SUMMER 2020 EDITION

WAS THAT TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT A GOOD IDEA?

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to facilitate a couple of online groups to discuss challenges with technology. In one group, we discussed investments made over the years and whether the technology enhancements were successful, a complete failure or if the jury was still out. In the other discussion, we looked at the rate of adoption with a technology investment. During both discussions, we concluded that these investments can never be realized if the purpose is not easily and clearly identifiable to the intended user. If there is doubt in the purpose, or in the relevance of that purpose, the program has little chance to be successful. With so many different options available today, we need to have a methodical way to evaluate the investment.

I think we can all agree, companies are churning out a staggering number of new technology enhancements every day. I have the opportunity to see many different ways distributors incorporate technological advancements in their organizations. As a business owner, I can see how 15 minutes on LinkedIn or other media platforms can give you a little FOMO (fear of missing out). From programs that send SMS messages to customers alerting them on the status of an order to payroll programs that allow employees to track all their pertinent benefits, all these enhancements are jockeying for your attention. I have no doubt that each of these enhancements will improve some business challenge in an organization, but how do we evaluate which one will make the biggest impact. With finite resources, we need to have more wins than losses.

In order to achieve a successful outcome, we need to consider five different phases of integration: identification, selection, implementation, education and adoption. I am sure that there are more phases, and that some could argue my batting order, but these make sense to me. In the remainder of this article, I will go through each phase and provide a little insight into my thought process.

In the identification phase, we need to filter out all the noise and define the business challenge we are trying to solve. Technology solutions that do not solve a clearly identifiable challenge do not get much adoption in the company. When the intended outcome is fuzzy, the return on investment will be slow to materialize. Case in point, many distributors created websites back in the 1990s. They were predominantly informational, but a significant amount of money was laid out to develop them. What was the purpose? Did anyone have a crystal-clear understanding of what the investment was supposed to do for us? Could we envision the emergence of e-commerce back then? This may be one reason why web-based investments have taken so long to produce a return.

If we are clear about the business challenge we are trying to solve and how we will make money off of the resolution, we are ready to move to the selection phase. This phase can be tough. If the solution is not widely adopted, we may not have many choices. If you can spend time with current users, I suggest you make the effort. It will never be time wasted.

Users of a technology solution will help you see beyond the slick marketing rhetoric and expose the hidden warts. Decide if the organization fits into your company's culture. Do they share the same values? Do they clearly understand your expected outcomes? These questions become even more important if you decide to employ an advisor to assist with your selection process. Make sure that the advisor's financial compensation is tied to the degree in which the business problem is solved.

A successful implementation comes down to planning, organization and realistic goals. The most successful implementations involve clear timelines and an almost militant adherence to deadlines. Many customers want to point fingers at the solution provider if the implementation schedule goes awry, but a lack of discipline on the client side is often the culprit. As the business owner, you need to be accountable to the plan. Do not expect to get prodded and coddled throughout the process. If that is the attitude you adopt, the implementation will move at a glacial pace. Furthermore, you must be realistic about the go-live date. Implementation will take twice as long as you expect.

Snuggled inside the implementation phase is the educational piece. The reason I am breaking it out is that it is probably the most critical component to success. If the users do not understand it, they will not attempt to use it. The training component of the implementation phase often lengthens this phase. When users do not take the time to learn how to utilize the technology, the whole project breaks down. It is imperative that managers are 100% committed to this process. Do not forget the purpose (solving a business challenge) when introducing the training element. Explain the solution in terms of how it will benefit the user. Will the technology reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a task? Will it add more revenue? Will it reduce customer complaints? When the users buy into the solutions, they will be more apt to invest the time required to master the technology.

Once the technology is installed and ready for deployment, your organization is ready for the adoption phase. You may have determined a strong purpose for the technology. You may have selected the best fit for your company. You may have accomplished a solid implementation process with excellent training. Now, how do you make the new technology part of your company's culture? How do you make sure that this is the go-to solution for the people that work with and for you? You need champions. In a discussion I facilitated earlier this year, the key question was: How do I improve the adoption of our CRM solution in the sales teams? Although there were many excellent suggestions, one stood out to me. Salespeople listen to the success stories of their peers. By having a salesperson relay how the CRM made him/her faster, other team members became attracted to the solution. Sometimes it is really all about FOMO.

As you go down the trail of evaluating the next greatest thing since sliced bread, make sure you can clearly articulate your business challenge and why it needs to be solved. Be methodical in your process and do not fall for digital snake oil. If you need help along the way, my Zoom door is virtually open. Good luck!

Jason BaderPrincipal of The Distribution Team
Jason Bader is the principal of The Distribution Team. He is a wholistic distribution advisor who is passionate about helping business owners solve challenges, generate wealth and achieve personal goals. He can be found speaking at several industry events throughout the year, providing executive coaching services to private clients and letting his thoughts be known in an industry publication or two. He can be reached at 503-282-2333 or via email at jason@distributionteam.com. For additional resources, visit thedistributionteam.com.