Distribution leaders find themselves in a once-in-a-career opportunity to create a culture of change, transformation and innovation.

This is your moment to seize the day. And… you can seize the day.

Harvard Business Review recently reported 88% of business leaders believe their organization is currently experiencing a disruption. This aligns with our own research that finds 76% of distributors believe we are living in an environment we could call the “age of disruption.”

Now more than ever, leaders in distribution need to step away from the tyranny of the urgent to stop, pause and think. We need to peer into the future and begin to make sense of the disruptive trends. We need to break free from the incestuous nature of the industry and start colliding with others – from outside our normal industry circles – to bring new perspectives and ideas back to our business.

We need to immerse ourselves into the business practices of what I have termed The Innovative Distributor to begin formulating that coherent vision, culture, value proposition, and business model that will lead our customers to a better future, for which they are willing and capable of rewarding us.

Those distributors that win the future will be innovative distributors. They will be led by individuals who build the business practices of The Innovative Distributor into their strategic plans. The model consists of five integrated business practices that must be at the core of every future-focused business.



In a world of uncertainty, one thing business leaders can count on is that their market, customers, technology — the world — will look very different 10 years from today. This demands that they peer into the future and craft their vision. Leaders must articulate and communicate a compelling and inspiring vision that demonstrates the gap between where they are today and what their business will become in the future. Without this vision, leaders will continually be ensnared by what we call “the gravitational pull of the status quo.”



Your future will be defined by your culture. Businesses either have a culture that attracts and retains industry-leading talent or they don’t. That culture either rewards the status quo or encourages experimentation without fear of failure. It either supports a set of behaviors and beliefs that foster change, transformation and innovation, or it rewards non-value-adding activity. It’s that simple.


Value proposition

Those companies that win the future will commit to breaking the “sameness” trap in which many are stuck. They will get closer to customers than any of their competitors do to more fully understand their needs, pains and desired gains. They understand that those who know the customer best, win.


Business model

The relevant companies of the future will innovate their business models. Their focus on specific customer segments will intensify, as will the innovative solutions they create and deliver. Their business model will include non-traditional partners with adjacent capabilities and solutions that enhance their own. Looking at distributors in particular, the relevant companies of the future will create more value than simply getting the right product to the right place at the right time.


Transformative leadership

The relevant companies will be those who are most successful at developing their talent and leadership. A changing world requires talented individuals who can create alignment, inspire extraordinary effort, strategically make the big calls, and execute with precision.

Over the next months, this column will explore each of these components of The Innovative Distributor in greater depth with examples from within distribution and beyond.  If you have a story you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you at Dirk@unleashwd.com.