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Moving from supplier to valued Brand Partner

Published on Wednesday, 4th July 2018, contributed by Philippa Haynes

It's so easy to become just a supplier to your clients. After all, supplier isn't a bad place to be is it really? It isn't a dirty word like "nice" for instance. It just means that your business hasn't quite attained trusted partner status. In the eyes of the client, your business meets their rational needs but fails to meet that intangible, that emotional - added value beyond the product and service in question.

Maybe this doesn't matter? For some it probably doesn't. Not at this stage anyway, when they're in start up mode and cutting their teeth...

But it does matter to the agency that has the most fabulous creative solutions but can't seem to get beyond that closed sales door to discuss their amazing credentials.

It matters to the agency that has a turnover of £1 million and a large portfolio of clients but can't get beyond the annual renewal of contracts "just leave it with us, we'll come back when we need you". The agency that is making a tidy profit (thank you very much) but wants to be able to contribute more, to become that valued partner who is invited to the table for the strategic & meaningful conversations.

Two different situations that are live and real but which, surprisingly, require a similar response.

In today's business climate it's not about "push", it's all about "pull" as we all know. And pull means indirectly influencing those clients rather than battering them over the head with your sales pitch. About demonstrating thought leadership. Getting involved in the conversations that matter and having a point of view. Having that all important voice.

By the way, both examples have very little brand presence too. They remain vehicles for their clients - conduits - which deliver consistently, brilliantly and on time. One is unable to translate this brilliance into more sales and the other struggles because of its functional brilliance, they just can't get through the door. Both good but both lacking an identity and a brand promise. Both successful but equally unremarkable.

So isn't it a question of polishing up the supplier status? Getting a brand identity? Yes, most definitely. As we all know, a brand instills a promise, it engenders an emotional and sometimes visceral response. It makes it easier to say yes. Without question.

But. Branding as a supplier, as an agency, will only go so far. It's the thinking, the participation in the industry, the collaboration that means and results in so much more. It seems very obvious but there are countless examples where this is not the case.

Example number 3. An agency that is global, profitable but still considered to be a supplier. Small projects, low level engagement with the client, well and truly downstream of the main and prized action. Fast forward 3 months and the agency has won a £4 million pound account. What's changed? Well everything, imperceptibly. We've worked together to develop their point of view on the mega trends that impact our world today. They've spent time understanding each and every industry that their clients are involved in meaning that pitches are more purposeful and illuminating. They've presented consumer stories rather than solutions. They have been invited to the table earlier to share their views and won acclaim as a result.

The same will be true of the other agencies I've mentioned. Building curiosity among clients and establishing status as an expert starts to pull their clients in. Starts to attract rather than repel.

And that's the magic in a nutshell. And a route to that all important sale