Suppose you approach a prospect to find out if he is interested in office supplies and whether there are opportunities to make an offer. It’s possible your timing is wrong and the contract with another supplier is still running. Somewhere during the meeting you mention you also provide cleaning supplies. You leave your contact and company information and promise to contact the purchaser another time.
It sounds like an ordinary moment for an Account Manager. However, this meeting in Ireland has actually taken place at an international technology company and made the cleaning industry market more interesting. Inadvertently dropping the cleaning items being part of the assortment drew the attention of the purchasing manager. Even though there was no interest in office supplies at that time, a tender was issued for cleaning and hygiene items. George Hand, Sales Manager Cleaning, Hygiene & Catering Category at Office Depot UK & Ireland, explains how this meeting made a new strategy.
At the second meeting the cleaning and hygiene products were the subject of conversation. The Purchasing Manager would like to know about the product category, what ideas Office Depot had and what the company could do as a supplier. “The labour and the cleaning products were always linked together. The cleaning company that won the tender, had its own supplier and chose the products themselves. Cleaning and products all fell within the same contract and were passed on to the technology company. We were asked what our proposal would look like. A price suggestion followed, and the technology company discovered they could choose their own supplier in cleaning and hygiene products, and large savings could be made on purchasing these products.” Hand explains.
Hand continues: “We are not a cleaning company, that may be clear. The cleaning could not be delivered, but the products we can. And instead of choosing the cleaning company, you as a company can also decide who the supplier will be. Ultimately, this insight gave rise to split the tender in two lots: labour and products. We have subscribed to one of the tendering lots, and we have won.”
In the end, two suppliers were chosen: a cleaning company for the actual implementation and Office Depot for the products. It was not immediately clear to all parties that two companies could be chosen by the technology company. Hand explains: “This initially caused confusion, the cleaning company assumed that both parties were given the same lot as always. But they won half, and they were assigned to work with another supplier. The cleaning company had won and lost at the same time.”
There were several factors that affected the tender. “Of course, price is important, but the international experience in the retail industry was also a big advantage for the technology company. It isn’t new to us to supply stores. In addition, our supply rate of products proved to be higher than the company was used to. The delivery period of, for example, an order of toilet paper or towels was earlier five work days, now the delivery time is just one day.”
The different parties had to get used to the new situation, for example, the cleaning company worked together with another supplier for years. Hand explains: “Suddenly we were there, chosen by the customer. The supplier of the cleaning company was put aside and the cleaning company got the assignment to work with us. Perhaps the transition would have been less significant if it had been clearer to the cleaning company the tender was no longer in one piece. Now the changes were very unexpected.”
Hand continues: “Lucky for us, the realization grew that we also know our business. It has helped that our team consist of people with experience in the cleaning industry. Despite the first feelings of astonishment and reconciliation, it gradually became a normal business relationship.”
Hand is down to earth: “Change is always difficult, but it's a very healthy business choice. The technology company has never been obliged to take out the execution and the products from one supplier. They were not aware that there were other possibilities. More or less coincidentally, this option came to light, with a real saving as a result. Then it would be strange if you don’t take this chance, right?”