Earning the business: What it takes
June 28, 2017
Most small businesses recognize the tremendous importance and advantage of being successful in their local market. Part and parcel of this success is being able to sell their products or services to the larger companies in their area of geographic coverage. When asked, many of these larger local companies universally express a sincere desire to do business with local suppliers, but with one important and vital caveat: the business must be earned.
While most small businesses owners and entrepreneurs would attest to their intellectual understanding of these simple words, when you talk with the purchasing agents of many of these larger companies, they will paint an entirely different picture. Comments about potential suppliers range from "a lack of understanding of our business," to "no clue as to their competitors," or "a totally non-professional presentation." These comments then circulate among local purchasing agents and a justified bias or negative opinion is formed. Unfortunately, this bias can sometimes extend beyond the offending company and the brush of incompetence is applied to all local suppliers.
Contrary to what these incompetent and disappointed vendors may believe upon being notified of their non selection, the vast majority of local companies truly do want to do business with local suppliers. They recognize and appreciate the fact that commercial transaction dollars stay in the community and have a multiplying effect. They also come to appreciate and value the quick response and customized care that only local suppliers can provide.
But purchasing agents are paid by their companies to save their companies money. While this always includes some component of pricing, lowest price does not always win the bid. There are other components of "the deal" such as guaranteed delivery time, post sales service or support, ongoing upgrades, trade up/trade in options, training, etc. These all directly affect the perception and comparison of value. And it is this determination of value and being able to consistently procure it that solidifies the long-term career of a purchasing specialist.
This leads to another important point for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Business is not done with a corporate logo or an agency name. Winter Park, Devil's Thumb, Granby Ranch, or Grand County Government do not make any decisions to buy anything. Individuals in each of these entities do, however, make purchase decisions everyday. Savvy suppliers aka professional salespeople understand this. They take the time to highlight the benefits of what they are selling for the organization and also connect benefits for the person making the decision. This requires some thought, some preparation, perhaps even some creativity, but it also separates those on the vendor list from those who wish to be.
It is not uncommon for small businesses to seek assistance in doing business with local companies. It is also not uncommon for large businesses or government entities to be willing to engage in a productive conversation about what they need or expect from their suppliers. Local Chambers of Commerce often provide forums for such exchanges but large companies or groups of small companies, even local newspapers, can also be the catalyst. It matters not who or what starts the process, what is important to all parties is that there is a process-one that will benefit all involved.