“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. This well-known axiom from decades ago made the point that emotions are a big driver in purchasing decisions in the B2B marketplace. A trusted brand can make everyone feel safe. But trust in any company doesn’t come with the same certainty – and thus loyalty – today.
Heritage brands can disappear from the high street and the Internet overnight, often after a brutal price war against sharper competitors with deeper pockets. In a world of price comparison websites and discounts, being a household name doesn’t guarantee your future any more.
So how can SMEs win loyalty?
If striving for years to achieve a “cool brand” won’t ultimately be enough to keep your valuable customers and you don’t have the economies of scale to battle it out on price, then where do you go? How is it possible to build a secure customer base in today’s fickle world? The answer is “loyalty as you go”.
Put simply, this approach is about nurturing loyalty at every step of the pre-sales and post-sales process – by giving customers something unique. And it’s still very much about emotion.
If someone believes buying from dependable company X will keep their job safe, or choosing supplier Z will make them look good at one level or another, then emotions will be key to your sale. And this is almost always the case.
As an SME, it’s possible to break through and outsmart larger competitors by fixing long-standing issues that reside deep within your prospect’s operations – and trigger frustration and other emotions. You need to help them to spot other advantages beyond price that could solve particular problems.
Firstly, open up a conversation that involves your prospect’s engineers, operations staff and other company influencers. Then explore whether a few adaptations to your product might deliver extra value to your prospect. You might suddenly discover another colour, shape, design or material would suit their operation infinitely better… something competitors may never have thought of.
Sensing an opportunity
This is exactly how a small manufacturer of temperature sensors managed to secure the business of a major OEM.
Previously, the OEM had been buying sensors in bundles of 100, the industry standard. However, the SME noticed something strange when visiting its factory. It had five workers dedicated to manually repackaging the sensors to fit the distribution/manufacturing process.
The opportunity became clear. The SME offered sensors in smaller bundles and changed the shape of the packs to make them easier to manage. As a result, the OEM only needed one worker to oversee the internal repackaging – and so the SME won the business, without competitors even realising why.
This is an approach I’m seeing working successfully again and again from my perspective as a business advisor in sectors that include IT/Cloud/SaaS, manufacturing, drones, fintech and immersive theatre.
If you run a small business, you’re more likely to have the advantage of knowing your customers personally – and be able to see deep inside their processes. Don’t simply assume your product meets their needs precisely. But with some fine-tuning, it might. And that could be enough to secure their loyalty.
But keep going. For “loyalty as you go” to work, you always need to keep having those vital conversations. Try to get sight of your customers’ roadmap and offer fresh ideas on a regular basis.
While your larger competitors enjoy economies of scale that could drive you into the ground, they often lack the flexibly to adapt their products easily. Even though your business may be small, you can offer the agility and smart-thinking that a world-famous brand with huge budgets can never buy.
Stefano Maifreni is founder and director of Eggcelerate, the business expansion advisors.
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