A recent survey conducted by Electronic Purchasing Strategies revealed that electronic purchasing professionals spend an average of nearly 7 hours per week interacting or negotiating with vendors. This was the most hours of any of one particular task. The survey also revealed contracting and maintaining vendor relationships as their primary job role.
Despite a society that continues to move toward a digital world with less personal interactions and more communications that stem from and stay behind a computer screen, personal relationships still play a key role in the world of electronic procurement and distribution.
This is especially true in independent world. When going into the open market to procure obsolete, long lead-time, and other hard to find parts, an electronics purchasing agent has to navigate the waters very carefully to avoid getting stuck with counterfeit components, ghost stock that doesn’t really exist, or from paying exorbitant prices. It also helps to have a vendor with a high-level of product knowledge that can offer cross-references and other possible solutions to avoid line down situations. For all of these reasons, relationships are key.
In my work as the founder and CEO of SolTec Electronics, an independent distribution company, I have sat in both the purchasing agent and vendor seats. I know, firsthand, of how it feels to have suppliers fall down on purchase orders by either cancelling at the last minute, or shipping sub-par parts that did not pass our in-house lab’s QC inspection. I also know what goes into acquiring and maintaining a new client of our own.
With both the good and bad experiences in mind, I both teach these top 6 tips on building relationships to my own sales reps and put them into daily practice myself.
- We’re only as good as our suppliers. Each vendor must be carefully vetted and records meticulously updated in order to keep an industry scorecard so that we don’t get burned and pass the stinging along to our own clients.
- Always deliver on your promises. Of course, we’re all human and subject to mistakes. Perhaps a lead-time gets pushed out or a delayed customs clearance causes slow delivery. The most important thing is to communicate any of these issues to the client right away. As purchasing agents, if we had a dollar for every time we called looking for a late tracking number just to find out the parts still haven’t shipped (and nobody bothered to call us) -- we’d all be a lot closer to retirement right now. That feeling is most frustrating and builds distrust in the relationship. Biting the bullet & communicating quickly is always the best bet.
- Make it fun and personal. Of course, we’re all professionals and have a job to do. But, we all happen to humans too. Sometimes, it’s nice to take a quick little break in the day to chat about something that is not work related... if even just the weather in different parts of the world, or maybe even your weekend plans. And, aside from engineers, who doesn’t like to laugh? (I kid, I kid!) Bringing a smile to a client or prospects face is a good way to stand out and be more personable and likable.
- Bring your best effort to every opportunity. There is a lot of competition out there in this space. Anything we can do to make a buyer’s job easier and more pleasant is going to earn a better chance of first order or repeat business. This often means going above and beyond to locate really difficult components. It also means getting to know each account, their preferences, how they work, and how we can best serve them.
- Follow up … but don’t be annoying! There is a fine line between good follow-up and being a total pain in the you-know-what. We’re all super-busy and can appreciate a quick check-in to gently help a transaction move along its way. But, an overzealous sales rep that calls and emails an unwelcome amount of times is certainly not going to win any brownie points. In fact, they will likely send a buyer running the other way (or at least avoiding your calls and deleting your emails).
- Focus on what we can give, not what we can get. This is the most important one and can apply to any industry or any aspect of life. Our value is in what we can give -- in terms of service, in terms of quality, in terms of personal service -- this is where we shine. What value we can add should always be the focus. A natural by-product of this is ‘getting’ in return (a new account, a purchase order, a referral). Adversely, when one’s main concern is in line with the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality, it can be very off-putting to a potential client. Nobody wants to be “sold” to, but everybody appreciates a little help, genuine intentions, and kind efforts.
What do you think? In this digital world, do you find the art of business relationships to be a thing of the past? Or, do you still enjoy personal phone calls, or even better, in-person meetings? How do you see personal vendor relationships evolving over the years? Let us know in the comments below!
Dawn Gluskin is founder and CEO of independent distributor SolTec Electronics