Like everyone, I occasionally allow myself to go off on one of those random walks on the Internet; finding one interesting link, which brings up another, and another …
Recently, on one of these adventures, I came across some research from way back in 2013 (to remind you just how long ago that was, Nelson Mandela died in 2013, and the word ‘selfie’ officially entered the English language).
This piece of research was titled, What do customers really want? The article piqued my interest for two reasons:
- Would the answers apply equally to our big B2B customers? The original study surveyed B2C customers.
- Would the answers to this question be different in 2018, five years later?
According to the research results, the 5 most important things that customers want are:
I checked for some more up-to-date research, and some that specifically concentrated on B2B relationships, and came up with this list from a 2016 study, Cheap and cheerless: Is this what B2B buyers really want from suppliers?:
- Goes the extra mile – Exceeds expectations, holds the client’s hand throughout the process; providing a personal service.
- Likeable – Approachable, accessible, jargon-free explanations, listens.
- Reliable – Clear communicator, delivers on promises, keeps clients informed.
- Quality Product – One that fits the business needs, pride in their work.
- Value for money – Cost-effective and transparent, with no hidden charges.
Sound familiar? This second list is exactly the same as the first. It uses some different words, but the sentiment is identical. So, there must be something in these five issues.
Value for money.
Interestingly, the 2013 researcher lumped price and value together. Price is just price and the cheapest wins the day. (The best example of this in Australia is the supermarket price war. There is no difference between the milk you buy at Coles or Woolworths; just the price). Value, on the other hand, includes an emotional (is this solution really solving my problem) and longer-term (lifetime cost) perspective. This is the new and enlightened procurement paradigm.
But the narrow, cheapest price approach certainly does still exist in a proportion of the corporate sector. A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a delayed flight in a very crowded Qantas Lounge and shared a table with a gentleman whose company provided logistics services to big corporates. I asked if his client base included all big companies. His reply was immediate and emphatic; his company had decided to not deal with certain companies at all as they concentrate only on price and are not interested in a mutually beneficial relationship. There are many producers who will not become suppliers to the main supermarket chains for the same reason.
While researching for my book, I interviewed Directors and Managers from large corporates and participated in some research projects. This particular quote stuck in my mind.
In other words, a big company (well, some big companies) will accept a higher price from a Small Business, but only if the level of service they require is there.
Easy to do business with.
I’m more than aware that administrative dealings with big companies can be a bit like having your teeth pulled without anaesthetic; painful. But dealing with some Small Businesses can be equally as difficult. I know of one instance where, despite repeated requests, a Small Business owner didn’t submit an invoice for over a year. They didn’t get another contract.
Here is another quote from the research phase of my book writing:“I get at least two calls a day from local businesses wanting to become suppliers, I advise them of the process and encourage them to take their time but their attitude towards us and the process is very negative, and they don’t ever put into practice what they say they will. Talk is cheap; they need to walk the talk.”
Translation: If you say you can deliver, make sure you do.
Quality to a big company means, “Fit for purpose and consistent”. Provided that and you already have a competitive advantage over your small (and many of your large) competitors.
So, a combination of random internet wandering and my own research reinforce the simple message that all customers, big or small, want the same things and that these don’t change much over time. I’ll make an appointment for myself to have another internet wander in three years to see if anything has changed.
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