Nowadays, companies need more than a strong brand and market positioning if they want to land the biggest, most lucrative deals. Although many believe they have mastered the art of collaboration with their key customers, in reality, they could be doing a lot more. The same goes for the acquisition of new customers, where the rate of success is even lower. So what areas should companies focus on in order to recognize new potential with their customers and exploit these opportunities?
The early bird gets the worm
In essence, suppliers need to move away from reactive customer acquisition practices that result in coincidental hits. Instead, they should proactively structure the way they interact with their customers. This means gaining a better understanding of the way customers behave, supporting them, and, ideally, playing an active role in shaping these behavioral patterns. Before committing to a purchase, customers will generally spend time getting a feel for the different options available without being tied to one particular supplier. This initial exploration phase is particularly important in the case of new or scattered purchases. By engaging with the customer early on in the procurement process, suppliers can not only gain an information advantage over their competition, but also direct the decision-making process and use it to their advantage.
Utilizing the initial exploration phase
Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for success when it comes to tapping major customer potential and making productive use of the exploration phase. However, the following points will be of use to suppliers seeking to improve their positioning with regard to their customers:
- Prioritize to make your mark: Do not simply bombard interested parties with information, especially when the information is not specific to them. This can cause confusion among your potential customers, or, worse still, take you out of the running to be their supplier completely. Put together information that is relevant to your customers in the phase he is currently in and demonstrate your expertise this way.
- Challenge your customers: If the potential is there, a bold approach is often all you need. Challengers will be responsive to customers’ needs but always maintain control, putting them in a good position to coax customers out of their shell. Challengers know what matters to their customers and are very adept at putting their sales skills to good use.
- Support one another internally: The question of where marketing ends and sales begins has been discussed at length – and a definite answer is yet to be found. One thing is clear, however: both departments have to work together and should follow the same concept. A unified approach is particularly important when dealing with key customers where personal connections can often be the deciding factor.
- Strengthen customer interaction: Digital technologies now make it much easier for suppliers to interact with their customers. Analyze the way your customers behave during the entire procurement process and create virtual (selling) spaces to structure your customer interaction depending on the contact person, phase in the process and channel.
To succeed, suppliers need to be present with their customers, be selective where potential is discovered, and channel their available resources into utilizing these opportunities.
Belz, Ch. et al. (2019). The Next Big Thing. Grosse Potenziale bei Kunden erschliessen. Marke 41 (5), 8–15.
Weibel, M. (2014). Vertrieb im Industriegüterbetrieb aus Anbietersicht: Untersuchung erfolgskritischer Faktoren nach Geschäftstypen. Springer Gabler.