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25 February 2020

What’s changed in the way we sell to other businesses?

What’s changed in the way we sell to other businesses?

As I was very kindly reminded by LinkedIn last month that I had been at my current company for 10 years, it got me thinking about how much not just the industry that I work within - the office products and business services industry - has changed, but how the whole landscape of selling to other businesses has also changed.

There are certainly new threats to face, but there is also a feeling that these challenges have served to focus us as a company, forced us to think about the way we engage with our customers and other key audiences, and encouraged us to think outside of the box with the kind of products and services we can offer them.

Ten years ago, you could have argued that the job was much easier. Send out a catalogue, let me know what products your business needs, we'll price them up and send them out to you the next day. As long as we're a bit cheaper than your old supplier, that should be enough to secure the business.

Fast forward 10 years and the explosion of the internet, Amazon and the increased availability of information to everyone that can type a few key words into Google and, suddenly, the market is blown wide open. We find that customers can sometimes find our products for less than the price we pay from our suppliers and, rather than competing against a few local or national suppliers as we were, we now find ourselves competing with the entire internet and potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of online resellers.

So how have we reacted to these changes in the B2B sales arena, and how have we remained competitive? First of all, it's forced us to think creatively about our product mix and what it means to be a 'business supplier'. We now offer a range of services including free toner recycling, document shredding and storage, IT support, telecoms and energy supply, managed print services, fresh fruit and flower delivery and even web and graphic design - all services that help us offer a more complete solution to our customers which ultimately saves them time as well as bringing in more business for us.

We've also moved towards a more consultative selling approach where the sales team are trained to listen more to our customers, spot opportunities and then provide information and experience into helping them achieve the right result. Amazon might be great at selling a cheap office chair, but we can come to your office, consult with your staff on the right type of chair for their needs, check to see if the chair needs to match up with previous colour or style and even help you build it. We can also check to see if the chair is for a new starter - do they need new equipment for their desk, a new monitor or pens, pads and other stationery to go with it?

Lastly, but most importantly and underpinning everything we now do as a business, it has highlighted to us the need for us to create, foster, develop and nurture our relationships with our customers. Along with the recent GDPR regulations coming into force, we have had to ensure that we know our customers and our leads inside out. What information should we send to them? Is it relevant? How regularly are we following it up? Has our point of contact changed recently? What other products are they buy? What services do they use? Do they know about the products and services we offer?

In practice, this is a rolling solution - you never 'finish' updating your contacts but more it is continual process of cultivating these relationships to build knowledge and trust. And, once you've built those relationships, you can rest assured that the likes of Amazon or any other e-commerce website will struggle to do the same. That, hopefully, is where we offer our competitive advantage and how we will continue to be successful in a changing, constantly-evolving B2B marketplace.

Matt Stanley

Committee Member, Leaders of the Future 

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