The sixth and final step in the B2B buying process is supplier evaluation by the Buyer Organization. And frankly, no one likes being judged! But evaluations are a must in every aspect of life – if we are to develop,improve and evolve.So too with supplier evaluation. As a B2B marketer it’s good to have a growth mindset. Because it keeps you and your organization nimble and agile no matter what the changes in technology and globalization.
First let’s look at scenarios in both challenging and good times:
- Challenging Times (eg. 2020) : Since the buyer business is paying you- you are a cost. Unless the economy is booming, all costs come under review. These include employees, indirect spend and direct spend. During the COVID-19 pandemic you know many friends who got laid off. Also how those with jobs had to cut all non-essential expenses. These non-essential expenses tend to be indirect spend like rent and electricity.(Why are we paying for rent and electricity when everyone is working from home?). The pandemic will be thankfully behind us by mid-2021 with the vaccine. However, just thinking back on the pandemic’s financial toll will remind us of how cost cutting works. Just because direct spend is on directly what the buyer organization produces does not guarantee that you’ll have orders in slow times tike 2020. There are two reasons:
- There is a competitor product or solution that is more effective in doing the job.
- There is a slowdown in the derived demand. Think of the institutional market for milk in schools and beer in bars. Producers had to drain huge quantities of both beer and milk during the pandemic.
- Good times ( eg. mid 2021-hopefully): If you think back to 2019, the economy was doing great. Hopefully, things will be back after mid 2021 as the virus comes under control. As markets pick up and new products are launched, there will be need for agile,innovative,responsive suppliers. It is at these growth times that your past performance with a client becomes a predictor of future performance. Your great work starts paying off.
Here are some tips for marketers to make the most of the supplier evaluation process that should work in both good and challenging times:
- Above all look out for your client’s success: Your client has hired you for a purpose. Try to have your organization and delivery team understand that purpose. Ideally all should try to do their best to make the client succeed. Purchase orders mention product, quantity price and payment terms but do not explain what the buying organization wants to achieve with the purchase. It is the B2B Marketer’s job to explain to her/his internal organization what the goals of the client are and how they can help.
- Maintain the same account team: It’s your people who need to make your B2B relationship work at all levels. Think of the last time you saw a Coca Cola or Pepsi truck delivering product to a large cafeteria. It’s very likely over time the driver gets to know several people at the cafeteria including the receiving person, the shift manager and even the manager. Cafeteria workers may not be decision makers for the next contract. But they can provide positive evaluation feedback.
- Timely reporting systems from the field: Have a formal quick and easy reporting from the field. For example you supply a product to the factory floor of the customer or you are responsible for filling shelves at the store. Generally you delivery person has a hand held device that she/he fills in checkboxes for records. If your person learns about a trial going on of a brand that was not there last week then this information must flow back to your product manager. If you have the timely signal from the field, there is action you can take. Simply asking the customer “what’s going on” might reveal that there is a new technology based substitute that is being tried out. We believe that it is a lack of timely reporting from the field that contributed to entire industries being wiped out in Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma.
- Accounts Receivable Contact: If your accounts receivable person follows up with your client’s accounts payable person, they too have a marketing role. Remember that the accounts payable person is part of your client’s finance team and a good word will not hurt.
- The CMO should get the CEO to be involved: The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is likely to be involved in large accounts. However, if the CEO is a non-marketing person it’s very important to find a mechanism where the CEO has contact with the client’s CEO. Why? because talking to the CEO of the supplier for a few minutes gives great comfort to the client CEO and to the client organization. And virtual meetings should work.
- No shortcuts- rapid response: Performance does count and strong B2B relationships can give you some cushion. But not a lot in competitive markets. If there is a quality or performance issue with your product the first step is acknowledge failure. Next ensure that the problem does not repeat. Share your actions with the client so that you maintain trust.
- Be alert and flexible to opportunities: Just as many jobs are not advertised, so too with new B2B opportunities. Because you are there and dealing with the client organization on a daily basis it’s important to take up on opportunities. For example, whether you can create a prototype of something new. Try to say yes as big opportunities tend to start small.
Most industries are well networked and good work gets noticed and shared. If your organization’s reputation and reliability is good your business will grow.
We wish our dear readers a Very Happy, Healthy and Successful 2021!