Existence, sales and suppliers

I get regularly contacted by various suppliers and vendors to the market who want to sell me their wares. I’m not against it, I understand it’s one way of doing business, and I’m probably one of many thousand being contacted in such ways. In truth I dismiss most of these. If I’m caught on a good day I might agree a chat. I’m nice like that.

While at the CIPD annual conference last week, I wanted to see how I could help the exhibitors be more visible to potential buyers through using the backchannel. I approached five random stands, asked aome questions about why they were there, what they hoped to achieve, and what they stood for as a company.

It was interesting. I got common responses of being a strategic partner, of offering bespoke solutions, of making a difference through their technology. So I challenged them and said they’re not unique. Then I started to hear the stories of what they stood for and why they exist. They were all grateful for what I was trying to support them with, and we had a good few minutes chat.

I won’t really know if it helped them or not. I wasn’t being paid to do it, nor sponsored in any way. I just wanted to use my position as a blogger for the benefit of everyone.

There were two great examples of exhibitors being truly genuine and smart about their offer. The first came from DPG PLC, who were giving people a mug and teaspoon, had people take their photos, abd posted to social media with the #DontBeAMug hashtag. This was great because it allowed them to create a conversation at the conference, create content to share, and engage with people in a fun way.

The second was from People Management. They realised that one of their unique points was that they are a trade journal and we all want to be published in one of those. So they had a stand taking photos of people, created a front page with your photo, and made you feel brilliant about yourself. Smart psychology right there.

What this all showed me was that there are some suppliers to the market who are ahead of the game. They’re out there embracing social technologies and taking bold thinking to innovate who they are and spread their message. I can only applaud this. And in truth what does it create? A story for me to share on this blog about them. Free PR. There’s your return.

What it also showed me was that there are plenty of suppliers to the market who exist just because they exist. They know how to do something well, they can offer comparative and competitive rates, and that’s it. I have no further reason to engage with them.

Which is where I think the usefulness of social media becomes apparent. I don’t mind being contacted for potential sales. But I’m more likely to buy from you (recruit you, recommend you, sell for you) if I have a meaningful connection with you. I’m not suggesting social media is the only way to achieve that, but it certainly helps to facilitate it.

What I think is vital, though, is being absolutely clear why you exist. I don’t think it’s about USP anymore. I think we’ve gone beyond that. I think it’s about value, and what I see as adding value. I give you three examples from my network. The first is of Julie Drybrough, who is doing some really cool work about facilitating dialogue in organisations she works with. The second is Meg Peppin, who is a true OD provocateur and will cut through the bullshit to get to the core of how to help you. The third is Doug Shaw, who is creating some cool creative solutions to everyday problems.

These people understand their value. They understand what they stand for. They use social media to help get their voice heard. This is the space suppliers and exhibitors need to invest their time into.