By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon
In this recent blog series we have repeatedly used the term “strategic collaboration”. Collaboration is certainly not new. Business have been working in partnership and alliances for centuries. What is new in the retail marketplace are the rising demands of customers creating unprecedented demands on service levels and resources. Traditional supply chains are inadequate for both selling and delivering products to customers any time and everywhere.
Beyond product transactions, customers are driving new expectations of choice, convenience and customization. These demands challenge the resources of even the world’s largest retailers. Increasingly, retail is becoming an ecosystem of collaborative partnerships. Future success will increasingly depend upon optimizing the joint strategic potential of collaborating with partners, and avoiding the landmines of misaligned objectives and communication that undermine relationships and results.
What moves a transactional relationship to strategic collaboration?
There are a number of business relationships that are by their nature purely transactional. Retailers do need to purchase distribution and logistics to go the last mile to the customer’s door. What makes these relationships become strategic collaboration is twofold: 1) focus on objectives that create strategic competitive advantage for both partners, and 2) a trust relationship of exchange that focuses on creating results that count for both partners.
Pitfalls of partnering without a strategy
Amazon is particularly adept at innovation. It’s in their DNA to design customer centric services that create lasting, differentiated profitable relationships with customers. They have more collaborative partnerships and retail pilots than anyone in the west.
Amazon has recently created a strategic collaboration with Kohl’s department stores for selling Amazon devices and taking Amazon returns. This is a competitive advantage for Kohl’s stores in the short-term. However, Amazon also competes with Kohl’s the retailer in almost every product category. So what might be strategic now could be cannibalism in the near future.
Amazon is very strategic in structuring its business relationships. But that does not make Amazon a partner that collaborates particularly well. Especially with retailers. Amazon high profile partnerships have turned out badly for a number of retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us and mass merchant Target. In these three cases the retailers were essentially outsourcing key elements of their customer strategy. Lessons learned: if Amazon can ultimately compete with you as a retailer or distributor, they will, and be the stronger for it. As a brand or retailer they must avoid the landmines by focusing AND managing the critical success factors of collaboration.
5 Critical Success Factors and Requirements for Strategic Collaboration
Volumes have literally been written on the components of partnership and collaboration. Our focus here is the emerging retail ecosystem and the new levels of cross collaboration required to fill gaps and scale services that meet the rising demands of today’s consumers. To thrive, the retail C-Suite must be engaged and focused on these five essentials:
- Strategic Alignment
There is nothing wrong with outsourcing, companies do it all of the time. But true collaboration is not “transactional”. To collaborate means to: “work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something”. Strategic collaboration requires that both parties clearly articulate objectives that matter strategically, and clearly define the joint processes they will employ to create/achieve them.
- Specific Objectives
In order to avoid the pitfall of the partnership being one sided, both parties need to clearly identify specific objectives they expect to achieve, individually AND together. The more the collaboration involves innovative transformation, the more important jointly defined objectives become.
- Measurable Outcomes
Intentions are NOT enough. To successfully create a win-win scenario there must be more than a mere transactional parameters. There needs to focus on measureable results. In a true collaboration relationship, the measurable outcomes must be jointly owned by both partners. You can’t jointly manage what you can’t measure AND share. A fundamental requirement of collaboration is joint scoreboard with all the objectives, KPIs and joint outcomes visible for the collaborating partners.
- Data is the New Currency for Strategic Collaboration
Strategic collaboration is built upon a foundation of shared information and insights. Case in point is the “last mile of delivery”. In order for distributors to ensure that they have products in stock and the capacity for drop shipment, they need accurate timely data from their retailers. Weekly sales data is no longer sufficient. The retail ecosystem built to serve customer expectations for any time and everywhere. It requires accurately and timely sales and inventory data daily. There can no longer be separate retailer and vendor forecasts – there must be a shared forecast built upon shared, timely data exchange.
- Trust built upon open communication and sharing at ALL levels
True collaboration cannot be based upon guesses, hearsay and yesterday’s communication. The foundation of trust begins at the very top and flows all the way down. Trust requires on-going communication of the processes, the insights learned that will benefit both partners, and how to sustain achieving results. Simply, trust is built upon two way communication. Collaboration requires a deeper level of sharing required to align, create, manage and measure joint results.
Every retailer has a choice. They can wait until they are “ready”, or take action now to collaborate strategically to create a niche that makes them relevant. Customers will decide every day who wins by voting with their physical and digital wallet.
Chris Petersen and Adam Simon are collaborating on a series of blogs that explore the rise of strategic collaboration and new customer centric ecosystems. This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel discussion at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast, where a global Brand, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives on strategic collaboration.
If you are interested in more information on this CES event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.