Learning Value-based Sales and Marketing from Mass Market Wholesale Brands

“All else being equal, a buyer will choose the option with the lowest price – but all else is never equal.”
– Jonathan Starck

Boom! Absolutely. This insight came from a Jonathan Starck email today (which you can subscribe too here). It’s an important point to keep in mind when learning in value-based sales and marketing, one of my own journeys.

And it’s refreshing to see this overused expressions “all things being equal” being exposed for the misleading cliche-spawner it is. No matter what business cliche you put it in front of, it usually results in a misleadingly inaccurate statement. (The expression probably does have value in Math and Science; best to leave it there.)

Jonathan’s audience is (I assume) comprised of those who like me, sell services and/or software products, but the point he makes applies to pretty much all B2B business transactions: your services are not (and could not be) equal to that of any other, so why not embrace value-based sales and marketing?

As opposed to the alternative; make yourself like every other provider then undercut them. Do you think that’s the strategy that brands use to get into mass market retailer chains? Think again.

How do wholesale brands embrace value-based sales and marketing?

And you know what’s a been a trip for me? Doing copywriting work for a big pet supplies wholesaler selling their products to chains like Walmart and Costco. It’s not even close to being just about the bottom line (margins); even with big bad Walmart, they don’t compare one wholesaler’s product to another’s based on a simple set of metrics.

Believe it or not, the wholesaler to mass market retailer dynamic is very much impacted by emotions, psychology, and abstract value long-term value assessments.

In every business to business transaction, including this example, you have one complex, three-dimensional human being assessing the psychology of another. It’s just as important as the product portfolio itself.

Examples of “buyer” psychological assessments

– “Does this wholesaler have the type of personality that can gain the upper hand over time in negotiating with overseas factory owners? Is his claim to have done so believable at a *gut* level?”

Or

– “Is this wholesaler a good manager? Because if he’s not, how is his team in China (or wherever) going maintain the same leverage over Chinese manufacturers that the company owner has?

Because big retailers know that wholesaling manufactured goods isn’t a “set it and forget it” business process. It’s a set of relationships that need to be carefully managed over time, with the right mindset and skill set.

And that’s just scraping the tip of the iceberg. Word of mouth reputation for fulfillment reliability, branding flexibility, warehousing arrangements, are among dozens of other factors considered, and leveraged by wise wholesalers.

Of course, the ultimate test (or tests, plural, more accurately) for a big retailer is whether the product sells. And once the relationship is cemented, margins become more and more important; unless the wholesaler brings a new product or delivery innovation, over time it becomes just another vendor reduced to tighter and tighter margins. But to the opportunity to have your product tested on the biggest brick-and-mortar, there’s so much more to it to than offering a low price.

You could actually make the argument that wholesalers are doing value-based selling, at least to get in the door. They’re definitely doing value-based marketing.

Which raises the question: if mass market wholesalers can achieve value-based sales and marketing, why can’t any other B2B product and services firm?