The supplier-customer relationship is the most important relationship a business has, whether that business is B2C or B2B. What are you doing to make it the best it can be?
When it comes to servicing customers, obviously the most important factor is making sure you deliver the product or service agreed upon at the right price and at the right time. But being a supplier that businesses look forward to working with depends on more than reliable delivery. A few weeks back, I posted an IdeaXchange blog discussing how important it is to focus on communications between supplier and customer. This is true whether you’re looking at B2C or B2B as technology has blurred the line between the two types of customers as far as certain expectations, specifically in the areas of ease of purchase and speed of fulfillment.
However, one of the major differences between B2C and B2B is the basis of the relationship. B2C situations are essentially transactional and short-term in nature. B2B success relies on person-to-person relationships with the long-term in mind. B2C purchases may be impulsive and gratification is based on receiving the item on time and the efficiency of the seller’s customer service when needed. B2B transactions are based on business needs, not impulses; however, suppliers that have built long-term relationships with their customers often become the go-to resource for a specific product or service.
How to become the go-to resource
E-commerce has made the need for human relationships in B2B more important, rather than less. In the past, procurement professionals looked at price and terms as their primary focal points. Today, in a global economy, these same professionals know that issues like reliability, regulatory and corporate compliance, and flexibility are as important as price and terms. Also, since so much of the communication may be electronic and digital, those times when the human element steps in are invaluable.
The customer/supplier relationship has also taken on greater importance since the pandemic. Shortages and delays have forced businesses to expand their supplier base; to look for suppliers that can fulfill orders in a timely manner. This has created opportunities for suppliers and may be the optimal time to build new relationships.
So, whether you are trying to maintain a relationship with an existing customer or create a new one, there are certain things suppliers should do to attract and keep customers.
- Understand their business – It’s vital to do your due diligence and ongoing research, not only when pitching new business but once a customer is on board, throughout the relationship. Identify the customer’s pain points related to the supply chain and show how your organization can help mitigate those concerns.
- Anticipate their needs – A best-in-class supplier is proactive rather than reactive. Be aware of any potential issues, whether they are customer-related or general issues that may impact the business (think the shortages caused by COVID-19) and make a plan of action. Or, perhaps your customer has long lead times for placing orders. Make sure you are equipped to fulfill the order when it arrives.
- Take responsibility – Whether you are providing a product or a service, you should be accountable for the quality of what you provide. Consistently check on your quality control team and be willing to own up to any issues. Assuming, of course, that issues are rare, this accountability will engender great trust.
- Deliver on delivery – This is obvious but well worth restating. Reliability in today’s competitive environment is essential so make sure you are able to make your delivery dates. If there are weather issues (as we’ve just experienced), have a plan in place and communicate that to your customer
- Make communications easy – As I said in my IdeaXchange blog, “different people want to be communicated with in different ways.” Whether it’s email, text, or by phone, contact your customer in their preferred method. Also, don’t force a customer to go through multiple prompts in an automated phone system. Help the customer get to the right person as quickly as possible. Finally, if you promise to get back to the customer at a specific time, make sure you do so.
- Keep improving – Ultimately, customers want to know that their suppliers are keeping up with advances and changes in technology that will contribute towards improving their products and services. Communicate these advances to your customers, showing how these improvements will help them in the long run.
There are so many ways that suppliers can turn themselves into the resource companies want to work with. The steps listed above are a good start and are cost-effective. Maintaining a good relationship with your customer is really a matter of treating them more like a partner. The fact is when you do better your customer will benefit as well…and vice-versa.
Read more of Jane’s IdeaXchange blogs.