a man sitting at a computer

I was visiting my dad in his office when I came across a list tacked to his wall that displayed seven steps to stagnation. It immediately stopped me in my tracks. I decided then and there that I’d definitely be printing a copy for myself.

Sure enough, the next day I printed it out and now it’s hanging in plain site in my cube. I look at the list every single day. It serves as a constant reminder to be open-minded, flexible and adaptable.

A quick Google search revealed that the mastermind behind this list was Erwin M. Soukup and he wrote it sometime in the 1980s. If you’ve never seen the list before, let me be the first to enlighten you.

The seven steps to stagnation are:

  1. We've never done it that way.
  2. We're not ready for that yet.
  3. We're doing all right without it.
  4. We tried it once and it didn't work out.
  5. It costs too much. 
  6. That's not our responsibility. 
  7. It won't work. 

The concepts are quite simple, really. But putting them into practice can be tough. I’d argue that the companies who avoid stagnation will flourish – and beat the competition, every time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about manufacturing and distribution. (Full disclosure: I’m a marketer selling B2B ecommerce, I’m always thinking about manufacturing and distribution, ha) But in particular, I’ve been thinking about how manufacturers and distributors can avoid stagnation and take their businesses into the future. And here’s where I’ve landed:

Manufacturing and distribution businesses have been around for quite some time. At our user conference last year, our CEO invited companies who have been around for 50+ years to stand. Everyone stood up. Our customers all have legacies. Their stories are amazing.

The other day my boss was on a call with a marketing manager from a 100-year-old distributor of electrical products who shared the story of the business.

In 1920, the founder of the company started selling light bulbs out of the back of his truck to all the factories in town. Today, the business sees over $100 million a year in sales and is run by the grandson of the founder. Over the years, they’ve outgrown that lone delivery truck. The company now has locations in 3 states and employs more than 150 people.

To exist and succeed for a century means they’ve built a very impressive business. Over the decades, they’ve provided excellent service to their customers, provided good jobs that support countless families, and have remained an important part of the local community.

They built their business on relationships, on handshakes. They treat their customers right. Their word is their bond. They write thank-you notes. They call people back when they leave a message. They host customer appreciation days.

It’s how they’ve operated for years. But, over the last few years, the old ways of doing things haven’t been working as well as they used to. Customers aren’t as interested in picking up the phone. They don’t flip through the product catalog anymore. Their needs are evolving.

Does this sound familiar?

The reality is, younger generations are entering the B2B workforce. Technology is advancing. People want to – and expect to – do business on their own terms.

Doing business the same, stagnant way, could be a death wish.

But for companies who have been in business for a long time, organizational change can sound silly and even dangerous. Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Why try to incorporate something new when you’ve been doing okay without it for years?

See, that’s how businesses become stagnant. There’s little room to grow with these kinds of attitudes.

Look, in the words of our Minnesotan hero, Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changing. We have to change with them. Being stagnant is simply no longer an option.

That electrical distributor I mentioned earlier? They’ve incorporated ecommerce. Why? Because business has changed. Because they’ve gotten bigger. Because their customers have gotten younger.

Incorporating ecommerce means they can tap into new territories. Enable their sales people to do their jobs more efficiently. Drive more revenue. And better serve their customers. So they can continue thriving in Electrical Distribution for the next 100 years.

And that’s how you avoid stagnation. With ecommerce.

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