If you can’t beat the B2B buyers – can you bypass them?

Leave a Comment (0) ↓


As the nation was gripped by the spat between Unilever and Tesco over a proposed 10% trade price increase, I was moved to ponder on the relationship between B2B suppliers and their customers in the modern world.

You will be aware that this stand-off was brought about by the steep fall in the value of the pound due to the Brexit uncertainties. Multinational Unilever certainly does produce some of its products in other countries, but many come from the UK: despite the fact that some raw ingredients are imported, it is hard to justify an across-the-board increase. Hence the media’s focus on that good old British staple, Marmite.

Seller Beware

It is hard to resist the thought that Tesco’s team were playing a wily PR game in going public with this issue, thus winning valuable kudos and emphasising their good value pricing. And while this was going on, surely Unilever was doing the rounds of the other supermarket chains and getting a similar (but private) rejection?

It’s been my experience that this is a hard breed of buyers, who will not entertain a price increase when costs rise but who waste no time in demanding reductions when they are not justified by the circumstances. In an encounter between a trade supplier and a big company buyer there is usually only one winner.

What does that mean in the digital age? Maybe that you can circumvent, and possibly subvert, the traditional seller/buyer power struggle. Other commentators have pointed to how Unilever paid out $1bn to acquire Dollar Shave Club, pioneer of direct sell in mens’ grooming, and made famous by a viral video. This selling model of course bypasses the traditional retailer.

Public Pricing

Let me ask you – can your business find new ways to market?  For example, does your B2B website simply describe your products or services to trade buyers – or does it have a Web shop? Now, you may be afraid of selling directly B2C: but I know plenty of businesses that have put up a transactional element on their site (with our help) – and they usually maintain their own RRPs on it. They do get sales from people who prize convenience over a search for the lowest price: and by publicising their official prices they set a marker for the market, which discourages trade customers from abusively high pricing and also lets them discount if they wish (at their own cost in terms of lower margins).

Not only are trade websites changing in many ways (including getting mobile-friendly), but the B2C sales process is also being revolutionised by web shops that have to be seen to offer reductions from High Street RRPs. Some people will buy from the shops for convenience: but more and more will wait for the postman to arrive with their discounted online purchases – or in the future, perhaps the landing on their front lawn of the Amazon delivery drone.

Change your Model

So what does this mean to you as a B2B business? I urge you to examine your business model and review which of these digital techniques could be applied to good effect:

  1. A search engine-optimised, responsive website with a web shop
  2. Live chat to respond pro-actively to responses from potential buyers, both trade and retail
  3. Explainer video(s) to educate and entertain people: you probably won’t match Dollar Shave Club’s5 million YouTube views – but note that the original’s success has led to 65 more videos that have been crucial in creating a range from what was once just a single product
  4. An impactful PPC advertising campaign designed to make your products ‘must-haves’ in their sector and thus give you leverage with buyers
  5. Social Media Management to ensure that you are creating rich content and posting at the right times to maximise your impact on social networks

In all of these important areas, Hannon Digital is ready to step in and provide a top-quality, cost-effective service. You can afford to change the way in which you market and deliver your products – in fact, you can’t afford not to…

Colm Hannon is founder and CEO of Hannon Digital and Hannon Sales