So, Are You a “Best Supplier” to Your B2B Customers?


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In the B2B space, it has become increasingly difficult to gain a competitive advantage on the basis of product quality or price. If you’re honest with yourself, you will agree that the competition has pretty good quality and that there really isn’t much to choose between your products and theirs. In many cases, in fact, you’re dealing with almost-commodities where there really isn’t any meaningful difference or you are actually selling exactly the same products. This is especially the case in the wholesale distribution business where you and your competitor may represent many of the same manufacturers.

So, in such a situation, how do you become a “best supplier” to your customers? The answer lies in how your treat them and in how you help them achieve success.

Often, in depth interviews that I conduct with the customers of B2B suppliers and service providers, I will ask questions like “who do you like to see call on you?” Not surprisingly, many managers, especially the owner-managers of SME’s, want to deal with salespeople who aren’t only interested in making a sale. They reject completely the stereotypical sales role. They are likely to say “don’t invite me to play golf; don’t bring me coffee; don’t just try to sell me stuff.” In fact, I’m hearing the same kind of anti-sales backlash that I encounter in retail B2C settings. Selling is all about you; trying to move inventory, trying to make sales quotas.

They want to deal with suppliers who have taken the time to get to know their business and who understand what they are trying to achieve, the challenges they are facing, and what gets in the way.

In my view, B2B suppliers and service providers exist primarily to make their customers successful. If you accept this notion, then it is essential that we know what constitutes success. If you are not careful, you will gravitate automatically to the conclusion that success is all about profitability. That may be true if the client is a large, publicly-traded company, but to many SME’s, success is defined in a much more personal way.

When I ask the owner-managers of mid-sized companies how they define success, they often speak of finding balance in their lives, of being able to assemble a solid management team, or of finding a way to reduce their work week from 70 hours to something more acceptable to them and their families.

The best suppliers are those who understand what the client is going through and can offer solutions, not only to obvious business issues, but to more personal ones as well.


  1. Jim

    I couldn’t agree with you more. In my own B2B work, customers overwhelmingly want someone just to take away the niggly problems, even the heartache associated with running a business. Customers expect quality to be comparable and pricing to be competitive, but as you point out, these are often just hygiene factors for customers.

    But that is only half the picture. Most significant B2B companies also have the dreaded Purchasing Department who are responsible for the actual contracting of products & services. For these people, relative quality and absolute price are often the most important factors they look at when selecting suppliers.

    Suppliers today need to compete on all aspects of the Delta Model: On superior quality, on lower costs and on customer-orientation too.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Excellent article, I can’t agree with you more. When I conduct sales training classes for our company my first rule of sales is “Never try to make a sale on the first call.” Sometimes not on the second or even third call. Sales people need to spend more time up front gathering information about the prospect, who they are, what they do and identify where they can provide value. Discover where they will be a “best fit” to help them be successful.

    We are a provider of B2B business supplies and products. As an independent dealer focused on the SME(5-99 employee), we have a huge edge on our super store competition. We have smart well trained professionals ready to provide the personal service that is totally lacking from the super store chains. Our competitors have gone to a transactional style of business while we have moved to a consultative model. That consultative approach exemplifies why we don’t bring pickles to an ice cream party. We bring ideas, we listen, learn and consult to provide more value. Our prices are competitive, our personal service…extraordinary.

    Thanks for your excellent post. Now, about that ice cream….



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