Vendors are a dime a dozen but partners are hard to find.

This statement is continually in the minds of your customers. If you would like to develop a business strategy based on quality relationships, take a look at how your customers currently perceive your business. Ask your customers what they think of you through surveys or simply by word of mouth. The conversation they have with themselves about you is their reality.

You can greatly influence your chances of success in an uncertain economy if you position yourself as a partner to your customers. Learn to get on their side of the table. Learn what they perceive as valuable to them and what they do not perceive as valuable.

When you are clear about how you want the market to perceive you, you can use this positioning strategy to drive the many areas of your business. As all the areas of your business drive the same consistent message in both word and deed, you will own that position in your marketplace.

Asking the Tough Questions

Before I consult with an organization, I generally ask the management team to answer the following positioning questions.

Who are my customers? This question sounds quite simple but this is a critical first step. To better understand the question, explore these related questions:

  • Who do I want them to be?
  • What must I do to get them?
  • Who has chosen me?
  • What are my customers’ demographics?
  • Where are my customers?

  • Where are they geographically?
  • Which industry segments?
  • What is their socio-economic standing?
  • What publications do my target customers read?
  • What media formats are they likely to frequent?
  • How do my customers find me? Word-of-mouth, drive-by or walk-by traffic, snail mailings, e-mailings, phone solicitations, Yellow Pages advertising, local cable station/national networks, radio, newspapers, specialty magazines, and cross promotions are possibilities.

    Maybe they’ve heard of you through a media interview or article or on the Internet.

    How do my customers perceive value (benefits) when selecting a supplier/vendor with which to partner? Technological capability, knowledge, overall service, integrity, selection, price, geography, and a cadre of other factors will affect the selection process. Additionally, there are the supply/procurement considerations:

  • Traditional brick and mortar;
  • Mail order/catalog;
  • Click and brick; and
  • Click only.
  • How do my customers prefer to do business?

  • Do they walk the partnering talk or just talk it?
  • Can I live with their reputation?
  • Can my company survive the potential pitfalls?
  • Ethics is a big consideration. Additionally, ethnic and cultural concerns are critical factors in today’s diverse society. Are you willing to “walk the extra mile” to understand and fulfill the diverse needs of your customers?

    Who is my competition? Generally, any business that can pluck dollars out of your potential customers’ pockets, for any product or service, is your competition! Specific to your situation, who has the capability and is willing to make a greater commitment to partnering than you do?

    What are the benefits that the customers of my competition believe they are receiving from my competitor(s)? Spending time thinking about solutions to customers’ problems and challenges from your competitors’ point of view will serve you well. Know how your competition thinks and acts — you can learn from them. To win, you must know your competition better than they know themselves. That is how Pepsi gained shelf space from Coca-Cola in grocery stores in the 1960s. Pepsi changed the rules. Be careful not to select copycat positioning — rarely is it successful. Adapt rather than adopt.

    What is it about my company that really gets me excited? Find your company’s uniqueness and passionately sell through that window with all your energy. Can’t find it? Either you’re not looking hard enough or you’re in the wrong place! Those with purchasing power will seek out specialists who can truly fulfill their needs, wants and desires — physically and mentally. Decide to be in this select group and then make a big time commitment to get there.

    What is my uniqueness? What is it that you bring to the table? Your personality traits, the area in which you excel or the one thing about the way you do business for which customers are always complimenting you. Find this and you’ve struck gold! People prefer an original whenever possible — help them to find it in you.

    The answers to the above nine questions will assist you in defining a partnering positioning strategy upon which you can successfully increase sales and build your business.

    Vision for The Future

    This may well be a completely new direction or simply an adjustment to your current sales and marketing strategy. If you do select partnering, remember it’s not a quick fix for your ills; it’s a long-term visionary strategy that you and your company must commit to in order for success to follow.

    Entire industries are giving way to new technologies, resulting in some industries having a new or dramatically changed paradigm. Where fragmented industries once existed in comfort, consolidators and roll-ups are devastating the playing field.

    Your industry is changing whether you like it or not. It is happening before your own eyes.

    Prices for quality, innovative products, and services are increasing at a faster pace than most consumers’ incomes. This problem is becoming increasingly critical, having an impact at all levels of the manufacturing and distribution process.

    Partnering is a solution! Are you a partner, willing to be a problem solver?

    Rigsbee is an author and has experience in retail, outside sales, sales management, and has owned a manufacturers representative firm. He can be reached at 800-839-1520 or (e-mail).

    Publication date: 08/06/2001