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Tracking Your Customers and Your Supply Chain
(Marketing Memo, October, 2001)

Collaborative commerce is an innovative software application coming in 12-18 months, according to The Future of IT Spending - Charting the Course, October 2, 2001 by Patrick Burton and colleagues at SalomonSmithBarney. "Collaboration provides an environment where businesses can share product and process information across an extended enterprise, regardless of where (or in what form) that information resides," according to the analysts.

Solid market research is a precursor to collaborative commerce systems. You can use interviews, surveys, and informal assessments to query customers, suppliers, and distributors. Following are issues you can explore with three key groups without having a collaborative commerce system:

Customers: Frequent communications with customers allow you to anticipate shifts in demand and gauge the effects of recent events. Ask about

  • Changes in demand and competition.
  • Your performance -- customer satisfaction with your product, company, and support.
  • Operational issues -- how well your sales process works.
  • Unmet needs that you could address with a new version or another offering.

Suppliers: Car manufacturers were short of parts because their suppliers' just-in-time inventories were suddenly depleted following the September 11th disaster. Besides lining up back-up suppliers, you might want to explore the following issues with your suppliers:

  • Inventory practices and customer support procedures.
  • Barriers/impediments to the smooth flow of supplies.
  • Pricing models used with other customers.
  • Mechanisms for responding to changes in customer demands.

Distributors: Distributors can contribute significantly to your company's success or failure. If you are considering foreign distributors, undertake the usual due diligence process and also research local political, economic, and even cultural factors that could affect the distribution of your products and services. Ascertain if your channel is effectively distributing your product, and evaluate

  • Procedural or physical impediments that could limit the distributor's ability to operate efficiently.
  • Customer/market/product/technology knowledge.
  • Sales practices and skills.
  • Distractions, such as pre-occupation with other more lucrative product lines.

Winett Associates can help you sound out your customers, suppliers, and distributors so that you can facilitate change, one of the goals of collaborative commerce systems.

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