7 Strategies to Grow Your Manufacturing & Distribution Business with Digital Commerce

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

Have you seen your traditional sales channels disrupted by giants like Amazon Business and Grainger? Many mid-market manufacturers and distributors have been and are uncertain of what next steps to take. 

This past week, APICS Milwaukee members and friends got to hear from Lori McDonald, CEO of Brilliance Business Solutions, share Seven Strategies to Grow Manufacturing & Distribution Businesses with Digital Commerce.

Buyers today are expecting digital experiences that make their lives easier. Many manufacturers and distributors have business models with complex pricing rules and account structures that present challenges when selling products online and many still rely on traditional sales models.

Lori shared the following seven strategies for growing your revenue with digital commerce:

  1. Digital Sales (or RFQs): If you aren’t selling products online you should be. If your products don’t lend themselves to online sales, create a request for quote tools that simplify the process of requesting a quote.  Work towards having at least 50% of your SKUs available to order or request a quote for online.
  2. Account Level Controls: For most B2B businesses there are multiple buyers at an organization. As such your digital commerce capabilities must allow multiple users to log in to the same account. Key questions to consider when doing this are: What data such as orders, pricing, and products, will be tied to a company account vs an individual buyer? Will there be workflow or approval rules? What is most important for your tech team to consider in the short term and what can wait?
  3. Optimized Search: With thousands or tens of thousands of products on your site, you need to make it easy for buyers to find what they are looking for. Improve your site search through improving your product data - including photography, specifications, facets such as size, brand, product attributes. Allow buyers to narrow the product results using those facets.  You need to understand where the data is, who will provide it and who will maintain it.
  4. Collaboration with the Giants: Consider selling through marketplaces like Amazon and Grainger. It increases visibility and companies benefit from their investment in their digital tools and their strong B2B functionality. While large marketplaces can provide opportunities, they can also impact margins and limit customer ownership. As an example, Amazon has rules around what you can put in the packages when you fulfill orders. It is important to be strategic about what products you offer through marketplaces and to maintain your own site in addition to the marketplaces that offer products only available through your own site.
  5. Personalized Product Recommendations: Machine learning technology can be leveraged to display products based on user’s factors – including what items people purchase after looking at this product, but also looking at the pages this particular user is visiting, and what products other customers have purchased after visiting similar pages and making the best recommendation for that specific user. Third-party tools to consider for personalized recommendations are Certona, 4-Tell, Rich Relevance, SLI Systems and Episerver (standalone or part of their eCommerce software).
  6. Strategic Content: Demonstrate your value to potential customers through sharing your subject matter expertise through content on your site. Identify your customer pain points and the knowledge you have internally to help your customers and create resources that make your ideal customer’s life easier.  This is the path to competing with giants like Amazon Business and Grainger.
  7. Anticipate Customer Needs: To further grow customer loyalty and top-line revenue, companies should anticipate customer needs and look for software offerings that allow for personalizing the customer experience. This could include showing customers their most ordered products to simplify reordering; triggering emails to remind customers to place orders when you know they are likely to need items; personalizing search results so that if their search returns 300 items, you make the item they are likely looking for (based on what your machine learning software has learned about them and other customers similar to them) the top item.

As traditionally product-focused manufacturers and distributors move to become more customer-centric, effective digital solutions will be essential. Applying the above strategies will help ensure the best approach to ensure long term success.

APICS Milwaukee is the premier professional association for supply chain management, helping over 180 Milwaukee area companies represented by our members, with educational and networking opportunities.   

We look forward to helping you grow with more educational opportunities in 2020 including our Supply Chain Workshops and globally recognized certification training!  For additional information, contact us via our website at: http://apicsmilw.org or via email at: [email protected]

63% of Manufacturers State Finding Talent Remains Top Challenge in 2020

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Is your company struggling to find skilled talent?

If so, you are not alone. Per the National Association for Manufacturers (NAM) 2019 4th Quarter Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, “The inability to attract and retain a quality workforce remained respondents’ top concern for the ninth consecutive survey, noted as the top concern by 63.8% of respondents.” NAM represents 14,000 member companies from across the country, in every industrial sector and their Q4 survey is based on 287 responses small to large-sized manufacturers.

What are strategies to close the talent gap? Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute identified a number of creative approaches in their 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute skills gap and future of work study to meeting talents needs over the next several years summarized below: 

  1. Taking advantage of the emerging workforce ecosystem: In the United States, more than 40 percent of workers are now employed in “alternative work arrangements,” such as contingent, part-time, or gig work and the percentage is rising. There is a big opportunity for manufacturers to leverage this workforce, but they would need to revisit the structure of work demands, how they execute talent acquisition and engage talent within the four walls of the factory.
  2. Turning toward automation to supplement human jobs that are going unfilled: Many manufacturers today are turning toward automation to supplement the low-skilled jobs they cannot fill and instead focus their existing workers on jobs that are either higher-skilled or require uniquely human skills. Nearly half of the executives surveyed in the skills gap study have implemented automation technologies in the form of robots, cobots, machine learning, or AI in the past three years.
  3. Tapping into the resources from the retiring generation of baby boomers: Manufacturers should think carefully about the potential impact a wave of retirements could have on their organization and seize any opportunities to hold on to their proven, committed, and experienced workforce and leverage them as a competitive advantage.
  4. Developing in-house training that engages a multigenerational workforce: Despite manufacturers’ focus on internal training programs, the pace of change still exceeds the extent and capacity of the training programs. Manufacturers should consider increasing investment in training programs and integrating digital technologies to add relevance, helping employees move ahead on the digital curve.
  5. Creating public-private partnerships: The path forward includes manufacturing organizations forging long-term partnerships with public education, industry associations, and agencies to develop programs that build a strong connection with the industry, creating a skilled talent pool for tomorrow’s manufacturing environment.
  6. Bolstering apprenticeship programs: Exposure to a skilled trade through an apprenticeship has shown to be a promising pathway for filling many of the skilled jobs that lie open in the manufacturing industry.

Given the talent shortage projections of up to 2 million workers over the upcoming years, traditional talent acquisition strategies will not be enough.

APICS Milwaukee stands ready to help Milwaukee manufacturers by offering and delivering valuable training proven to help companies increase the skills of existing workers, reduce costs and grow revenue. We are the premier professional association for supply chain management, helping over 180 Milwaukee area companies represented by our members, with educational and networking opportunities.   

We look forward to helping you and your company develop existing and find new talent in 2020 to achieve your goals. For additional information, contact us via our website at: http://apicsmilw.org or via email at: [email protected]

Tips for Successful Supplier Negotiations in 2020

Does your role involve negotiating with suppliers? Could you use advice on how to improve the process for all participants?

SupplyChainDive recently shared 5 steps to successful supplier negotiations highlighted below.

  1. Understand your mission and business drivers: It is essential to understand the fundamentals of your own business so you can develop a negotiation strategy that complements the overall strategy. Questions to consider: What are the essential business objectives of your company? What markets do you serve, who are your customers, what are their requirements and what are the operational goals of your business? Without a strong understanding of the business issues that makes your organization tick, you will never be able to successfully negotiate at any level.
  2. Understand their mission and business drivers: Understanding what business issues drive your suppliers will allow you to develop successful situational negotiation strategies. It is easy to compile intelligence on your suppliers so you can understand their pressures. This process can also be a good way to determine pricing trends, market constraints, regulatory issues or other important issues that the supplier may not quickly share.
  3. Be authentic to build credibility and trust: Negotiation can be an emotional exercise, with the pressure of the bottom line creating an environment of conflict and mistrust both inside and outside of the company. Those emotions are not limited to the usual buyer and supplier dust-ups, but internal judgments and misconceptions as well, as the importance of the supply chain gain greater company recognition. Avoid posturing, bluffing, lies or deceit. These are tactics of a bygone era. Be yourself, adhere to your personal and organizational values and proudly represent your company. Trust is an underappreciated business and personal attribute. Gain it and keep it.
  4. Work towards a positive outcome for all parties: Win-win negotiations are a bit of a misnomer. It does not mean each party gets exactly what they want, or there is one giant compromise in the "let’s split the difference" model. In a win-win negotiation, both parties can compromise so each side captures some level of value. Win-win negotiations in a relationship-based environment take on a long-term approach with a balance of success for both sides over time. One-off negotiations, perhaps for a piece of capital equipment, may lend itself to less of a relationship-based win-win model, replaced with a more traditional style of negotiation. Experienced buyers can negotiate over range of business situations.
  5. Create a plan for evaluation and assessment: Negotiations are not singular events, but continuous efforts that need ground rules and communication frameworks. Leave little to chance and revisit performance often. Identify issues early to avoid conflict later. Establish key performance indicators in the contract that will form a basis for discussion. Focus on cost, delivery performance, quality levels and a kaleidoscope of customer support initiatives. The indicators provide a great framework for regular contract reviews. But note in a relationship-based environment, the buyer has key performance indicators as well, including adherence to payment to terms, consistent forecasting and a resolution format for operational issues.

As SupplyChainDive points out, understanding the business drivers for all parties is essential and working together towards an overall positive outcome will position you and your suppliers for success in 2020!

Looking for more information on negotiation skills? We are hosting a workshop on the “Art of Negotiations” on January 22nd.  In this workshop, participants will learn the art behind successful negotiations, a key skill for many sales, operations and supply chain roles.

Enhancing the ability of employees to effectively communicate, negotiate, resolve conflict, and work effectively as individuals or as team members, reduces wasted time and improves efficiency. Also, it saves valuable management time that would be needlessly spent putting out fires caused by these deficiencies.

Successful negotiations generally require a number of steps and failure to follow these steps often leads to achieving an inferior result -- achieving less than the possible. Successful negotiations can be measured in a number of different ways. This workshop, taught by Lawrence Kahn, J.D., B.B.A., founder and Executive Director of Strategic Resolutions, Conflict Management & Prevention, will teach participants the following:

  • Negotiation is a learnable art
  • What it means to be an active listener
  • Body language - An essential management and negotiation skill
  • The process of perception
  • The six steps of negotiation: Preparation, Introduction, Fact Finding, Option Generating, Negotiating, and Wrapping Up


Learn more…

APICS Milwaukee is the premier professional association for supply chain management, helping over 180 Milwaukee area companies represented by our members, with educational and networking opportunities.    

For additional information, contact your local APICS Milwaukee Chapter via our website at: http://apicsmilw.org to learn more about our certifications and the value of membership.  We look forward to hearing from you and helping you grow your knowledege in 2020!

Congratulations to Milwaukee Area Supply Chain Professionals APICS Certified in 2019!

Photo Source: APICS Milwaukee Certification Earners

APICS Milwaukee offers CONGRATULATIONS to the following individuals in the greater Milwaukee area for earning their APICS certification in 2019! 

  1. Wayiribe Bangali, CLTD
  2. Corrinne Benhart, CPIM
  3. David D’Amour, CPIM, CSCP, CLTD
  4. James Herzfeldt, CPIM
  5. Adam Hill, CLTD
  6. Tianrui Huang, CPIM, CSCP
  7. Jacob Janiszewski, CPIM
  8. Sandy Luanglath, CLTD
  9. Brandon McAdam, CPIM
  10. Brian Mlodzik, CPIM
  11. Amar Patil, CPIM, CSCP
  12. Justin Plassmeyer, CPIM
  13. Abbey Schneider, CPIM
  14. Gregory Studer, CPIM, CSCP

Advance your career and earn more in 2020! APICS Milwaukee Chapter is hosting instructor-led classes starting in March to help you get certified in 2020!

Per the 2019 Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) Supply Chain Compensation and Career Survey Report, a research report comprised of data from more than 1,700 U.S. supply chain professionals, “the median salary for people with at least one APICS certification is 25% higher than those without.”

The key findings from the report included: 

  1. SALARIES ARE ON THE RISE: The median salary for supply chain professionals in 2018 was $80,000, up from $78,000 in 2017. Annual average raises increased to 4.2%, up from 3% in 2017. Respondents who supervise others reported significantly higher salaries.
  1. JOB STABILITY IS STRONG: Most respondents stayed with their current companies. Over half remained in their current position, nearly a quarter were promoted and 13% moved laterally within their company.
  1. FAVORABLE WORK/LIFE BALANCE: Nearly all respondents receive holiday pay and 80% have three weeks or more of paid time off. More than half are offered flexible schedules and can work from home if needed.
  1. GENDER SALARY GAP CLOSING: The gap between men’s and women’s salaries appears to be narrowing, especially for those under 40.
  1. JOB SATISFACTION: An overwhelming majority of respondents are very or extremely satisfied with their jobs.
  1. APICS CERTIFICATION PAYS OFF: The median salary for respondents with at least one APICS certification is 25% higher than those without a certification.

The globally recognized APICS certification programs below are being offered by APICS Milwaukee. All classes are taught by APICS instructors to help you get certified in 2020!

APICS Milwaukee chapter members receive discounts on all certification programs – click here to join todayClick the links below to reserve your seat!


  • CPIM Part II – The second part of the CPIM certification workshop designed for comprehensive professional development and exam preparation for CPIM certification.



  • CLTD (Certified Logistics, Transportation and Distribution): The CLTD program helps you demonstrate in-depth knowledge of a broad range of supply chain logistics topics to set you apart from your peers. Elevate awareness, professionalism, and knowledge/skills of Logistics, Transportation & Distribution practitioners.


APICS Milwaukee is the premier professional association for supply chain management, helping over 180 Milwaukee area companies represented by our members, with educational and networking opportunities.    

For additional information, contact your local APICS Milwaukee Chapter via our website at: http://apicsmilw.org to learn more about our certifications and the value of membership.  We look forward to hearing from you and helping you earn your certification in 2020!

Logistics Panel Discussion – 9 Key Tactics

Is your company experiencing rising logistics costs? Below we share nine tactics companies are implementing today to address the prospect of increased distribution expenses.

Per Forbes earlier this year, The 2019 State of Logistics report overall US logistics costs rose 11.4% to reach $1.64 trillion, or 8% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Last week, The Milwaukee Logistics Council and APICS Milwaukee co-hosted a Logistics Panel dinner and discussion to review the top trends influencing US logistics. The panel included logistic experts Ben Hartford, Sr. Equity Research Analyst – Transportation & Logistics from RW Baird, Kurt Baumann, Vice President of Consulting Services, Armstrong & Associates, Inc. and Steve Silvis, Solutions Engineering, 3PLR Logistics Consulting.

Pictured on the right, Ben Hartford kicked off the discussion by sharing key economic data trends impacting overall transportation efforts in the US.

Next Kurt Baumann shared key logistic trends and optimization strategies.

He provided the following nine tactics companies are doing today to address the prospect of increasing distribution costs.

9 Tactics to Address Increasing Logistics Costs:

  1. Expanding use of carrier volume agreements and contracted rates to stabilize availability
  2. Effort toward Shipper Choice programs to improve carrier relations and support their efficiency
  3. Deployment of shipment and carrier sensing technologies to improve visibility and utilization
  4. Expansion of last-mile delivery capabilities and networks, especially to support eCommerce
  5. Migration to lower-cost distribution locations, balancing the increased cost of transportation
  6. Continuing trend among shippers to outsource logistics to 3PLs
  7. Investment in business intelligence applications and technology to integrate data from disparate sources
  8. AI and machine-learning technology to improve decision analysis and labor efficiencies
  9. Increased use of optimization techniques for logistics sourcing and network design

Kurt suggested that smart companies will anticipate the need to drive efficiencies and mitigate rising costs. Lastly, the group heard from Steve Silvis on leveraging data to optimize your supply chain network.

At APICS Milwaukee we support logistics and supply chain professionals with local networking and educational opportunities to stay up to date with the latest trends.  We are excited to host upcoming instructor-led training courses in March 2020 for APICS CLTD 2.0 Learning System that will expand participants’ global logistics knowledge with updated content to ensure logistics, transportation and distribution professionals have the knowledge they need to succeed in the global marketplace.

2020 CLTD 2.0 Enhancements Include:

  1. 9 new case studies (1-per module)
  2. Updates to the online menu to assist students such as downloadable e-Pub files for note taking, exam prep video series, in-product calculator, instructor-led slides and more
  3. Moving from 8 to 9 modules, splitting the CLTD 1.0 Inventory and Warehousing into individual modules
  4. Progress check questions moved into online quizzes
  5. 2 physical printed books

Sign up today on our website for our expert instructor-led class starting on March 11, 2020, Wednesdays (5-9) – 10 Sessions. Cost: $1,750 Member/$1,995 Non Member.  Learn more…

APICS Milwaukee is the premier professional association for supply chain management, helping approximately 450 members representing over 180 Milwaukee area companies with educational and networking opportunities.  APICS Milwaukee chapter members receive discounts on all certification programs – click here to join today

Looking for more information on how APICS Milwaukee can help you in your career and current supply chain trends, visit our website at: https://apicsmilw.org.