Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Future of Agent-Based Industries: Disintermediation has been doing it for years. And, so has Ebay. In this digitally inclined age of emerging e-commerce in which demand for evolved/innovative business models has risen dramatically, cutting out the middleman (or agent, dealer, distributor, etc…) sounds obvious and easy enough. After all, taking steps out of the picture always leads to lower prices for the end consumer and results in higher margins for the company- therefore it is the best thing to do, right? You might have guessed this was coming:


Disintermediation, the removal of intermediaries from traditional distribution channels, is never such a cut and dried issue. For a company like, disintermediation is a part of their business model—not just a marketing plan ; yes it works, for them. But for other companies that have jumped on the disintermediation trend in an attempt to innovate, stay relevant and generate more revenue; confusion and failure can follow. Just ask PeaPod (who at one point was expected to put grocery retail chains on their heels, but now remains an ancillary service). In every case, there is a delicate strategic balance of dancing with the one that brought ya and “working the room.”

So how do you decide whether or not disintermediation is the right path to travel down? What indicators signal the future of your industry lies in disintermediation?

1. Tune in & Evaluate.

Take an intensive, analytical look into not only your company’s channel strategy, that of your direct and indirect competitors and also at your industry as a whole. Is it slow to change? Ripe for change? Time for a challenger to shake it up? Most importantly, do your customers see value in the intermediate? Can you specify and quantify that value? Sometimes the consumer’s need can only be met by the intermediate – in homeowners insurance for example, the complex nature of the buying cycle can best be met by the agent (and only the agent), in other cases the best way to meet the need is to get the intermediate out of the way. Do segments of your customer base work around your middle man and flock to your competitors’ sites in droves to make purchases -(e.g., auto insurance : Geico, Progressive)?

Pay very close attention to your channels. Are they growing around you or with you? What is your channel strategy? Are they appropriately integrated? (From your customer’s perspective – not yours). Do they converge with your web strategy in the right places to add value—or not? By examining the foundation on which your distribution rests, as well as the channels of parallel industries, you’ll find even more insight that will be extremely useful in developing and executing industry & brand-specific strategies.

The answers to these among many other questions will allow you to assess whether or not there is a strong unmet need that may be fulfilled by disintermediation.

2. Diverge.

Compare your market’s trends and challenges with other parallel industries that may be sharing the same issues. By observing and learning from the strategies that thought and business leaders have executed under similar conditions, you’ll have a wider solution set and a helpful frame of reference.

3. Shift your perspective.

Consider looking at your channel as a stakeholder model, in which the elements are interdependent. This perspective demands that all strategies and upper level decisions are created based on their interwoven relationships and on solutions that deliver a win-win-win. And since removing the intermediary will affect the other interdependent components of the channel, you’ll have a leg-up on deciding if disintermediation is the best choice for your business, and your customers.

So should you disintermediate? Or not? The answer is simply relative.

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