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.