The Roundtable Recap:
Business Automation in Modern Distribution

By: | Category: Distribution / Manufacturing, eCommerce, ERP

Modern Distribution Management’s Tom Gale led a panel of experts as they distilled decades of distribution experience into best practices for applying business automation

The process distributors undergo to choose automation tools is often based on their specific needs and requirements—they assess the processes that need to be automated and then evaluate the tools currently on the market. But in practice, the decision to automate often comes during a crisis, such as when a business is facing the obsolescence of their current tools, find that they’re unable to hire the people their business needs, or encounter a major shift in the market that forces them to review their existing technology and seriously consider major changes.

In Modern Distribution Management’s Automation Roundtable, sponsored by Net at Work, researcher and industry analyst Tom Gale asked a seasoned panel for their successes – and lessons learned – in their quest to increase productivity, efficiency and profitability by automating key tasks and processes within a distribution environment.

The Automation Roundtable panel included:

Tom Gale
Modern Distribution Management
Brandi Coats
Riley Sales
An established supplier for HVAC professionals throughout the greater Philadelphia area
John Gunderson
B2B Distribution Expert
Dorn Group
25 years of experience as a sales and marketing leader
Michelle Pecak
Founder & CEO
Simple Smart Consulting
With executive experience in operations as well as pricing and strategy

Automation can accelerate “right-skilling”

As the CFO of a growing HVAC distributor, Brandi Coats shared her decision-making process to automate – which transpired during a trifecta of hiring challenges, issues related to their existing legacy ERP that was no longer actively being enhanced, and the global pandemic.

Brandi said, “Our automation was about right-skilling the people that we have so that they can add more value to the company…When COVID hit, we didn’t have the right people in the right roles, and we needed to be able to automate some positions we just couldn’t fill. So, the leadership team started to review which processes didn’t make sense—which processes were eating time that we could use doing something else.”

“Our automation was about right-skilling the people that we have so that they can add more value to the company.”

Leadership at Riley Sales understood that automating certain processes would help their employees—who wanted to use their minds and grow in their positions—be more satisfied at work. For example, their receptionist became their key AP employee, and is now doing data and pricing analysis for the company that has helped increase the company’s margin percentage. Additionally, Brandi remarked that their increasing levels of automation allow them to now be strategic, while having fluid priorities based on shifts in the market.

The power of executive buy-in

Each panelist agreed that when convincing a company’s leaders to investigate how automation could help the organization, it’s effective to concentrate on one compelling metric, such as sales outstanding, and show an estimation of how automation in key areas could impact that number.

Michelle Pecak explained, “Simple math adds up very quickly. Those everyday tasks and the time [automation] saves and the customer service level that increases…the math doesn’t need to be complicated when you’re selling upstream.” 

The mechanics of beginning your automation journey

The webinar panelists shared additional lessons learned from their experience with companies who are working to become more automated. For example, John Gunderson talked about how to address the varying needs of companies across departments, saying, “Don’t address just one silo at a time. You can start workstreams in sales, digital or others in order to make progress.”

Another practical piece of advice from John: Watch your teams’ everyday tasks and look at any manual processes that could be automated. This will give you a good idea of which departments to prioritize.

Michelle agreed, adding, “Listen to your people, travel with them, and if you hit a really big speed bump you can just pause the process.”

Which application is right for you?

Learn more about the many benefits and hurdles associated with evaluating, selecting, implementing and managing business automation from these distribution experts by signing up to listen to “Automation Roundtable – Which Application is Right for You?” today.