Richard Cook

What kind of relationships do B2B buyers want with vendors?

What role does Editorial play in the B2B buying process?

Do B2B buyers want to go to your event?

Champion Communications recently hosted a webinar to dig deeper into the minds of B2B buyers and gain insight into these questions. The webinar was presided over and hosted by Alistair Russell of Laing Russell, with a panel of senior B2B decision-makers which included the following guests:

  • Dax Grant, CIO – Global Operation HSBC
  • Mike Gibbons, CIO Aggregate Industries
  • Mark Foulsham, COO Kensington Mortgages
  • Kerry Sinclair, EVP of IT at Sage


“Keep me out of Jail”


The discussion began with questions about the kind of relationships B2B buyers want to have with the brands they are looking to do business with. Where do they think suppliers and partners add value to their business?

“Give me growth, profitability and keep me out of jail,” said Mark, adding, “Act as a catalyst, act as an accelerant. If we went to a generic partner that couldn’t tailor to our segment and ambitions this would dilute rather than accelerate what we are trying to achieve. Suppliers need to understand the incremental gain they can offer. Don’t come in as a generalist.”

Kerry added: “For me, the differentiation piece is ideating and thinking differently. That is more powerful than the transactional part. Also, a great customer success team is important, so that my suppliers are challenging me to get more out of the relationship I have with them. Some B2B vendors are just after a share of wallet, but when a supplier helps me think differently, ahead of my competition, then they become partners.”

Mike noted that big players can struggle to sell to him because they are often more generalist, whereas specialist suppliers that understand the nuances of his industry have an advantage. “The digitisation of the supply chain requires a very specific understanding of the dynamics of the market. For us, it can be a matter of life and death, not just loss of a customer.”

Dax added that she welcomes the chance to work with some of the largest tech companies as well specialists firms as well, “I enjoy the broad market view, independence and alternate perspectives that different partners can bring. It’s less about speed and more about the depth of the thought process, with demonstrable practical examples of where they have implemented solutions elsewhere. The rigour and precision in implementation, with an external mindset, leads to a great exchange of thoughts where internal and external teams learn from each other and become one team.”

Dax also referenced the importance of an ESG framework, considering it an important factor when deciding whether or not to partner with a particular supplier or brand over another.

The panelists all agreed that they would be more receptive or only receptive to such relationships from a business that they had visibility of, had been recommended, or that had seen in association with other relevant businesses.


“The world is awash with BS”


Dax, who gets lots of approaches in her role at HSBC said, “If someone comes to me and has done some investigation, that is really helpful. We also need to know what the approaching firm stands for and what its USP is. How does a vendor’s specialism relate to me? The first question somebody askes me? I’ve probably made the decision by then.”

Mark is in a sector that he defines as being 'awash with innovation and awash with BS'. He has an ongoing project of scanning the industry to gain a better understanding of the different potential suppliers in the market, evaluating things such as clarity of their offering and how crisp they are on communicating their offer to the market. “It is amazing how poor even the big organisations are at articulating what their products and services are.”  Mark speaks to those in the industry and looks for examples of success, he says that emails received through direct marketing 'go straight into the bin'. " If I am getting insight from an organisation that I have not gotten before, that is helpful. White papers, social media feeds, something that tells me something I didn’t know, shows me a trend, that gets my interest.”

Kerry says that she does pay attention to things she gets sent via direct marketing, but it has to be trusted. “If I feel it is a hard-nosed sales pitch, it gets junked." If, however, something is from a trusted source, industry expert, or includes a stat or piece of interesting information then they go into a specific folder which Kerry then reads when she has five minutes, “If I am researching something, I tend to go back around those suppliers and folders to see if anything resonates.”


I read the media every day


As a PR consultant, I wanted to know about the role that editorial plays in and amongst the B2B buying process. Mike told me, “The media becomes critically important in areas where those in my network don’t want to share details. Such as cyber security. People don’t want to talk about it. The media provides a really good source of finding out when something has happened. Media and business publications can be incredibly helpful in terms of learning lessons.”

Mike looks at the media weekly, ‘It’s a selection of business and technology publications.”

Dax said, “With regards to press, media, features, thought leadership, I spend lots of time reading. Every day I look at what is in different types of media, to stay up to date with the latest trends and ideas. I look for firms that are established, up and coming, and those that provide an incisive viewpoint. You can often sense the clarity of an organisation by how they represent themselves in the press."

Kerry uses the media to help her educate her fellow senior executives, particularly about technology-related issues. She also listens to podcasts on a range of topics and spends a couple of hours a week reading the media: “I’m too internally focussed if I don’t.”


“Is it worth doing an event in person?”


Lastly, we talked about events. As lockdown eases and events get back on the agenda, do B2B buyers have a strong appetite to get back to the world of the conference, exhibitions, meetings, and corporate hospitality?

Both Dax and Mike felt that any event needs to have a very strong purpose in order to justify attendance. Kerry said she had just had a meeting with two suppliers which was very nice but “the value exchange was no different than if it had been a Teams call.”

“I think people will genuinely question these big conferences,” added Kerry.

“Attendees, subject, and duration determine for me whether an event is worth attending physically,” said Mike, having recently travelled into London for a meeting that covered a lot of ground, took most of the day, and involved other attendees that he knew and trusted. Adding, “It’s just not a given anymore. You really have to understand whether it is worth doing an event in person.”

Dax said, "It depends on where we are in the relationship. If I don’t know the vendor at all, then I am unlikely to make the journey into town,  I wouldn’t shift my day.”

Kerry gets 20 cold calls and 50 emails a week inviting her to events, “if I am not in a relationship with the company, I junk them. There is simply no way I could do them all. “


To find out more about what C-suite execs are looking for in their partnerships with suppliers and the challenges they come up against while dealing with their prospective partners, watch the full webinar here.

Everyone participating in the webinar came together and contributed their time to secure a donation for the Action for Children cause. The webinar is a part of Champion Communications’ Breakfast of Champion series, which is designed to help our customers grow faster.