Dirk Beveridge is the founder of UnleashWD, a boutique consulting company out of Barrington, Illinois. His mission: to help distributors rethink what it means to be sustainable, relevant and profitable in this age of rapid change and disruption. He truly believes that the leaders of distribution businesses find themselves at a point and time in their career where they are being called to lead their companies into a new age, and it’s going to require innovation, change, transformation, leadership at a greater speed than ever before.
In this podcast, we talk not only about Dirk’s mission to bring innovation to a traditional industry but also how he’s gained traction with his audience using events, effective and authentic email marketing, and thought leadership. He used to be afraid to “give too much away” but he’s now an open book, and as a result is reaching more companies than ever before.
Podcast episode highlights:
Why innovation isn’t just a buzzword. “This world’s changing around us. We can talk about those changes, and what made us sustainable in the past is not necessarily going to make us sustainable in the future. What made our business relevant to our suppliers and to our market, and to our customers in the past, is not necessarily going to make us relevant in the future, and what made us profitable in the past is not necessarily going to make us profitable in the future, and so the question becomes how do we, as leaders, ensure relevance, sustainability and profitability in the future? I believe the answer is, in fact, that word that so many think is a buzzword, and the answer to the question is innovation. Innovation is not a buzzword. It cannot be a buzzword. It has to be real, it has to be meaningful in our businesses.”
Top challenges distributors are facing (and why innovation is required). “You know I’m part consultant and you ask me to limit something to one or two? I think through some real recent work and conversations and research we’ve done, one lens to look at these challenges that all businesses are going through, I call them the six Ss of rapid change: speed, shift, size, skills, significance and skepticism.”
How Dirk has engaged with the industry that he’s targeting through great content, including a podcast, email marketing and events, and incorporating his personality as well as the voice of the customer into everything he does. He talks about why he’s done a 180 and shares his knowledge more openly now. “It took me a long time to realize that, Lindsay. You know, I think my position has shifted on that 180 degrees over the last 20 years, quite frankly. We used to keep all of our content in a vault, right? When we do our keynote speeches, we used to never share our slides, right? We used to never allow people to audiotape them or videotape them, because the fear was that’s how we make our money, right? But in today’s day and age, I think you have no alternative but to share your knowledge, and I believe in the thought process that thought leadership is market leadership. People don’t want to be sold to anymore. People want to be led to insight. They want to be led to new solutions. They want to be led to new outcomes, and in our business, I think the best way to do that is to give our best information away for free, because you know, if I’m fortunate enough for the last two years to broadcast on our podcast, Innovate for the Future, every Monday, brilliant interviews I’ve had with brilliant leaders, and I can get people to listen and help them, not today, but at some time in the future, they’re going to say, ‘You know, I need that speaker. I need this individual to help me develop the strategy for my organization.’ We really need to get our leadership to understand how to develop a culture of innovation, and we need to break the sameness trap. Well, what’s going to happen is it’s going to spark in their mind, who was it that started that conversation for me? It was that piece of content that did it, so yeah, I think you have to put yourself out there. I think we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We have to be transparent. We have to give to the world, to the market, our best, and it’s only when the market and the world sees you at your best, will they realize the value that you can provide to them, and thus reach out to you.”
The importance of authenticity and transparency in content marketing. “I think it’s absolutely critical that you have a position, that you have a belief, a firm belief, A, because that’s who you are, but B, it is such a noisy world out there, right, that you have to break through, and the only way I know how to break through is by having a strong stance of your core, fundamental beliefs. One of the things we’ve done, Lindsay, that I continue to use, is one day I sat down and I asked myself what do I believe? It came out to be 34 statements that I put together in what I call my Innovation Manifesto. It’s published out there and if you want to know who Dirk Beveridge is, if you want to know what we stand for, if you want to know what is the thread, the golden thread that runs through our articles, through our podcasts, through our consulting, through our speeches, well you look at this one document, 34 statements, and you’ll know who Dirk Beveridge is, and by the way, you will either agree with Dirk Beveridge and boy, I hope you do, man, because let’s get together and let’s talk. I can learn from you, you can learn from me, or you’re going to think I’m full of it. You’re going to think I’m full of crap, and I’ll repel you, and that’s okay. That’s okay, because I want to find those organizations, those companies, who believe what I believe.”
How and why he started his event UnleashWD. “Even though I bring speakers onto the UnleashWD stage, it allows me to get my point of view through the voices of other people out there into the world. UnleashWD is something I’m very proud of. It’s an innovation conference for the industry of distribution, but it’s an industry conference with no industry speakers. I have joked that if you know what the word supply chain means, you’re not invited to speak on my stage, right? This is another belief, fundamental belief I’ve got. I believe that we’ve been too incestuous. Electrical distributors hang with electrical distributors. Plumbing distributors hang with plumbing distributors. Flooring distributors hang with flooring distributors. What happens is we become incestuous and we stop injecting new ideas into this industry, so six years ago I started UnleashWD. Our seventh annual is going to be held this October here in Chicago, and what I do, Lindsay, is I put on stage 15 or so brilliant leaders, disruptors and innovators, all from outside of distribution.”
The ROI of content marketing. ”I tell you what, if you go to bed thinking like that, you are never going to sleep, right? You have to believe in your gut, in your heart, in your soul, that educating the market is the right thing to do. Now, if you don’t believe that, don’t start a podcast. Don’t start a blog. Certainly don’t create a new event out of the ether. You either believe in the rightness, that’s what I’ll say. You either believe in the rightness of educating your marketplace or you don’t. I think in today’s world, we all want content of value, and once you find that secret sauce… And it’s not easy. You know it, Lindsay, that’s your business. But once you find that golden thread that makes you different, that brings new thinking, new insights, new value to the marketplace, over time, over time, people will start to take notice. But you need the discipline, you need the persistence, you need the patience, and you’ll have all those things if you really believe that it’s the right thing to do.”
Doing email marketing well. “I’m going to be completely transparent here, Lindsay. I’m sitting back saying, ‘Holy Christ. I’ve got to get better at this. I’ve got to get better at storytelling. I’ve got to get better at segmenting my list. I’ve got to get better at speaking directly to this person about what’s on this person’s mind. I’ve got to get better at the consistency of it all.’ We’ve got media calendars and the like, but again, I’ll use a word I used earlier. This is hard stuff, and it requires a real commitment, so thanks for the kind words. I think some of the keys to it all, knowing that I’ve got to get better at it, is number one, you have to speak to a targeted audience about what’s on their mind. People talk about personas. People talk about entering the conversation, in the prospect’s mind, where they are at, and it’s all about really understanding your readership and your customer and speaking directly to the issues that are on their mind. I think storytelling is critical in today’s day and age. People don’t want to be lectured. People don’t want just data dumps. They want to be romanced. They want their heart and soul to be touched, I truly believe, as much as their mind, and so finding that ability to tell good stories, in both long and short form, I think is critical.
Why it’s important to focus on the mediums that leverage your strengths. “I agree 100%, 100%, and let me just add one other thing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, right? I mean, you’re in this business, Lindsay, of doing exactly that, right? Bringing in new perspective, giving somebody additional bandwidth, being able to bring a new perspective through your expertise and through, like you said, your willingness to do the hard work of the interviews of your client’s customers and the like. I’ll throw out there in addition to everything else you said, you know, I’d really encourage your listeners to not be afraid to ask for help in developing the strategy and then also the execution of their content marketing. I think you’d be a great place to start that conversation.”