Here are some ideas for how feed formulators can break out of the status quo and transform the business into a resilient industry leader.
By JOHN FOLEY*
LAST week, I was at the auto dealership waiting for my car to get an oil change, and it occurred to me just how much "customer service" has evolved in the retail auto business. In fact, even the lingo is different.
The new focus is on the "customer experience," as defined by inviting spaces, gourmet coffees and chai teas, Wi-Fi-while-you-wait and a whole bunch of other niceties to help the time pass painlessly.
While I sat there checking email and enjoying a chai latte, I realized that if the American auto industry — the behemoth of all culturally entrenched industries — sees the need to be more customer focused, then why, oh why, don't we?
I get it. There are a million reasons why things in the feed industry have to be done the same way they were 50 years ago. For those of you who follow my writings, you'll probably think, "Here he goes, ranting again."
Seriously, though, all we have to do is get out and look to see that the world is changing around us, and I don't mean just at the auto dealership. I mean with customers! That's right, the very people you are producing feed for are walking around with smartphone apps that do everything from measuring herd health to checking market prices.
That, my friends, is the cautionary message I am talking about. Do you ever get concerned, maybe even a little paranoid, about the potential for a new competitor to come out of nowhere and disrupt or steal your business?
If you follow the news, if you remember what happened to Kodak, Borders, Circuit City and Blockbuster, it's a safe bet that the thought has crossed your mind. We can't assume that we will be immune to the forces of the current state of business. Let's talk reinvention.
If you sit in the feed formulator's chair, what can you do to help your organization survive and, hopefully, thrive in the turmoil of 21st-century business?
It's just too easy to do what we've always done to get that batch of feed formulas re-optimized. We trust the ingredient library's accuracy. We fax a formula here and email one there. We crank out the formulas and rarely take time to think about who might be lurking out there, preparing to disintermediate us from our customers' supply chains.
How can we break out of our malaise and transform our business into a resilient industry leader? Here are a couple of ideas:
1. Move up the Freedom Scale. Unless you are at a 5 on everything, meaning you make decisions and act independently, reporting only on a routine basis, you should strive for this. You probably won't be at a 5 on everything, but you should be on some key job responsibilities for which you have the required experience and expertise.
2. Take on a competitive mindset. Realize that you compete with every individual who has a similar role at other companies. Are you winning against these people who could replace you or disrupt how things are done today?
3. Think about how what you do could be disrupted:
* Does a competitor have better business intelligence than you?
* Does someone have better facts, e.g., more up-to-date, accurate nutrient composition data on ingredients?
* Can someone else access and move formulation data faster and better, like an ingredient supplier, price and nutrient content data, formula specifications or productive formulas?
* Does someone know how to identify, find, buy and use opportunity ingredients better? Do they know more suppliers? Do they know more about the variability and value of ingredients from various suppliers? Are they more willing to work with suppliers other than their best buddies?
* Is someone marginalizing you as a middleman and working to eliminate your role by saying it's an unnecessary cost?
* Can you serve your customers as they grow, or will they leave you behind?
* Is your brand strong in the marketplace? Is it distinctive, relevant and consistent? How strong is your personal brand?
4. Look through the eyes of your customers. What are you doing today that they could do without? Where can you simplify, eliminate, speed up and consolidate, and where should you expand, elevate, innovate and reinvent? How can you keep your organization continually reinventing itself?
Consider this: If you feel secure in your status quo role, you are among the most vulnerable as an individual and — with your co-workers — as an organization. You must reinvent. Learn more than you are taught. Read, view, research, converse, search, ask and network your way to a higher place. Your organization relies on you to be the strongest competitor.
I just visited the car dealership again this week, and sure enough, there was another change. The cashier was gone. Instead, my service adviser completed my transaction at his kiosk.
Frankly, I'm not sure I like this better, but I get it — one less person to deal with; one less employee on the payroll. Kudos for trying something new. Kudos for another step toward reinvention, and kudos for never — ever — standing still.
*Dr. John Foley is formulation portfolio manager for Feed Management Systems Inc., focused on feed formulation, ration formulation and related software solutions that enhance ingredient evaluation (including nutrient measurement) and the flow of essential nutrition and pricing data in the animal nutrition industries. He can be reached at [email protected]