Newsletter | September 11, 2023

09.11.23 -- Thought for the Week - Are you a commodity supplier or trusted strategic partner?

Thought for the Week – Are you a commodity supplier or a trusted strategic partner? 


How does one go from being a commodity supplier to a trusted strategic partner? That question is what motivated Debra Oler, vice president and general manager at Grainger, to reframe the company’s brand. How did she do it?


It wasn’t with a fancy new logo, splashy video, or clever tag lines. She did it by focusing on a problem their customers had that Grainger could help them solve. 


If you aren’t familiar with Grainger, they are North America’s leading supplier of maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) products and supplies. Businesses turn to Grainger for things like work gloves, hammers, bulbs, pumps, generators etc.


The problem bothering Debra is that over time, they were seen as a transactional supplier by their customers, and Grainger wasn’t the only company supplying MRO. When that happens, customers make purchasing decisions based on price. Debra knew that in order to grow, they had to establish themselves as a complete solutions provider and to do that, they had to change the way their customers thought about them. 


This meant telling a different story, not about their ability to sell more hammers, but one that focused on a customer problem. The problem their customers had was that they were squandering millions of dollars each year purchasing MRO on an as-needed basis. 


Debra and her team set out to help their customers plan more effectively for annual MRO usage. This new value proposition became central to their marketing messages and the way their sales team engaged customers. Procurement specialists are content to receive an annual catalog but don’t need to speak with a salesperson. Executives, on the other hand, are very interested in speaking with someone about saving them money. The result was a rebranding that has become a case study on how to go from commodity supplier to trusted strategic partner. 


This of course is easier said than done and it took a great deal of hard work. You can read the entire Grainger case study in one of my favorite B2B sales and marketing books, “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. 


Being a trusted strategic partner has little to do with the product set being sold and bought, but rather, the relationship between seller and buyer. And the key to establishing this relationship is helping your customers with the biggest problems they have. 


I hope you have a great week!


Visit us at Follow Your Buyer for more.


Perry Rearick

Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

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