Human Supply Chain” will add measurable gains in efficiency and effectiveness, which ultimately translates into profit dollars and pleased customers. How about we all put some thought into this topic?