For distributors at the AXUG 2018 Summit in Phoenix, the October gathering of users of Microsoft business applications, it was no longer a question of if they were going to take their businesses into the cloud. The question was when. It was a big shift, and a good one. It will not only make distributors more efficient, it also will give them the tools they need to provide the experience those customers are looking for. And at the end of the day, that is how distributors will thrive in a market that is increasingly dominated by an Amazon experience.
One of the most memorable presentations of the four-day summit was a demonstration of Microsoft HoloLens, powered by the cloud. With Microsoft mixed-reality business applications Remote Assist and Layout, a technician in the field, wearing HoloLens (lenses that look like sunglasses), can transmit what they are seeing to an expert on the other end and collaborate in real time.
It may sound like technology you might only find in Star Wars, but HoloLens has many practical, real-world applications. For example, HoloLens makes it possible to share documents remotely, or even to install parts on a vehicle using directions provided by someone at another location, who can see exactly what the installer sees in real time.
Watch a demo of this technology starting at about 56:40 in this video from the AXUG Summit keynote James Phillips, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft Business Applications Group:
For me, the conference offered a chance to not only learn about new technologies like these, but also to indulge in one of my favorite parts of my job: talking with wholesaler-distributors about how new technologies can help move their businesses forward.
I talked about some of those in my AXUG Summit presentation, “How Wholesale Distributors Can Win vs. Amazon.”
One is machine learning. Machine learning basically is the science of getting computers to acquire knowledge and build on that knowledge, without having to be programmed to do so. A great example of how machine learning benefits distributors is collection scoring. Years ago, large companies spent vast sums of money developing criteria to sort and categorize customers who owed money. Now, machine learning can tell your collections department who is most likely to pay, and where it’s most beneficial to direct their efforts.
Chatbots are another technology that can be invaluable to distributors. Imagine: A potential customer goes to a website to research products, then engages through an online chat with a chatbot. That customer’s information automatically becomes a lead in a salesperson’s CRM, and artificial intelligence scores that lead.
It’s all made possible for companies of all sizes with a cloud-technology backbone. Despite these potential benefits, distributors still have concerns, of course, as anyone does when they move business applications. One distributor I spoke with feared that recreating reports and documents when they moved to the cloud would be a nightmare. But while there will be speedbumps as you ascend to the cloud, the reality is that accessing data won’t be one of them.
In fact, access to data is a major advantage to working in the cloud. Because the technology allows you to connect multiple sources – and when you want to access information from those sources, you don’t have to download it or find a place to store it. All you have to do is provide a username and password, and the data will be at your fingertips.
Many distributors were caught off-guard by the Amazon threat. That’s easy to understand. When business is running smoothly, your focus is on new customer acquisition, it’s easy to become complacent. But that’s when an Amazon comes along with a entirely new customer experience.
Distributors need to hitch up their collective pants, get back to work – and put the customer experience first. Competing against Amazon is really that simple. You put the customer first. You make yourself uniquely valuable to your customers. And you leverage the cloud to do that. I’m encouraged to see distributors are ready to make use of those tools.
Give me a call today at 815-575-2957 to talk more about how Microsoft’s cloud technology can help your business grow.
If you missed my presentation at the AXUG Summit, I'll be presenting again in a webinar on Nov. 14. Learn more or register today.
About the Author - Matt Petersen
Matt Petersen is a Senior Director of Industry Solutions for ENAVATE and has spent his entire career in the enterprise software industry. Matt was a founding member of the SAP for Wholesale Distribution Industry Business unit and in 2014, he joined Microsoft to lead the U.S. Dynamics Retail and Wholesale Distribution Industry practice.
Matt has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Illinois in Urbana - Champaign and a Certificate in Distribution Management from Texas A&M as well as a Certification from INSEAD in Business Strategy and Financial Acumen.