Becoming an Overpowering Force in Distribution

Dirk Beveridge
Founder of UnleashWD
dirk@4thgs.com

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Dirk’s book “Anything is Possible: Using the Power of Vision to Drive Innovation in Distribution.”

I’ve worked with Berlin Packaging over the past 25 years and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from CEO Andrew Berlin and the entire organization.

When Berlin bought the company in January 1988, it was valued at about $11.5 million. Fast forward to its $2.3 billion valuation as of August 2016—an impressive increase of 200 times more value. While there have been some strategic acquisitions, most of Berlin’s growth has been generated organically. It has consistently had double-digit growth every year for 20 years—while its competitors have grown by an average of 2 percent or 3 percent per year.

In one of my four new essays, “The Unstoppable Distributor: How to Become a Juggernaut Through Business Model Innovation,” I share five obsessions that have led Berlin to becoming a true juggernaut. I also dive into the three standards of customer satisfaction, ranging from adequacy and satisfied to the pinnacle of more-than-satisfied. The third standard is where Berlin knocks it out of the park. The more-than-satisfied customer standard involves the attitude of not merely wanting to satisfy the customer, but also to wow them. For companies with this standard, under-promising and over-delivering isn’t just a cliché.

Thrill Ride
Berlin Packaging is obsessed with having more-than-satisfied customers and has taken the idea to another level by branding this obsession, both internally and externally, into a term called “Thrill.”  All its processes are held up against this standard and only the ones that meet it are implemented.

This obsession also has led to Berlin mapping out the entire customer journey and identifying 30 or so different touch points, from when a customer first learns about Berlin (before they even enter the sales funnel) all the way to when the customer pays the invoice. Because Berlin knows it can’t attack all 30 touch points at once, it looks for the parts of the customer journey that aren’t at its Thrill standard and then makes them a priority.

If you want to drive your version of Thrill, there are two things you need to do. First, do the expected extraordinarily well. In distribution, that might be summed up as delivering the right product, at the right place, at the right time, and doing it much better than the norm.

Berlin accomplishes this by researching what its customers want from a distributor and then uses this information to define the five criteria they want at a minimum. Summarized in the acronym P.O.K.E.R (Proactivity, On-Time, Knowledgeable, Easy and Responsive), Berlin learned that its customers want proactivity from suppliers and product on time. They want to interact with knowledgeable individuals. They want to work with someone who is easy to do business with, and they want the organization to be very responsive. Berlin committed itself to executing these five criteria extraordinarily well.

Next, systems were put in place to drive that operational excellence even further. If customers wanted things to be on time, Berlin couldn’t afford to reinvent the wheel each day so it resolved to drive operational excellence throughout its entire operation. The results speak for themselves: Over the last 12 years, it hasn’t missed a single quarter of 99 percent on-time delivery.

The second thing you must do to maintain the highest level of satisfaction is to find a way to create the wow factor. One of the ways Berlin surprises its customers involves credit reports. Asking for a credit report is a necessary process, but it’s also an internal process that’s being done for your benefit. Basically, before you do anything for your customer, you’re asking them to do something for you.

Berlin decided it would reward customers for providing a credit report. So, any time a customer completes a credit application, it sends a nice thank-you note—which acknowledges this is being done for Berlin’s benefit—along with a digital Starbucks’ gift card.

If you want to transform your organization into a juggernaut, take a page out of Berlin Packaging’s playbook and hold your processes to a higher standard. 

More from Dirk Beveridge
Dirk Beveridge’s new book, “The Innovative Distributor Mindset,” is now available at http://book.myinnovativemindset.com.  Contact Dirk at dirk@unleashwd.com.