Common feedback received from corporate and government Members is that despite consistently delivering on product, Certified Suppliers can under deliver on customer service. This problem isn’t unique to Certified Suppliers; it is common amongst all SMEs. However, for Certified Suppliers, this is something they have to get right if they wish to compete for business with large corporate or government buyers.
Business to business (B2B) selling is more complex and nuanced than retail sales. It is based, more than anything, on the relationship you have with the purchasing organisation. In B2B selling, relationships are king. Here are five tips to help you be the master of B2B customer service.
1. Target the right Members
There is no general B2B market. Every business you want to sell to wants different things, has different motivations, and has a different procurement process. As such, a ‘spray and pray’ marketing approach will yield very few results. There is no point phoning and emailing every Member on the Supply Nation database and giving each of them the same pitch.
Break down the Supply Nation Members into industry categories. Establish which categories you can sell to and then map the reasons why you think the businesses would want to buy from you. Remember that Members are primarily interested in innovative and cost effective products – yes, being Indigenous is a point of difference, but that by itself is not enough to win you a sale.
Once you have completed this process you should only be left with a maximum of five Members. Certified Suppliers have direct access to a primary contact at these companies or government agencies - these people should be your first port of call.
2. Use the primary contact as a resource
Certified Suppliers can access the profiles of every Supply Nation Member via the Supply Nation website. Here, you will find the name and contact details of a ‘primary contact’ in that organisation. This person is the person that knows the most about the organisation’s supplier diversity efforts. They have been assigned the role because they have a special interest in boosting the amount of spend that organisation has with Certified Indigenous Suppliers. In other words, they are you best friend and the gatekeepers to that organisation’s procurement teams.
Developing a good relationship with the primary contact is essential, as they hold the answers to key questions like: Which categories does that organisation procure in? Who are the procurement Category Managers? What opportunities are available to your business? It is vital to know this information if you plan to do business with them.
If, for example, you sell food products and are in contact with one of the major Australian supermarket chains, you would ask the primary contact about which category your product would fit under. If you sold biscuits, they might tell you that you fall under the crackers, confectionary, and biscuits Category. The primary contact could tell you about the way contracts and purchases are made in that category, a bit about the Category Manager that owns that category, and finally, when the primary contact feels you are ready, they might put you in touch with the appropriate Category Manager. This backdoor entry to the Category Manager is the real benefit of Supply Nation Membership, so it is essential to use it appropriately.
3. Build a relationship with the buyer
Building a trusting relationship with the appropriate procurement professional in the organisation you are targeting is, by far and away, the most important part of selling B2B. Although price is a factor to consider, having a relationship where you are talking regularly with the buyer and are even giving them advice on how to improve their supply chains and purchasing habits is an incredibly powerful way of winning and retaining business.
Gallup research showed that B2B relationships with irregular communication between the buyer and the purchaser were almost twice as likely to have less business after one year compared to those who have relationships with regular contact. B2B customer service is all about the way you manage your relationship with the buying organisation. If you burn a bridge, it will be very difficult to do business with that organisation in the future.
4. Ensure you are responsive
The relationship you build, however, should not be hollow. You have to be responsive to the demands of the buyer and you have to deliver on your promises. If the Category Manager alerts you to an RFX that they have put out and asks you to respond to it, make sure you do so promptly. Even if you don’t feel it is right for your business, let them know why – as they may be expecting you to respond.
Your proposals should be professional and well presented. They must answer every criteria in the RFX and they have to be delivered on time. These are minimum requirements if you expect to win business with Supply Nation Members.
5. Only promise what you can deliver
The final thing to remember is: do not over-promise. Procurement teams are trained to sniff out even the slightest risk that you might not be able to deliver on the proposal you have presented. This is one situation where the expression ‘fake it til you make it’ does not hold. Be prudent in what you say you can deliver. Do not say your organisation can deliver a national contract if it can’t actually deliver its products or services, simultaneously, to every state.
Again, this is because you have to cherish the relationship you have with the buyers within that organisation. If you respond to an opportunity and win, but fail to deliver on the contract, it will become a very big issue. Remediation and possibly legal action could be taken against your business, which is not what either party wants. If you are careful not to over-promise, this situation is far less likely to occur.
B2B sales are all about targeted relationship building. Supply Nation exists to facilitate these relationships, but the rest is up to you. By being responsive, prudent and constructive with buyers in our Member organisations, Certified Suppliers will help to leverage the goodwill Members have towards them and will then find success.