Top Suppliers Use ERPs, Quick Follow-Ups

Most of us know that supplying a quality product or service on time, and at a fair price, is critical to achieving customer satisfaction. But what if you're not the only one that can do this for your customer?

You need become your customer's first choice for their next order — here's how.

Respond to all inquiries within 24 hours.

Commitment is the key to meeting this goal, but it is also important to have an organized system for managing your responses, and sticky notes won't cut it. You need a digital track record (whether it's an Excel spreadsheet or a CRM system) to keep a log of who has sent you an RFQ and when your response went out.

If the inquiry was a phone call, send an email to summarize the call, and if you need more time to provide the information that the customer has requested, note this in your email and provide the date by which you will follow up. If you don't have the information by that date, reply with a status report. Whenever you send a message that requires follow up, flag the message for follow up with a due date.

Work through your follow up list every day to ensure the 24-hour rule is never missed. 

Respond thoroughly and accurately.

The content of your response is as important as the timeliness. Be sure to address every item, not just the one you happen to be focused on and try to anticipate what questions might arise from your response and answer them before they are asked. You can send along additional marketing materials, product information, case studies, and website pages for them to review.

Just make sure to re-read your entire response before sending to make sure the content is thorough and accurate before hitting "send."

Accommodate the unique business needs of your customer.

If your customer needs you to offer blanket orders, consignment inventory, vendor managed inventory, long term agreements, scheduling agreements, lot traceability, customized documentation (i.e. packing slips, certificates of compliance, shipping labels) or other services, find a way to make it happen.

Then set your prices accordingly.

Leverage technology to execute flawlessly.

Accommodating the varying business needs of your customers is a difficult challenge that can be made easier with technology. You need an ERP system that is robust and customizable, and you need information systems personnel that can help you use all of the available functionality.

If your customer wants something special, such as a packing slip that is different from what you normally send, write custom reports and code to make this happen automatically.

No matter how good your staff is, they will make mistakes, and a new employee will step in to perform a task at some point, so use technology to eliminate the possibility of human error whenever you can.

Make problem resolution a top priority.

Problems are inevitable.

You will cause some, others will be of no fault of your own. In either case, these are often the times when your customer needs you to perform at your best, and they are likely to remember what you did or did not do to help minimize the impact of the problem on their business.

Determining root cause and taking preventive action is important, but be sure to make containment and corrective action your top priority until the impact of the problem on your customer is minimized. 

Any other questions on best practices for working with prospective customers and current ones?

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