Van Leeuwen
Go and have a cuppa, it's good for business

Go and have a cuppa, it's good for business

Thom Bate,
Van Leeuwen Ltd., Brierley Hill

A long time ago, a customer once told me they see their suppliers as an extension of their purchasing team. That always stuck with me and it’s something I often reiterate to our sales people: get as close as possible to everyone that is affected by our services or our supply. In this blog I will explain why this is so important.

In my role as commercial manager I develop strategies to expand our business and instruct the commercial teams in the field. An important aspect of that is the way we approach our customers.  They can range anywhere from large multinationals, to small accounts who order a few thousand pounds worth of tubes each year. The differences in, for instance, scale and budget within this wide range means we use different strategies for each customer. However, a strategy is only successful when it answers to the needs of your customers. And the only way to do that, is by getting to know them.

Get away from the computer screen

Although we live in an age of faceless trading through e-mail and web shops, we decided to rely on building personal relations with our customers. So instead of simply reading and replying to e-mails, we set ourselves apart from our competition by putting extra time and effort in getting to know the people, rather than just focusing on the business side of things. While e-mails are fine for confirming orders, we encourage our sales team to pick up the phone as much as possible and hit the road to contact customers and potential customers. The end goal of course being maximizing our growth, but we want to achieve that by building a strong connection and by giving our customers the feeling that we know them and we understand what they need to grow their business. What we really want, in other words, is our customer’s trust.

Trust is key

Strong customer relations based on trust are important to all parties involved. Whenever there are any issues, like a late delivery or a customer forgot to order something, our customers know they can rely on the person at the sales desk to spring into action and do whatever possible to solve the problem. For example, recently one of our customers was waiting for an urgent delivery. Our manufacturer, who is based in Spain, seemed to be running late, so we decided to step in. We arranged a special vehicle to transport the materials from Spain to the UK and, instead of going through our warehouse, we had the materials delivered straight to the customer’s door. This saved valuable time in offloading and reloading at the warehouse.

Having a look around

At the same time, face-to-face meetings often offer us many business opportunities. Our sales people are often shown around the operations, which leads to insights they wouldn’t have had through e-mail. This of course gives us the opportunity to spot other areas where we might be able to help with business, like spotting bottlenecks or saving costs by offering added value or different services. In doing so, we can also get in touch with contacts we’ve not met before. I feel that these business opportunities are the direct pay-off from having strong relationships with customers. After all, from the customer’s perspective it requires a certain amount of trust to allow a supplier to help them in all those different areas.

The people make the difference

Of course, building a good relationship with customers starts on our end. The people on the road are the ones to initiate and maintain these relationships. This also touches on the reason why I started to work for Van Leeuwen in the first place. Although it’s a multinational corporation with a very professional way of doing business, it’s still a family business at heart. Among other things, it means that its people are considered its greatest assets, so our commercial teams get all the tools, support and training that they need to be the best at what they do. At the end of the day if you allow your people to grow, then so too will your business.



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