The most important job for any supplier is to form and develop good relationships with buyers; but this can be, and often is, difficult. Procurement professionals are constantly looking for new ways to keep buyers happy, and keep their business. We’ve asked Carrie Hawkins, the Director of Strategic Accounts here at ConnXus, to give us some insight into how this process works, the challenges that come along with it, and how it has evolved through the years.
Q: What is it that you do on a day-to-day basis?
A: I’m the Director of Strategic Accounts, basically a Sales Executive here. I’ve sort of become the voice of the client. I hear what they like, what they don’t like, and what their needs are. I also listen for what they’re not saying they need as an opportunity to bring information back to the team. We consider that information as we add on to our road map, make enhancements, and get feedback on the overall platform.
Q: Once you have a relationship with a buyer, how do you maintain that relationship?
A: It can be a little bit tricky, depending on if you’re offering a product or an ongoing service. From my experience, the buyer usually has the upper hand. I think it’s more challenging on the supplier side to maintain a good relationship if the buyer doesn’t value the relationship. Based on my experience in working with many different buyers, they value suppliers who drive value to their bottom line, bring ongoing innovation, and consistency, and quality of the good or service. It is really important from a supplier’s perspective to have that relationship because the buyer has the ability to give you feedback on your business that could help you develop.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle you face in establishing a relationship with a buyer?
A: Initially, the biggest obstacle is getting in front of the buyer, especially if they are utilizing another incumbent supplier who does something similar. The challenge is giving them a reason to consider your business. If they are more forward-thinking and constantly trying to get the best value, the most innovative product, the best price, it’s not as challenging. Sometimes buyers get comfortable with the status quo. When this happens, they may miss out on an opportunity to drive innovation and cut costs by expanding their supplier base.
Q: Have clients ever complained to you about a bad experience they’ve had with ConnXus or come to ConnXus because they had a bad experience with someone else?
A: All the time. I would say on a weekly basis I’m getting feedback from customers that they are coming over to [ConnXus] because of a bad experience. Sometimes it’s valuable to get that feedback and hear where other competitors may be coming up short. I have also had times where a buyer has shared a previous experience with ConnXus that wasn’t positive, particularly when I was new to the company. As a supplier, I would often have to apologize for their experience even though it was in an area I didn’t know anything about. Our relationship with that customer was so important I had to just come in and “take one for the team.” I would say there are always times when customers give me feedback, which I always welcome; I want to know if they’re not happy with something because that’s where we have an opportunity to use that feedback and improve. From a sales perspective, the team and I have created an environment where customers are comfortable telling us how they feel. The fact that you’re partnering with them, and value how they feel, makes the buyer more comfortable.
Q: What would you say is the biggest way this company has changed since you started working here?
A: That’s really a loaded question. We’ve changed a lot and very quickly in terms of our platform. We previously handled only supplier diversity. Now, we’re facing a procurement audience where we’re talking about supplier risk assessment, supplier management, and allowing buyers to have visibility and transparency to their supplier base at any given point in time. That’s completely different from where we were when I first started – focused solely on supplier diversity. Internally, our team has quadrupled, and the leadership has expanded. Everybody is still the CEO of self, and that’s important. We have more outlined roles and more processes. We’ve expanded from being a software company producing supplier diversity products to a software company that develops procurement solutions for buyers and suppliers – and we are SOC II Type II compliant. We’re definitely more official in those ways.