Transcending Numbers to Improve Behavior and Business Impact
Nothing catches someone’s attention like seeing their job performance on a dashboard. People often get buried in the mundane sea of daily tasks. When they see in black and white how their job relates to overall business impact, it can come as a shock.
We Had No Data Depth, Which Prevented Us from Offering Insights
I joined Lintech a decade ago as a sales rep. I quickly moved through the ranks to serve an eight-year stint as Director of Sales before ultimately transitioning into VP of Technology and Sales Operations. The journey from sales to technology may seem unconventional, but I’ve always been passionate about understanding numbers and learning the best ways to use data to make decisions.
Headquartered in Macon, Georgia, Lintech International is a specialty chemicals distributor offering a range of products used in the formulation of coatings, adhesives, rubbers, plastics, and composites. The company has grown over 40 years to service a national network of clients with 12 warehouses across the United States.
Early in my tenure here, I saw Lintech needed to be more aware of our industry. We made executive decisions based on what we believed was happening in the field, without having the data to back up those perceptions.
As a chemical distributor, we are situated between our suppliers and customers. We are the voice of our customer to the supplier, while also an extension of our supplier in servicing the customer base. While we may be in the business of selling chemicals, we have also come to the realization that we are in the business of distributing data. At Lintech, transparency with our suppliers is a core philosophy. We work to demonstrate excellence in the management of our shared business by clearly articulating who we’re selling to, why we are selling to them, what customers buy, and what they want to buy. Our ability to sell is obviously critical to our business, but we also needed to better understand how we could offer meaningful insights into their business by utilizing business intelligence (BI).
Building Business Intelligence Across the Organization
We began working with Qlik in 2016, and after our initial successes, we wanted to explore new capabilities offered in Qlik's cloud environment. Specifically, we wanted to use Qlik’s predictive analytics while also expanding BI beyond Lintech’s commercial teams. In October 2022, we began our move to .
Migrating to a SaaS environment allows us to more easily expand BI to other areas of our business, including operations, finance, human resources, and other spaces. Our initial on-prem environment was primarily distributed within our commercial team. By bringing BI to HR, for example, we can apply insights to the employee review and onboarding processes, while also looking to improve employee retention and engagement. Historically, we have relied heavily on manual processes in this space, but we are creating a streamlined ecosystem where we might know more about our people, their growth and development, and their success. We believe these insights help us improve performance, engagement, and ultimately retention, which is vital to our continued success.
With our Qlik expansion comes the need to grow our collective data literacy. We had recently incorporated some new shipping procedures to include pre-ship scans of all outbound shipments. We did not have a way of tracking this effectively or efficiently prior to moving to the cloud, but we are now able to create a simple dashboard showing scan miss rates. In a meeting with our operations teams, we showed them some performance metrics. At first, the site managers were in disbelief at the number of missed scans but were immediately motivated to improve. In the beginning, miss rates were at 8.3%. Within 30 days, the miss rates dropped to 2.3%. To date, the miss rates are under 1%. Warehouse employees now look at that dashboard almost daily.
It doesn’t take much to get people to engage in a data-literate environment; the data just needs to be relevant to them. Two of our three sites have small teams of three to five people, and it’s easy for them to feel disconnected from the broader organization. These dashboards can offer near-instant validation of performance and connect employees and performance to the leadership reviewing those KPIs. In this way, dashboards and apps create gateways between all members of the organization.
Finding the “Why” of Our Data
Let’s take a step back. Our journey with BI started with our desire to look at our business through the same lens our supplier uses to view their business. We wanted to share this view across the organization to create more strategic alignment. We had CRM and ERP systems, but neither were able to offer this lens, or viewpoint, in just the right way.
Our Qlik relationship initially began with Qlik Sense. We expanded it using a Qlik partner's writeback extension, allowing our sales reps to supplement BI analytics with their own unique commentary. Qlik enables us to present data to our sales teams in ways that are meaningful to them. The writeback extensions allow us to augment this intelligence with additional data from the field. This intelligence is valuable to everyone, and it allows leadership to find the connections that are most meaningful for us as a business. It’s one thing for a BI solution to tell you Who, What, and Where. Our initial Qlik implementation gave us the Why behind the data.
Lintech developed a strong relationship with Qlik on our commercial side and saw compelling results, including reduced churn. Churn decreased by 10% within the first year of using Qlik—representing millions of dollars in additional revenue.
Using , we began to provide monthly reports to each of our suppliers. Before Qlik, we performed quarterly business reviews with only a fraction of our supplier network. We didn’t have the bandwidth to manually create MS Excel and Word reports for everyone, and even those reports required the efforts of a full-time staff member. With NPrinting, we increased the frequency, amount, and reach of our reporting.
NPrinting also allows us to create customized templates, meaning we could tweak our reports around the unique needs of individual suppliers. We now send out hundreds of external reports every month with little to no additional effort, and we use automated reporting internally, triggering conversations within our various teams. We are also excited about using subscriptions within Qlik Cloud to extend self-service analytics to our sales team.
Even with all the benefits to Qlik, many people don’t want to stare at a dashboard all day, watching for things to happen. Automating some communication with has allowed us to eliminate dashboard fatigue. Data Alerts limits notifications to the events that need attention, which is especially helpful in alleviating pressure off our field sales reps. In all, Qlik simplified and automated the sales team’s reporting workload, and provided a great foundation for our current expansion into the cloud and beyond.
New Capabilities That Take Data Further Upstream
The next phase of our journey is stepping into machine learning (ML) and predictive analytics. We have a good handle on analytics, but as soon as we started thinking about building ML models, we realized there’s still a lot of work to do to clean the data, such as properly extracting the information, filling in gaps, and articulating the data into the new environment to be read properly.
Qlik gave us insights into our customer churn, so we developed and then institutionalized processes to reduce it. We now manage the processes, not churn. Our next step is to approach the remaining challenges with churn reduction by looking at ways to proactively improve business relationships. Are there key features in the data that can predict churn: pricing, call frequency, order frequency? What key features within the data can we utilize to model predicting churn before we get into actual business variances? We are excited to use to take the data further upstream and see how we can affect churn before it becomes a problem.
We also want to look at forecasting models, with our sales reps using a writeback extension to tweak those forecasts and push that data back to our operations team, who will then adjust our purchasing and inventory. It’s all about leveraging systems to create new views into the business, using human intelligence to modify and add commentary to those views, and getting smarter as an organization using all the resources available.
We want to work with Qlik during this process because they’re constantly moving forward. There’s nothing worse than investing in a software environment and a year later learning somebody else came out with the next great thing. That doesn’t happen with Qlik. Every time we turn around, they’ve upgraded the system and added new features. It keeps us engaged, and we feel like it’s a great partnership because Qlik is advancing in the ways that Lintech wants to advance.
We Differentiate and Know Ourselves Through Data
One of our core philosophies here at Lintech is to make it easier for people to do business with us. Our customers could buy from many suppliers, so we have to proactively manage our relationships. Going deeper into BI and predictive analytics will help us react to market conditions and customer challenges faster. Ideally, we transcend the numbers, changing our behavior to become a stronger competitor in the marketplace.
Day to day, using BI has helped mid-line managers communicate better with front-line sales teams. We used to work a lot via email and spreadsheets, but we don’t have to work that way anymore. We can provide commentary on a supplier pipeline in the system itself, allowing us to streamline communications with our 30 sales reps across the field. These people are extremely driven, and in Qlik we’ve been able to create live dashboards that explain quarterly bonus earnings down to the dollar. In eliminating the job function of tracking bonus information, Qlik has allowed us to be more strategic in aligning our bonus structure with company objectives without any confusion.
Anyone can obtain material and ship it. Lintech has an eight-year roadmap and a goal of growing by double digits every year. To expand at both the customer and supplier levels, we have to differentiate ourselves with greater transparency for both suppliers and customers. Suppliers want distribution partners who are extensions of their own business. We look at data to provide that value. We must provide suppliers with the same insights they expect from their direct marketing and sales teams, and Qlik can help us do that.
It’s incredible where we are compared to where we started. It's been a long road full of progress. The cool thing about BI is you can take it one step at a time, and it's never too late to start. Our new Qlik tools have enabled Lintech to understand our business better. The most important thing anyone can do is to start that BI journey today.