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Was that investment a good idea?

balancing need vs. cost

By Jason Bader

I had the opportunity recently to facilitate some online discussions about challenges that companies face with technology in their organizations. In one group, we discussed various investments over the years and whether they were successful, a complete failure, or the jury was still out. In another 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 if that purpose is no longer relevant, 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. If you walk a mile in my shoes, I have the opportunity to see so many ways distributors incorporate advances in their organizations. As a business owner, I can see how 15 minutes on LinkedIn or other media platform 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 of their pertinent benefits, all of these enhancements jockey for your attention. 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 have a successful outcome, we should consider five different phases of integration: identification, selection, implementation, education and adoption. You may have more ideas, but these make sense to me. In the remainder of this article, I will explain each one and give a little insight on my thought process.

The identification phase is where we need to filter out all the noise and get down to the business challenge we are trying to solve. What I have found here is that 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 ’90s. These were largely informational only, but there were significant dollars laid out to make them happen. What was the purpose? Did anyone have a crystal-clear understanding of what this investment was supposed to do? Could we envision the emergence of e-commerce back then? This may be one reason that web-based investments have taken so long to produce a return.

If we are clear about the business challenge, and how we are going to make money by the resolution, we are ready to move to selection. This one can be tough. If the solution has not been widely adopted, there may not be 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 is a cultural fit with your own. 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 their 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 have involved noticeably clear timelines and almost militant adherence to deadlines. Many customers want to point fingers at the solution provider if the implementation schedule goes sideways. I would suggest that a lack of discipline on the part of the client is often the culprit. As the business owner, you need to be accountable to the plan. Do not expect to get prodded and coddled though the process. If that is the attitude you adopt, the implementation will move at a glacial pace. Furthermore, be realistic with the go-live date. Implementation is going to take twice as long as you expect.

Snuggled inside the implementation phase is the educational piece. The reason I break it out is that it is probably the most critical component to success. If the users do not get it, they will not attempt it. This training component is often the reason that implementations get pushed out. 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 percent committed to this process. Do not forget the purpose (solution of business challenge) when introducing the training element. Explain the solution in terms of benefits to the user. Will it reduce time? Will it add 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 fully installed and ready for deployment, the final consideration is adoption. We may have a strong purpose. We may have selected the best fit for our company. We may have had a solid implementation process with excellent training. With all this being said, how do we make it part of the culture? How do we make sure that this is the go-to solution among the people that work with us and for us? We need champions. In the discussion I facilitated, 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 for me. Salespeople listen to the success stories of their peers. By having one of the salespeople relay how this CRM has made them faster, better-looking and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, other team members became attracted to the solution. Sometimes it is really all about FOMO, the fear of missing out.

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

Jason BaderJason Bader, principal of The Distribution Team, is a holistic distribution advisor who is passionate about helping business owners solve challenges, generate wealth and achieve personal goals. He speaks at several industry events, provides executive coaching services to private clients and contributes to industry publications. He recently launched his first podcast, Distribution Talk. Episodes can be found at Reach him at (503) 282-2333 or at or visit

This article originally appeared in the July/Aug. 2020 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2020, Direct Business Media.


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