How can smaller suppliers compete with the industry ‘big boys’?

17th of July 2015
How can smaller suppliers compete with the industry ‘big boys’?

Businesses operating across the jan/san supply chain are part of a global industry worth €17.28 billion. As is the case in many industries, smaller companies have had to fight hard to compete with the bigger, multi-national corporations. But in a market this size, and one that is growing all the time, now is a great a time as any for smaller companies to step up and take their market share. Paul Black, ceo of sales-i - which specialises in sales performance software - writes for ECJ.

To run a profitable business, regardless of size, companies need to keep existing customers happy and be able to identify new ones. In a sales-based industry such as the jan/san supply chain, businesses generate a lot of customer data and those with the ability to analyse it properly are armed with the power to step up their competitive game.

Being able to process and analyse data is vital for suppliers and distributors across the entire industry, but it's especially true for the smaller companies where information such as this can help them stay ahead of the competition. It provides businesses of all sizes with greater visibility into customer buying habits and trends, enabling them to make better, more informed decisions. And one of the best ways companies can make the most of the data available to them is to manage it using business intelligence software.

What is business intelligence?

Business intelligence, at its most basic, is the ability to transform unstructured data into meaningful and useful information for organisations to identify new business opportunities.

Even in a small company, sales people are expected to manage hundreds of customers across a vast array of product lines, meaning they generate a huge amount of customer data every single day. Recording - and more importantly analysing - this data manually would be a difficult, nigh-on impossible task, and one that would cost businesses a lot in time and resources to implement effectively.

Business intelligence software exists to do precisely this; it can identify what products are in high demand, what products are in low demand, what products customers need and want, often even before they know it themselves.

Harnessing the power of ‘big data'

There has been much talk across multiple industries about the potential of ‘big data' (that is, the enormous quantity of data now available to businesses). For business to consumer companies, this might mean assessing the effectiveness of various marketing campaigns and analysing their online purchasing habits, for example. But for business to business suppliers it means understanding customer data and turning it into actionable information that can help salespeople sell more.

Big jan/san companies may have the resources to plough hundreds of hours into cold calling but for smaller companies this can be a waste of valuable selling time. Knowing how to use a sales force efficiently and for the maximum return is key to driving healthy sales figures in any small business.

Of course there are ways to do this manually but trawling through endless spreadsheets trying to identify trends is not an efficient use of time. Automating this process means precious time and money can be saved, and sales teams can focus their time and efforts on building customer relationships and selling more.

Business intelligence software will flag up when a particular customer is likely to run out of a certain product. It will also highlight cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. For example, if a salesperson sees that a particular customer purchased a large order of mops but no buckets last month, they immediately know it's time to pick up the phone and how to start the conversation.

It can also identify wider customer trends, including what the best selling product lines are and whether there have been any seasonal changes. This can help jan/san suppliers run highly targeted promotions and marketing campaigns that are based on data and fact, rather than on the opinions of a few people in the marketing department. Why not run a 15 per cent discount on buckets to those customers who only bought mops last month, for example?

Intimate customer service

Customer retention is an all too often overlooked area of business. Many companies will invest heavily in marketing and promotion to bring in new clients but winning a new customer costs 10 times the amount to retain an existing one. As well as delivering efficient, intelligent sales and worrying about how to compete with the big corporations, smaller Jan/San companies must make the most of being just that; a smaller business.

Providing better customer service by knowing what customers want and delivering it efficiently will help build up trust. Business intelligence software will organise customer data into digestible segments, meaning sales teams can access key information about every customer in an instant. This includes information such as purchasing history, what's changed within the account, who has moved where, and what the customer is happy, or not so happy, about.

It can help businesses to better anticipate customer needs, record their interests more accurately and deliver an altogether better and more intimate service every time. With insights like these, even the smallest of Jan/San suppliers can reel in any drifting customers before the competition gets to them.

The mobile revolution

Sales professionals often spend a lot of time on the road, travelling to meet prospects and customers. Business Intelligence software can be accessed via smart phones and tablets on the move, meaning customer information can be accessed from anywhere, and at anytime.

Sales staff can easily check stock levels in real time, book delivery slots and let the customer know on the spot when they can expect their delivery, all without having to be anywhere near their desk. Gone are the days of having to carry around reams of paperwork detailing customer information, and with business intelligence, travel time no longer means wasted time.

Meticulous management

A key element of keeping any business competitive is through effective management and the development and progression of staff.

A team is only as strong as its weakest member, but in the past it could take a month or more for managers to make sense of sales and identify any problems with individuals in the team. Business intelligence software provides managers with an overview of how everyone in the team is performing. It can provide real time information about sales and performance, helping businesses to give praise where it's due and to address issues as and when they arise.

Trends in underperformance, either at a team or individual level, can be spotted before they do damage, and help and support can be offered to get things back on track.

The key to success for any business is identifying what customers want, when they want it and when they need it. Advances in technology such as business intelligence software will benefit companies of all sizes, across all industries; but this is particularly true for smaller distribution businesses trying to compete with the big industry suppliers that have bigger budgets and more personnel at their disposal.

Not only does it provide sales teams with all (and only) the information they need to sell more, it will save time previously spent on manually trawling through spreadsheets and speculatively cold calling prospects. It enables managers to more effectively manage their team and leaves sales professionals to get on with what they do the best - building relationships with customers, and selling.


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