What Makes You Different?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 21-02-2007

I was in a non-business related meeting the other day and met several folks for the first time.  As we began to chat the usual, logical questions arose such as “What do you do” and Where do you work”.  One fellow seemed surprised when I stated that I worked in the office products industry and he continued to ask exactly what my position was.  After a brief description of my specific functions he asked the obvious question that I had really been waiting for, “Why do people want to buy from an independent?  What makes you different from your retail competitors?”  I always expect that question when I first meet new people and we discuss our jobs and industries of experience.  I am most often surprised at the actual sincerity of the question as many people don’t really take time to think about what really makes the independent dealer such a valuable business partner.  I use the word “partner” for several reasons.  Primarily because the independent dealer really plays that role with their customers if they actively pursue building a long term relationship.  I have wrote about this on a couple occassions but I still see that most people don’t really appreciate the value of that kind of relationship.   When you partner with a business both parties become equally dependent on the others’ successes or failures. 

It can be challenging to make someone really appreciate the significance of this partnership if they don’t hold an accountable position in the business, this is why it is very important for us to begin the relationship process with the managers, CEO’s and business owners.  These individuals appreciate the importance of someone who is committed to their success.  It is easier for us to make contact with the person who actually places the orders than it is to speak to upper management, however, it is worth the extra time.  The person to whom I had this conversation operated a small independent insurance company and was sincere in his question.  Like most people he sees the nice brick and mortar stores of our retail competitors and reads their weekly newspaper advertisements and assumes that because they “say” they have such great prices then they must.  Here are some points I made with my now interested “prospect”.

Honesty and Sincerity:  While the nationals chains claim to have all these deep discounts the truth has be shown over and over again that their average online discount is only ten percent.  Forty percent of Office Depot’s prices are discounted only ten percent or less while none of these national chains have an average discounted price of more than twenty-five percent.  Remember we are talking about all their products not just the loss-leaders.  They also have consistently shown much higher suggested retail prices than the actual M.S.R.P. thereby allowing them to claim they have higher discounted prices.

No Price Churn:  Most of the chains have prices changes on a near weekly basis therefore prices are constantly churning.  Why?  In order to retain favor on Wall Street public companies have to show profits.  You can only increase profits two ways, lower operating costs and/or increase the selling prices of your goods.  History has shown us that the chains have steadily increased their profits over the last ten years by consistently raising prices and utilizing “bait-and-switch” tactics to win contract business.  The nationals will quote an OEM product then after thirty days will substitute those products to house branded products that cost much less and give them much higher profits.  The good news is that as an independent dealer you exercise much more control over prices increases.  This isn’t to say that prices don’t go up, but they don’t change on a near weekly basis as they do at the national chains.  I am also extremely suspicious of anyone that “guarantees” their pricing for twelve months.  The truth will be in the fine print so read it carefully.

Integrity:  We (the independents) don’t have to use deception and “pass-throughs” to win business.  A “pass-through” is basically an independent that is a virtual storefront for a national chain such as Corporate Express(CorpEx).  It has been proven that CorpEx utilizes these pass-through storefronts to win big government contracts, effectively shutting out the small independent businesses.  Small, sometimes minority owned dealers will act as a front for CorpEx by bidding and winning these contracts and directing all order fullfillment and collections back to CorpEx.  So the winner here utilizes deception and clearly unfair practices to shut out small businesses from winning government supply contract that have been guaranteed by our lawmakers to be awarded to small business.  It is only a matter of time before operations like this will come under government scrutiny.  Don’t forget about the heavy-handed tactics and back room deals like the one made by Office Depot to give them the State of North Carolina contract in 2007.  They were clearly not the low price bidder so they made a back room deal and had the contract specifications changed so they were guaranteed to win.

Professional:  The last time you visited a retail chain and needed help with a product question or recommendation what response did you recieve?  Did you even find someone that really knew how to help you?  Doubtful.  We are professionals, we know our products and we train our staff.  We are not a group of teenagers with short hours and limited job skills.  We are dedicated and skilled in our area of expertise.  Need a sample for evaluation?  I dare you to ask that question at your local chain store.  When did you recieve a free product sample last?  We give them out weekly, free.  We are local if you call, not in Colorado or some other far away call center.  Our Customer Service really gives customer service! 

Commitment:  The independent dealer has a commitment to the local economy and local businesses.  Did you know that of the monies spent with your local dealer nearly seventy percent of that amount will stay in the local economy.  The money spent at the chain store will only leave less than forty percent!  The economic impact of the chains do no more than drive your money out of your locality to locations sometimes thousands of miles away.  If you have attended your local chamber of commerce meeting lately you will understand the importance of keeping those dollars in your local economy.  Independent dealers are also sincerely committed to the success of their customers.  If their customers go out of business they won’t have anyone to sell supplies to and eventually they will go out of business too!  If your business grows then the dealers business will grow also and that makes everyone happy and successful.

So, the next time someone corners you and says something like “What makes you different” or “How can you compete against those guys?”  You can smile and say “I’m so glad you asked me that question!  Let’s talk about your business and how our company can be a valuable partner in your success.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.