How to Become
the Supplier of Choice
for Your Wholesale Trade Customers
As distributors working in the wholesale/trade world it can feel like you have little room for manoeuvre when it comes to how you position yourself in the market. Competition supplying to industries like building and home maintenance, electrical contracting and automotive is increasingly fierce. Unless you have a very specific niche product, line margins are always being squeezed by new entrants, big retailers pushing into your space or your customers finding easier access to cheap overseas alternatives. Differentiating yourself in key ways takes on a whole new level of imperative, and identifying and implementing strategies that facilitate that is critical.
Ultimately, what you want is to be THE supplier of choice for your customers.
‘C-suite level’ executive management are charged with the responsibility of growing the company and have to present their Board or shareholders – literally often family – with new and novel initiatives for growth in revenue and profit. Operations Managers directing teams in the warehouses, branches, showrooms and support centres need to have the tools and understanding of the vision to execute them. And at the end of the day it’s being able to attract and keep customers that determines whether or not the business is going to be successful.
Your customers want it to be easy. They want to be able to rely on you. You want them to turn to you instinctively when they need the products you distribute. What you want to be is their supplier of choice.
A satisfied customer will be more than willing to spread the good word and provide referrals about their chosen supplier. And they spend more. And do so more often.
What does it mean to be a supplier of choice?
Where your customers are tradesmen or contractors, they usually have a great deal of choice when it comes to the selection of their suppliers. They want any type of relationship to be seamless, so they can concentrate on their core business and their future plans. Quite apart from the satisfaction of serving customers efficiently as a core reason for being in business in the first place, there are a variety of different benefits to look forward to when the customer implicitly trusts the supplier and the relationship runs like a well-oiled machine.
While delivering anything less than the ultimate customer experience can be disappointing, there are some very real risks involved with underperformance. If a business does not obtain the official or unofficial moniker of ‘chosen supplier’, then it will be forced to be constantly on the lookout for new customers. Relationships will come and go and the supplier will have to eat the very real costs associated with attracting new ones.
Conversely, a satisfied customer will be more than willing to spread the good word and provide referrals about their chosen supplier. They will be happy to talk about the first-class experience associated with their interactions with you, day in and day out. Their testimonials will provide real value in helping a distributor to consolidate and expand, while reducing or even eliminating the costs of customer acquisition.
We understand how competitive this market really is. Suppliers are often competing with little margin, or an ability to differentiate themselves based on the type of product they are supplying. The market is also very price-driven and this means that it is often impossible to stake a claim for superiority based on price alone. In a world of such tough competition, it’s the quality of service and the daily experience that will count, and provide the basis for differentiation.
So, given the potential and the risks involved when not attaining the position of preferred supplier, what are some of the key strategies that can be used to become successful?
Five strategies to become a supplier of choice
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Strategy #1: Enhance customer satisfaction with efficient counter sales
Many vendors believe that the opportunity to really satisfy the customer begins and ends with their experience at the counter. This is often where the pressure is greatest, as the customer is ‘on the clock’ to get back to their own customers. While employment training is paramount in these highly-charged positions, technology and systems will really make the difference.
Point-of-sale (POS) solutions can turn an average experience into a highly efficient and successful event. Without a top-quality system in place, a transaction that should only take 30 seconds to process could easily turn into 15 minutes of frustration for all concerned. This is a key differentiator, as a customer will always look for a seamless transaction when all the other factors are equal across the supplier environment.
Furthermore, a quality POS system means that more sales can be processed in a short amount of time, improving the profitability metric. It may also mean the need for less people at the counter and a corresponding reduction in training costs and overheads. It may mean your people can spend even more time with the customer – understanding their need, providing advice and just getting to know them – not just chasing fields and buttons on a computer screen. Eliminating inaccuracies and improving efficiency at the counter can lead to increased margins and as we’ve discussed, that powerful outcome of a great customer experience.
While a good POS system processes the initial sale effectively, it also easily handles returns and exchanges, which can represent an even more stressful and time sensitive issue. These systems will cater for multiple methods of payment and painless transactions every time, as well as seamless connectivity with your eCommerce and other more traditional sales channels.
Strategy #2: Manage your stock to fulfil orders quickly, every time
Another way to ensure that the customer is a happy one, all the time, is to ensure that they can be provided with what they want, when they want it. With antiquated systems, this can become a logistical nightmare, resulting in either an unhappy customer at one end, an inefficiently run operation on the other, or a combination of both.
In an ideal world, the DIFOT (‘delivered in full and on time’) rate should be set at 95% or greater, but this can be very difficult to achieve without a very efficient stock control system. Yet without peak efficiency the risks are great.
With capital costs front of mind as a priority, it’s very difficult to attain an ideal stock level. If the worry is that too much money would be tied up in stock which may never be called, there is a considerable risk that customers will be frustrated due to unavailability. Not only will this result in lost sales, but this type of frustration concentrates the mind of the customer, who may well start to look around for different supply options.
On the other side of the equation, too much stock may be held in a ‘just in case’ scenario. This could lead to such stock becoming obsolete or the need to be written off in perishable or high tech industries. Of course, this is not a sustainable approach either.
When inventory is replenished automatically and data is used to accurately predict necessary levels of stock, the supplier will find that capital is used much more efficiently and more importantly, customers find that their orders are fulfilled quickly every time.
Strategy #3: Give your customer a consistent experience
One of the keys to attaining a high level of customer satisfaction and retention is in the provision of a consistent experience. This level of consistency should be evident across all touch points and front and centre in all individual branches. In today’s multi-modal world it’s likely that there are a variety of different touch points through separate, but integrated channels.
The customer should not encounter a different ‘face’ through one as opposed to the other. This is an area where many organisations fall down, as they may not fully understand mobile technology and how to ensure that it matches the traditional online store. Each channel should not only be efficient in its own right, but should mirror the others in terms of its aesthetic and function so that the customer has the same high level of satisfaction and ease of use, no matter where their point of interaction is that day.
A forward-thinking supplier will also provide the customer with an e-commerce opportunity, enabling the contractor to attract their own shoppers through a branded portal. This type of solution can bring added value and the chance to convert one time shoppers into business accounts, to expand their client base.
Strategy #4: Reward your loyal customers
One way you set yourself apart from the rest and ensure that you get a loyal customer, is to initiate a incentives or rewards that keep them coming back. There are a variety of ways to do this and not all of them need to be price-driven. It is important that you take a consistent approach however, and ensure that the loyalty programs offered are rolled out through an automated system.
It can be useful to have different tiers of loyalty that are triggered according to customer behaviour.
Loyalty programs can take many forms. For example, a supplier will often have advance notice of developments in a certain industry and new products or solutions that may shortly be available for trade purchase. Loyal customers could benefit from knowing about this ahead of time and when notified by the supplier could eke out an advantage over their competition. This type of industry intelligence can be very valuable to the contractor and provide exponential gains in the marketplace. When a customer is known to favour a particular product line and may buy this in large quantities, this should be flagged in the system and specific rewards offered related to the key product from time to time.
Strategically, it may be appropriate to offer specific pricing discounts to loyal customers, although these should always be part of a broader approach to loyalty, by using some of the examples just mentioned. To ensure that the customer is always ‘getting the best price,’ the supplier needs to be aware of offers and pricing structures among the competition as well. This information should be gathered and monitored to ensure that loyal customers have no reason to question the value of the relationship.
Strategy #5: Nurture your customers through their whole journey with you
The final strategy brings all of the other strategies together and deals with the entire journey from brand-new customer to lifetime, raving fan. All of the other strategies require a focused approach and while driven by the needs to focus on customer behaviour and service provision, should nevertheless rely on integrated and automated systems.
At the helm there should be a solution that consolidates the management of the relationship – a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. Rather than relying on a multitude of different systems, some automated and some manual, the supplier must have a central database where all of the information is intelligently administered and processed. When systems are not integrated properly the supplier will not have confidence in the intelligence and data reported and this will severely hamper the ability to stabilise and grow. The data must be easily accessible and the solution must have a robust searching function, so that the company can grow steadily and with purpose.
The journey for the new customer begins with the on-boarding process, which is a fully automated, understandable and painless experience, ensuring that the journey starts on a positive note and continues from there on. Customer portals should be maintained, allowing for the development of online transactions where customers can ‘click and collect’, making it even more easy to access their goods and reducing the overhead for the supplier at the same time.
Suppliers that do not focus on differentiating themselves carefully face an uphill struggle to not just be competitive, but to survive. There is little margin for error when maintaining a ‘status quo’ approach to business operation. With little to set themselves apart from the competition, the slightest hiccup can send what could otherwise be a potentially loyal customer scurrying away to the opposition.
Being aware of the five key strategies is fair enough, but it can still be very difficult to initiate some of these strategies in isolation. You may be concerned that they will simply add to your workload, fragment your existing structures and end up taking a step back, instead of two steps forward. You may worry that they will just take on additional costs and could overly complicate your life, rather than simplifying and enhancing it. For these reasons, it is important to address all of the challenges and strategies with a cohesive approach wherever possible.
Precise Business Solutions understands this dilemma and can suggest ways to integrate all five of these key strategies. In this way, you as a forward-thinking supplier can gain a head start in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Precise Business Solutions empowers businesses all over the world with strategies and software designed to encourage customer engagement, drive repeat business and deliver superior customer service.
Contact us for a COMPLIMENTARY obligation-free assessment with one of our Solution Engineers who can quickly evaluate if our expertise can help your organisation become a supplier of choice.