The P2P Solutions Summit: Adults Swim, Kids Out Of The Pool

April 14, 2016

The PSDA just concluded its P2P Solutions Summit in uber-cool Nashville, where cover bands playing in the bars on Broadway think nothing of mashing up Metallica, Taylor Swift and Johnny Cash.

At Tennessee’s Texas-sized indoor maze, AKA the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, I attended several educational sessions for business owners and sales reps. In addition, I shook a lot of hands on the show-floor and talked to dozens of customers and partners.

Here’s what I took away from the P2P Solutions Summit:

Business is good. You can argue that the more successful businesses invest in these events, but even so there was a lot of enthusiasm. Strong 2015; 2016 off to a good start. Formerly print-centric companies are excited about apparel, signs, promo, and even pure technology offerings with no traditional product sale attached.

When you dig into the sentiment that business is generally good, you find weak and strong sectors. Those serving clients in the oil industry have lost a lot of business. In that space, flat is the new up.

On the other hand, several distributors were bullish about the growth of their business.  A common theme among them was the investment in technologies in their business.  As one vendor noted, “I’m way ahead of my competitors and I want to continue to stay ahead.  We have different conversations with our customers than most of our competitors.  We lead with technology and that makes us stand out.  And we want to continue to widen the gap by staying on the forefront of bringing the latest technologies to differentiate our business.”

Yes, People Still Matter.  Amid all the talk of the exploding B2B ecommerce market — predicted to be worth $1 trillion by 2020 — there was some predictable chatter about the importance of P2P (people to people) and H2H (human to human).

This is constructive when the context is the importance of the human element in selling, implementing and maintaining a variety of modern technologies, but it feels Luddite at times, as in “why did the world have to go and change…”

Furthermore, there’s a need to train organizations to build the discipline in their organizations of continually measuring customer satisfaction. Whether it’s through calculating the net promoter score or collecting business reviews, having an efficient way to measure customer satisfaction ensures distributors stay aligned with their customers.

Adult Swim, Kids Out of the Pool. I noticed that grown-up companies are looking hard for grown-up systems. Companies with vision and plans for growth are replacing antiquated niche accounting systems, they’re replacing tired W2P systems, and they are pushing on the Supplier Community to help them automate wherever possible.

Distributors and suppliers are actively discussing how to better integrate with each other.  They’re not sure exactly how to go about it, but there is a growing realization that it’s time to seek out technologies that will help them address this area of weakness.

There is also a movement underway at the PSDA to change its focus to become more of a technology conference as the leadership of the organization realizes that they need to become more competent in the technology aspects of the solutions they provide their clients.  Opportunity abounds for companies like ours to take a leadership role by providing thought leadership to members and show them how to lead with technology.

These same companies are upping their professionalism in other areas of the business, including talent acquisition and development. For example, many had finally created job descriptions and an employee handbook. Others had bona fide professional development plans, compensation plans, etc. It’s telling that in an industry known for fierce loyalty and nepotism, owners were openly talking about the need for “cousin Billy” to finally go — “he retired three years ago but never left the office.”

Final thought: the real value offered by these events is the chance for old friends or new to catch up over coffee or a beer and talk about what’s working, what isn’t…

For example, here’s an exchange I overheard (not kidding):

Longtime Four51 Customer: “I do $10M in annual sales with 7 people.”

Non-Four51 Customer: “Wow. I have twice as many employees and do half the revenue. What am I missing?”