My past experience includes growing a distributor business from $10M to $65M.  My current focus now is on advising small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). I find that digital transformation can seem daunting to this group. Often, smaller companies feel they stand at a competitive disadvantage to larger distributors, who have more funds to invest in digital investments. To offset the threat of alternative digital sales, I advise Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs) to lean on your strengths.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation involves the strategic adoption of new technologies in the marketplace. It is used to improve productivity, deliver better customer and employee experiences, manage business risk, and control costs. Furthermore, a myriad of tools, solutions, and processes are used in digital implementation and often require significant investment.

Costs coming down

It’s true —an integrated enterprise resource plan (ERP) can be expensive, but costs are coming down. The pandemic accelerated the development of digitalization. This increased demand for digital tools to drive down the cost of implementation. For instance, take note of how prices dropped as demand increased for flat-screen TVs/monitors, smart phones, and computers.

Start with the fundamentals

While working with a small distributor that is taking its first steps toward digitization. For starters, the company is giving all employees mobile computers. Depending on their roles, some will receive barcode scanners, radio frequency identification readers (RFID readers) as well as mobile printers.

Amanda Honig, Regional Portfolio Manager for Zebra in North America, explains in a recent issue of Industrial Distribution , “This [mobile devices] is the fundamental ‘digital’ toolset in today’s distribution and warehousing environment. They can quickly locate, pick, and pack parts and equipment, report findings of visual quality inspections, and notify stakeholders when things are on the move to the next destination — whether that’s a shelf bin’ packaging line, loading dock, or customer.”


To innovate, SMBs should deploy simple digitalization of their data and workflows. Additionally, SMBs should focus on areas such as inventory management, receiving, picking, packaging, and shipping. Finally, train your employees on how to use mobile devices that improve daily activities.

SMBs are agile and have the ability to react quickly to customers’ needs. Use this to your advantage. Rather than worrying that you have fewer tangible digital resources than your larger competitors, lean on your strengths to gain a competitive advantage.

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