Being the number one choice of supplier for your customers is every merchant’s dream. So how can you make it come true?
The basic rule of thumb is pretty straightforward: have what they want, when and where they want it. You want to make buying from you easier, more convenient and more enjoyable than buying from your competitors, reliably and repeatedly.
And making that a reality can be complicated. Let’s take a look.
Stock profile: the right breadth and depth of products, in stock at the right time. Getting this right requires analysis of purchasing trends, knowing and anticipating your customers’ (and their customers’) needs, and ensuring best-in-class stock management to keep your stockholding relevant and appealing.
Product information: customers want expert product information they can trust, whether that’s the sustainability credentials, the compatibility with other products or the actual deployment and usage of the product. The knowledge and expertise of your staff is a huge factor here, but so is ensuring easy access to information both in-branch and online.
Service: Don’t underestimate the importance of great service. Friendly, expert service is a vital ingredient in becoming a preferred supplier, so your staff need to buy in to the service proposition. Every last member of your team needs to ensure that every interaction customers have with you is positive – even if it’s about something negative like an out of stock item or a delivery delay. Great communication is key.
Value: Critically, this doesn’t necessarily just mean price. Customers want to get good value – convenience, simplicity, choice, availability, service, all of it, rolled into one. And if they get all that, they’ll usually be happy to pay for the privilege. Offering the best value doesn’t always mean the cheapest prices. It’s a whole package of convenience and reliability rolled up in one big parcel of service excellence – and that’s what your customers want.
Difference: Whatever your difference is, celebrate it. Whether you have an awesome loyalty programme, better accessibilty, better sustainability, more local community involvement, employment opportunities, charity involvement, diversity and inclusion excellence - whatever it is, let it shine. Because that could be what sets you apart, and what keeps your brand alive in their minds.
Availability: Construction companies and tradespeople are often incredibly busy and timing is everything. If your availability regularly beats that of your competitors, you’re onto a winner. Having a deep understanding of your stockholding, being able to predict, and therefore pre-empt, stock shortages and having the analysis available to spot the trends and troughs before they happen to get ahead will all help to put you at the front of the queue for their business. Crucially, the accuracy of your information needs to be unparalleled – no-one wants to be promised something that turns out to be out of stock, so using real-time, integrated information you can trust is an absolute must.
24/7 information: Lots of merchants open early in the morning to accommodate trade requirements, and offering services when they’re needed is vital. But it’s also important that they can access product information, availability and delivery options at whatever time it suits them too, and usually that’s going to require an up to date, well integrated website. When your customers are flat our busy all day, they might not have time to research the best product for the job, or a more eco-friendly alternative, so ensuring your website is packed with useful product information and collection or delivery options is really important for convenience.
Responsiveness: If you’re able to turn around a click and collect order super-fast, you’re going to win a lot of friends. Everyone is busy, so knowing you can be relied upon for quick and responsive service when your customers need it most is critical.
Accessibility: Your customers want to be able to access stock information easily. That might mean in-branch, of course, but increasingly it means online. Recent research has shown a huge uptake in online services – busy tradespeople have seen the convenience of online sourcing in action and they’re not going to go back to traditional methods which are more time-consuming. That means you need to be where they’re looking – and that’s online. It doesn’t mean they won’t still shop in-branch (in fact, the knock-on effect of a good website and webshop has been proven to drive in-branch purchasing directly) but if you can’t compete digitally, you’re not likely to stay in the race long-term.
Layout: If they can’t find it, they can’t buy it. It really is that simple, and particularly when it comes to online behaviours, customers are incredibly impatience. You need to ensure that customers can easily find what they’re looking for, whether in-branch or online, as quickly and easily as possible, or they will simply go elsewhere.
Delivery / collection: The most obvious element of “where” is having stock where they need it at the right time, and that relies on excellent operational infrastructure. Staying on top of your stock in real time across your whole business is imperative, as is being able to offer convenient collection or delivery slots. If you can make sure the products they need are where they need to be at the right time, every time, you’re going to get their business next time too.
Local: Don’t ever forget the power of local. People like to support local businesses, and word of mouth travels fast in communities. Whether you choose to target your marketing on local online search, give back to your local community by supporting charities or sponsoring a grassroots sports team, or print your offers on sandwich bags at the local food outlets, that’s up to you. But “love where you live” is a powerful driver for loyalty, so don’t underestimate it.
The fourth part of the equation is arguably the most important – how?
Obviously we consider your ERP system to be a crucial part of delivering all of the above. But there are so many other factors too – your supply chain, relationships, workforce engagement, communication framework, marketing, budgets, local networks and opportunities… the list goes on.
Ultimately, to be the number one supplier for your customers, you need to be able to offer what they want, when and where they want it. Do that reliably, based on the right systems and processes, and you’re onto a winner. To slightly misquote a rather wonderful film from 1989 – “If you stock it, they will come.”
If you’d like to try our easy-to-use, digital ERP system for yourself, just register here for login details. It’s free, it’s easy and it could be just what you’ve been looking for.