How to Win and Keep B2B Customers in an Increasingly Competitive Marketplace

By Jay VanOrden, CEO, Worldwide Supply

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It’s not easy to convert new customers, period.

In my company’s case, where many of the products we supply are pre-owned and refurbished, it ups the challenge exponentially, to say the least.

By 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% just four years ago, according to a study by Gartner Surveys.

Worldwide Supply is an equipment and technical services provider with a focus on pre-owned networking equipment—we stock everything from large core routers to the smallest optical transceivers.

The company was established in 2004 in a small industrial warehouse. When we opened our doors, we could count our customers on one hand.

Eleven years later, after providing outstanding products and services, supported by the best customer service in the industry, we oversee 400 shipping outlets worldwide and maintain a $500M inventory every day.

I was recently part of a CEO summit where we talked about the difficulty converting–and keeping– customers. When I explained what my business provides, my fellow CEO’s literally gasped at the challenges we face helping CIOs and IT management understand that “pre-owned” isn’t actually a bad word when it comes to the secondary networking, wireless equipment and services industry.

After we explain to customers about the substantial 60 – 90% cost savings from buying certified and tested secondary market equipment, which we back with a lifetime warranty, the conversation usually gets more interesting.

What ultimately helps demonstrate our partnership value is the ability to work directly with the customer—without the constant pressure from the OEMs (Cisco, Juniper, Arris, Alcatel, etc.)

The bulk of what we do involves earning the trust from a huge range of clients charged with the demanding role of building and maintaining their networks–while faced with a limited budget.

Worldwide Supply acts as their 24/7 “go-to” partner by:

  • Support & Maintain Network Infrastructures
  • Troubleshooting
  • Strategizing future growth

I’d like to share some of our best practice tools for building your own customer base and, more importantly, maintaining it for the long-term:

Drive a consistent message throughout your organization

Maintaining a continuum of internal communication can be a debilitating hurdle for small and large companies. I believe successful messaging starts with senior management. Good or bad, keep everyone in the loop through regular live meetings and brief and direct messages. Relay just a few key news items—no more than three bullet points per meeting, if you can. I like quick and direct live meetings to avoid misconstrued email messages. Always offer a Q&A so your staff’s concerns can be voiced.

See the world from the customer’s eye

Flip your hat around and become one of your clients for half a day a few times per year. Periodically I call my customer service center, our engineering team and the shipping department to pose some tough (anonymous) questions.

When was the last time you read every page of your website? This is where your new clients check you out. Can they quickly and effectively locate and disseminate the information they’re seeking?

And what messages are you sending out to customers, competitors, the media–and even potential investors–through your social media channels (or are you even engaged in this marketing avenue)?

The customer is more important than the company

At Worldwide Supply, the adage is still true–the customer is always right. This is a rule to guide your business from the day you open your doors until the day you walk out of it. To help set this in motion, establish a clear and specific customer service policy that explains “what you’re made of,” so to speak. Trust me, your competition probably isn’t doing this, which is precisely why you should.

Give more than expected

Be the “wow” factor. Impress, exceed expectations, bring it. Not only will your client be blown away, you’ll go home feeling pretty good yourself.

Even a brief customer service interaction is an opportunity to retain a customer for the long-term

Three minutes spent talking to a customer shapes his or her impression of your company more than the price or quality of your goods or services. Do you know who that customer is? Can your sales or customer service team draw on a previous interaction in order to assure the client of their importance to your company?

Often, it’s the brief and unexpected business interactions—good or bad–that prove to be the most memorable, much like life.

Empower the staff to do whatever it takes

Make it clear that everyone is expected to go above and beyond to satisfy and impress every customer, every day. Be helpful. Take some of the load off for them. Ensure every customer understands how important their business is to you. Simply exceed expectations.

Be a great listener

Clients are people first. They have good days, bad bosses and too much work on their plates. Like the rest of us, they appreciate feeling valued. Ask how you can help. Ask their opinions about something you’re working on—value their expertise. By listening, instead of selling, the relationship will ultimately be more fruitful for both of you.

Clear and concise communication

Systems and services evolve, especially in the technology industry. Internally and externally, keep clients in the mix. They appreciate you sharing breaking industry news, insight and expertise. Be seen as a thought leader, as well as a vendor, in your field of expertise.

Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

In a well-known Harvard Business Review study of more than 2,000 U.S. companies, new B2B leads received staggeringly slow responses from sales teams–

Twenty-three percent of the companies never responded to new leads at all. Those who did act took 42 hours to do so, on average.

Ensure that your sales and customer service teams have the tools they need to get this pivotal job done quickly and effectively. There is no better place to invest your money and manpower.

Make it easy to share feedback

In my opinion, the best way to garner good and bad feedback from clients is often unique to your industry. In the B2B world, the way vendors interact with clients sets the dialogue. I’ll leave it at this—find a methodology that’s easy for customers to let you know what they think and how you are doing. Have a system in place to react quickly and personally to any and all feedback.

Bonus: Be available at all times from all places

We’ve all been there—we’ve needed an answer, some guidance, a product or service from our supplier—and were left hanging for too long. You’re left with that feeling that you don’t really matter (that much).

I’m not suggesting any professional person be married to email 24/7. But making sure your key departments are covered around the clock gives clients the peace of mind that, so far as your company is concerned, you are ready to help, should they need you.

And isn’t that what most of us are selling at the end of the day?

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