Navigating Disruption with Artificial Intelligence

March 28, 2017

“I’m not sure if you view Amazon as a friend or foe."

This was the gutsy opening statement for Rob Green, director and general manager of Amazon Business, when speaking to the attendees of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributor (NAW) Executive Summit in D.C. last month.

I suspect he knew the answer, nonetheless, he was very open in sharing the strategies of Amazon and Amazon Business. While the B2B arm of the internet megalith is stunning distributors with its sales figures topping $1 billion in the first year and 20 percent month over month growth, the marketplace has issues. For example, in B2B shipping consolidated pallets, LTL and full truckloads are the norm and Amazon Business hasn’t perfected that to compete with classic B2B distributors. Amazon will certainly catch up and I heard from many distributors at the conference on what they’re doing to be proactive.

Artificial Intelligence in Use at Graybar

Take Graybar, for instance. President and CEO Kathy Mazzarella has been building a team to utilize artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and science to improve human performance at the company.

Per another event presenter, Michael Steep, executive director of the Stanford Center for Digital Cities and emerging technologies, there’s one key when deploying any technology:

“Data is no good without actionable insights. Distributors have the data – mountains of it from all different sources – but they don’t know how to effectively and efficiently mine for those insights,” said Michael at the conference. He discussed how predictive analytics and AI are now relevant to wholesale distributors.

I completely agree. If you can’t serve up actionable insights that help your sales team and meet business objectives, then it might not be a worthwhile endeavor. Kathy echoed this sentiment as well: “Effective use of data analytics doesn’t happen by throwing people at a pile of data and saying, ‘What do you see?’”

My main takeaway from the conference was this:  Distributors still view Amazon as a foe, but they do have some vulnerabilities to capitalize on in the short term. Innovative distributors are looking to AI and advanced Data Science to take advantage of the data available and turn the disruption into a significant opportunity to improve their business.

Learn how artificial intelligence delivers the most predictable, reliable and actionable driver of top line growth.

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