The Sellers Paradise Tips for Brands to hire a Loyalty partner
An honest confession first before I proceed.
I am a loyalty entrepreneur and I have vested interest in writing this not just for our own business benefit but also to express the constrained and tough environment we as service industry are forced to adopt. Instead, I aspire that buying professionals adopt a more humane and empathetic view of the real effort which goes behind contributing to the brand.
Thirteen years is a long time. Indeed a long time to have waited to speak with this kind of emotion. Thirteen years in business is also a very long time to have gone through the rigour, intensity and paranoia of positioning yourself as a valuable contributor to the ecosystem whereas everyone else in the game is just unwisely downplaying everyone else.
Now let me share the pain. Of late, recent few business pitches have given me jitters. Not because we are skeptical of our approach. And most certainly not, because we lack in our experience, competency or competitive edge. The jitters are also not for the pressing time demands required in thinking, strategize and creating beautiful, meaningful, content rich presentations as if a making a beautiful story unfold from the distant fairly land.
In fact the jitters are for a different reason. It is for the fact that despite all the good work we do, we are not able to command a premium pricing. We are a victim of the classic age old purchasing patterns wherein the decision maker comes out with a magical excel sheet mentioning the lowest price bidder and the target price (often the lowest price) marked against the best possible service levels.
I have habitually started questioning my faith in the procurement heads of brand organizations and hence urge them to read this without a pinch of salt
1. Don’t just look at power-point presentations. They can be easily made to lie. Ask your own marketing teams how? Verify the facts as claimed in those fancy slides.
2. Go for the experience of founders in building their proud mini empires. An entrepreneur needs to be respected for what he has to offer rather than just ask him to quote for a serialized list of asks like a monthly grocery list given to the neighborhood grocer.
3. Understand the difference between a product and service offering. A recent procurement deal the client side claimed that he bought 5 Cr. of come computer brand at 40% discount. It was further amazing to hear that if they can do it, we can do it as well. My plea to professionals like them. A service is people driven delivery while a product is innovation led. A service is to be delivered every single day of the contract term where it can be pulled-out in case of a non-fitment whereas a product is in your office after you pay them once. And also a service has to be bettered every day to keep us in business, whilst a product is once bought, used and adopted.
4. Go and check the team’s profile, expertise n tenures spent in organization. That speaks a lot of their commitment towards organization and how well an organization is treating, grooming and training them to manage your business. Linkedin & Facebook are wonderful platforms to support your wish if you so desire.
5. Visit the business offices of the bidding company. Go out and spend a few hours with them. My grandmother used to say the way people maintain their toilets in the homes defines what kind of people live in the house. In the modern context, look at how well they treat people, furniture and guests on the front desk. That will speak a lot on the emotional and thoughtful investments the company has made to build their business.
6. Do speak to current clients of the companies. Ask to speak to people who worked with them in past. Ask for more names than what are provided as standard references. Every company has favorite references they flaunt. Go beyond them. It is unlikely that you will fail if you do that.
7. Meet the founding members and see how involved they are in the business. Meet them separately from the sales team. See if they speak the same language and spiel. That will help you investigate and arrive at conclusive evidence of a pure, high on cocaine sales spiel from a right spiel. Also, if they are still invested in the company intellectually and emotionally, you have found your partner.
8. Check for the company’s investments in technology. Do they have any proprietary products or they use primitive and generally available tools. Service delivery methods have changed the rules. Innovation has entered the fray and any company with larger game plan would have already invested and ready with a road-map for years to come.
9. Decide if you want to work with a large company or a Boutique Company. A large company may come with baggage of attitude, non-flexible environment, strict working hours and going thru a hierarchical process for escalation. Whereas a boutique company will come with everything that keeps them in business for want of pride, close-controls and customer satisfaction.
10. Have a more considerate session on pricing. Don’t make price negotiation a battle of unequal’s among the bidders. Make it different and more forthcoming from both sides. Bring in the difference by changing the perception that pricing discussions are done to lower the quotations. As a matter of fact, rarely is the discussion on maintaining or increasing the pricing. A procurement person tries to bring forward the lowest pricing bar available and matches it to the highest service levels. That’s the worst way to handle competitive pricing as this is done without any heed to due-diligence aspects of comfort, agency investments in people, processes and technology. Moreover, this aspect ignores along the delivery vision of the team. It rarely is focused on the discussion as to how much money is the partner agency wanting to make in the process to keep itself interested to work with you. And if it is enough to keep them motivated to walk an extra mile for you or your project.
As I conclude writing this piece, my phone rings and I see the name of a known procurement head flashing on the screen. After the usual pleasantries were exchanged, he asked me why were our costing higher compared to the other bidders. And I smilingly told him, we charge for our experience we have gained in the industry. And he reciprocated in a humorous tone. “I am more experienced than you to bring the price down. In that manner - I win, you lose!”
And we reluctantly obliged to each other's fancies while I ignored my jitters!
Another day, another time and with another client, I will walk into the sellers paradise instead of the big, bad & mean buyers world. I promised myself.