From Market Position To Eco-System

The door to dialogue is open! In the April and May issues of Inbound Logistics, this column focused on the ways our business is changing. Rapidly. Dramatically. And permanently! I invited readers to respond with their thoughts and their experiences, and respond you did.

You wrote about increasing the velocity of supply chains, synchronizing activities, and sharing and automating processes at megaspeed. You expressed concern about how we can keep the humanistic side alive. You described innovative systems designed to cut fulfillment times and reduce operating costs by streamlining order processing systems.

What a brave new world! A world where the lines between provider, customer, and competitor are blurred. Where anything can lead to new knowledge and everything will be connected.

The new economy—the one we are forging with moving, changing relationships and dynamic partnerships—transforms the business environment into one big eco-system. In the old order, companies within an industry formed a hierarchy and fiercely guarded their market position. But today’s eco-system works differently: All of us provide different combinations of services, aligned with changing composites of partners, to customers whose businesses are constantly evolving as well. The Internet eliminates time and space, and our need to learn and to share breaks down the barriers between us. Through strategic alliances we are able to create new synergies, unique networks of capabilities. We accomplish things together that we couldn’t achieve alone. And we include in these networks not just our customers and our suppliers, but in some cases, other providers whom we used to view only as “competitors.”

Does that make us all alike? Definitely not. In fact, in this new world with dotted lines between businesses, the soul and character of a business is key. What we stand for—our mission, vision, and values—is a promise to our customers and a reminder to our people: Who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Our Identity is the essence of today’s company—the one true thing that defines us, even as our capabilities, our processes, our partners, our locations, and our contacts may change. We preserve what is best about us and re-invent the rest.

When we know who we are and when we communicate that with passion and with clarity, other companies—prospective customers and potential partners—who want to do businesses with a company “like us” will seek connection. We ask the questions that matter most. Does this partner view logistics as part of an overall strategy to enhance the consumer experience? Do the leaders of the company collaborate for results—and are they willing to share planning, data, and strategy? Do they believe that know-how is embedded in people and processes rather than in things? Do they place a priority on flexibility and responsiveness?

Compatible values and comparable visions lay the groundwork for new partnerships. And as in our analogy of the eco-system, organizations (like organisms) that form symbiotic relationships will succeed together.

As we define ourselves, so must we take the time to really know and understand our customers. As John Perry, Logistics Manager of Cuddledown, Inc., a catalog retailer of bed and bath products located in Portland, Maine, pointed out, “working with a supplier that understands your needs is invaluable.” He has found that “partnering with our service providers is the most important factor in getting our freight delivered on time…No matter where we go from here, the relations that we have with our service provider will always have an impact on the success we achieve.” Very true, John!

So, as service providers, we take that to heart. We need to realistically assess which kinds of companies we are best suited to serve. At DSC, our best relationships tend to be with companies in one of three groups: Fortune 100 and other Blue Chip companies, mid-size high-growth companies, and dot-com companies who operate in the consumer and/or healthcare spaces. This assessment comes from our experience, from our vision, and from our desire to provide knowledge-based services—as well as traditional logistics services—to companies who are in the process of inventing or re-inventing themselves.

Your ideal customer may be something entirely different. But the point is, in this new world, our knowledge of ourselves and our willingness to learn about our customers become the constant in the ever-changing environment. In this new eco-system, we are all connected!

Now, tell me what you think. Are you partnering more than you used to? With different kinds of companies from those who used to be your partners? How do you find them—or do they find you? Are you changing your focus, your mission, your vision? And if you are, how readily do your employees and your partners embrace that change? I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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