You have always thought of your distributors or other intermediaries as partners. Your relationship has to be a win-win, right? They only make money if you make money. But in some cases they have hung a curtain to keep you from understanding what your customers really want and need.
Here’s a true story from the lighting business: Rhonda Dibachi, CEO of Noribachi, a 7 year-old southern California LED lighting company, says the first few years Noribachi was in business, it often got calls from lighting brokers asking for the company’s best price on, say, 2,000 industrial LEDs for a new factory. To best serve the end customer with LEDS that could be programmed and offer new features over existing light systems, Noribachi’s sales team would reply: Who is the client and what are they trying to accomplish? We offer different systems for different lighting situations.
Broker: "I’m not going to tell you. You’ll call the customer directly and try to get the sale."
Noribachi: "How are you going to sell the customer the best system if you don’t work with us on matching their needs with what we can offer?"
Broker: "We are just looking for the best basic price. The end user will have to figure out any additional features or customization."
Talk about a light bulb going on.
"We had been trying everything we could to get on the radar and client lists of these brokers and middlemen, because that’s how lights have been sold for almost a century," says Rhonda. "Brokers mostly cared about price so they could make a good profit in recommending a manufacturer. That’s not a partnership. It blocked our ability to sell those customers the best solution. We started thinking, why aren’t we owning our own customers?"
Noribachi digitally transformed itself so it could work directly with customers. The company incubated the Inxeption system and that led to innovation across the entire company, and in the way lights are sold. Noribachi used Inxeption to make purchase orders easy to understand and fill out. It offered financing options the customer could research and compute. It offered shipping options and schedules the customer could shape to his or her own needs. Every transaction now involves customers sharing more details than lighting brokers ever would have communicated, and customer feedback informs new products and ways of doing business.
Noribachi aligned with its customers, and now they have history together that’s hard to walk away from. It helped build a $17 million lighting business at a time when competitors were experiencing sales declines. Noribachi owns the digital record of its transactions with the customer, and that benefits them both. Like any healthy relationship, that relationship grows stronger over time when there is a feedback loop that identifies points of friction, problems that need solving, and new product opportunities.
It’s like a doctor who has treated a child from birth to age 18 and who has a record of every vaccination, every broken bone, every medication allergy, and every underlying medical condition. When a parent calls in a panic the doctor can focus on the new issue without doing a detailed history and without exacerbating any existing problems. The doctor owns the patient and service record–their shared history–and that builds trust and loyalty.