Five steps to make 2020 an award-winning year
Winning awards is on the bucket list of many business owners but an honour that often seems reserved only for a select few. Jaco Kamper, Account Manager at VSc Solutions – winner of the 2019 Spar Supplier of the Year award – however, says that winning an award is within reach of any business willing to truly collaborate with its clients.
The Spar Supplier of the Year award is presented after a stringent process of continuous performance evaluation over a wide variety of areas. “Businesses often think that a great solution is the only requirement for receiving accolades,” says Kamper. “In our experience it is, however, a combination of factors that lead clients to recognise sustained high performance.”
1. Prioritise their strategy over your specifications
Solution specifications are very often the main focus of a sales process. Spending sufficient time to understand the greater strategy of the client will enable any solution provider to better align their offering to the client’s true needs.
“This is not always possible at the start of working together,” admits Lukas Potgieter, COO at VSc Solutions. “It is often a gradual progression. At the beginning of a project the focus is often on areas within the business that requires immediate attention and where the biggest opportunities exist for reducing costs or improving efficiencies. As the relationship between the client and solution provider grows, opportunities arise for the client to request different things and the solution provider to suggest alternatives. Over time this exchange progresses to a level of trust where the sharing of strategy becomes more comfortable.”
VSc Solutions currently offers Spar a combination of tactical and strategic optimisation, route optimisation, route execution management, systems integration and business intelligence. “This was, however, not the case at the start of our relationship,” explains Potgieter. “We had to address the immediate need first before we could work towards finding a combination of solutions that served the greater Spar strategy.”
A key imperative to building this trust relationship over time is regular meetings with all the relevant business areas to ensure the expected value is being offered.
2. Monitor with brutal honesty
Potgieter advises that these meetings serve as an opportunity to take a good, hard, honest look at whether performance meets expectations. “Don’t just measure and report on where things are going according to plan. Measure across all depots, departments, distribution centres and honestly mark areas that need improvement.”
“At VSc we take the flagged areas into brainstorm sessions with all the relevant subject matter experts to explore areas of improvement. Then we tie the findings in to our research and development sessions.”
3. Assign your best people to serve
“Instead of trying to create skilled system users by training existing client employees, we sometimes assign VSC resources who are already subject matter experts to use our systems on behalf of our customers,” says Kamper. This ensures both a continuous improvement mind-set and business continuity.
These users are, however, required to know the client’s business as well as the client does. They are also required to combine their software and wider industry knowledge with the client’s requirements. This enables true collaboration towards achieving the client’s strategy.
4. Innovate faster than the client asks you to
In addition to monitoring the performance of current solutions, suppliers should strive to be ready with new solutions before the client realises they need it. This demands proactive innovation and an ability to respond to client and industry intelligence even if it seemingly poses a threat to the continued existence of legacy products and solutions.
A high level of client engagement enables a solution provider to understand the environment well enough to suggest replacements in good time.
“In short, don’t wait for the client to ask for something different,” advises Potgieter. “Keep on adding value year on year, don’t just continue to offer what you offered at the start of the client relationship.”
5. Create indispensable value over time
VSc Solutions have been a supplier to Spar for almost 20 years. Fighting complacency is at the core of the continued success of this relationship. The business model agreed on should be designed to keep solution providers hungry to keep earning their seat at the table.
“The key is to not get caught in a pricing war where the procurement department calls the shots is to truly continually work towards understanding what problem the client needs solved; not what solution they need to buy,” says Kamper. “The majority of solution providers wait until three months before a contract comes to an end and then start scrambling for renewal. The process of measuring and proving your value to the client is, however, something that needs to happen on a much more regular basis.”
To earn awards, solution providers need to have a driving desire to see their clients succeed, not a desire to see their own name in lights.