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Vendors need to change the way they sell tech

No one is immune to change. It’s all very well tech vendors telling the retailers that they have to change but in truth so do the vendors, particularly those that are selling solutions to the really big challenges that retailers have unsuccessfully been trying to solve for 20 years or more.

This is because many so-called out-of-the-box solutions cannot solve these big challenges. Consider just how many retailers are hiring data scientists to tackle core operational challenges such as customer management, replenishment, pricing and promotions. Some clearly plan to build it themselves, often exasperated by what so-called market products have failed to deliver.

However, the vendors have never before had so many powerful tools at their disposal to tackle these challenges, and with AI, we are on the threshold of a new age of IT delivering big value to retail, as evidenced by some of the metrics coming out of replenishment, pricing and promotions at the likes of Superdrug, Morrisons and AS Watson.

Solving problems together

I don’t think it’s a question of build or buy for these types of solutions. It will require collaboration of a type rarely seen, meaning retailers and vendors have collaborated well for years but the evidence rarely gets published. So retailers and vendors are going to have to work together in completely different ways, if they are to build the kinds of solutions that retail needs today.

Retailers are of course not waiting for the vendors, and are doing it for themselves. Yoox Net-a-Porter Group (YNAP) for example is investing heavily in mobile optimisation and personalisation as part of its plans to grow revenues and improve the level of service it offers to customers. It is focusing on convergence and developing a shared scalable technology platform to drive growth and “empower customer-centric innovation”.  To do this, it has brought all of its UK tech teams together in a new 70,000 sq ft tech hub in west London which opened in 2017.

And more and more retailers are breaking their own decision-making hierarchies to sit down with vendors large and small, to work out how to solve problems together and as equals.

Constraints of compliance are a fact of life

Some retailers don’t get it. I recognise the importance of Procurement or course, so the retailer can protect themselves from bad decisions, but it does at times feel as if there are whole layers of compliance that have been created over the years that don’t really contribute to the end result.

Anyway, this is where we are and I guess vendors have to work with it. But it shouldn’t get in the way of vendors thinking differently about how to work with retailers.

Here are five conversation starters on how to reach and influence retailers differently:

  1. Work your network better – Many people do not have the stamina, personality or confidence to do this, but, as a marketer, I have to recognise that there are plenty of vendors that do this well. So, if you are relying almost entirely on marketing, in house or agency, to bring you all your leads, then you are not doing your job. I can name at least 25 trade shows on this year in Europe; you need to go to at least 30% of them, whether on a stand or just as a delegate.
  2. Be a disruptor not just a thought leader – No area of tech needs another thought leader; what is needed are people who are prepared to challenge the status quo and say, “This isn’t working, there has to be a better way”. Thought leading will get you some way along the influence track because good SEO and regular comms is bound to get you noticed in at least a few places. But I bet your inbound calls don’t go up.
  3. Show how you disrupt – Allowing for the fact that some retailers won’t let you talk about what you did for them, some will be so happy, they will reference you in an earnings call. Validation is more important than ever, given IT’s history of failing to deliver, and the increasingly compelling need for it now to actually work.
  4. Know who you are talking to – Vendors know retail like never before, because increasingly, they are vendors themselves, but the perennial complaint continues – “vendors don’t really know me or my business”. Invest in multiple sources to build a picture of each retailer you contact. Some vendors do this naturally; be like them.
  5. Be seen. Everywhere – You need people to say good things about you, so you need to invest more in telling them what you do, why you are special, what mission you are on, and what value that delivers to the retailer. And you need to do it regularly and often. We all suffer from content blindness and it’s getting worse. PR has its place, but not in isolation; get your story and your timing right and then make sure that every channel can see you – media, social media, email, post, trade show.

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