Larger players: how can smaller suppliers enhance their presence?

Packaging is one of the world’s most lucrative and competitive industries, primarily driven by big market players with a level of customer reach and influence that is difficult to beat. Paul Black, CEO at sales-i discusses how smaller suppliers can compete with the big players


Larger companies are generally able to spend more on their brand, they operate across a range of sectors at any one time and they can afford to be flexible when it comes to product pricing – without jeopardising their profitability and commercial success. 

Therefore it can be tough for smaller suppliers to compete in this environment and keep a firm grip on their piece of the pie – however it can be done. Smaller packaging companies are often more agile and innovative, able to experiment freely with new products and respond sooner to changes in customer demand. Without an instantly recognisable brand or unlimited cash reserves, these companies need a steady sales strategy to grow their business successfully.

Standing out

Though not impossible, it’s not that easy to give packaging products a unique spin. A thicker roll of plastic wrap or cardboard box may seem like an obviously better or stronger product to you, but customers are often none the wiser. Price points can add an important level of differentiation, but in today’s ever changing world, increasing environmental awareness has given companies scope for a more meaningful unique selling point.

An important statistic to consider is that over 60% of customers worldwide will pay more for products that are packaged sustainably. The reality is that people are paying attention to the impact that packaging materials can have on the planet. This concern is fuelling the need for recyclable products that minimise harmful side-effects during the manufacturing process.

Whatever changes the company makes to how it operates, whether small or large, informing people about those changes is crucial. The company needs to communicate what they have been doing and how it will benefit their customers – both existing and prospective. When a brand is able to demonstrably share a set of values with its target audiences, it immediately becomes more relevant in the market – and far more attractive.

Any cultural changes should be lived and breathed by the company. For instance, if they choose to invest in manufacturing recyclable materials for their customers, the employees should be using sustainable products and practices in the workplace too. This will enhance the reputation of the company and give the brand an authentic voice in the market – all in all, giving the supplier a solid competitive difference.

Price right

Of course, the price of a product has a huge influence on whether a customer actually buys the goods. Bigger companies can often afford to drop and raise prices as the market swings, but a smaller supplier is less likely to have such leeway.

The packaging market is driven by product and price – it has a small range of supplies to offer to a specific pool of customers. As soon as one customer hears that they can save money elsewhere, their loyalty may be quickly compromised. Suppliers need to know about any price changes before the customers do, follow the customers buying behaviours closely and respond to any emerging trends immediately.

Data-driven CRM, customer analytics and business intelligence software can help the sales team gather actionable insights that are available in real-time. They can track how customers are spending and, if needs be, win them back with a better, more relevant offer that is not just priced right, but aligned with their specific business needs.

Strong relationships

To really out-manoeuvre competitors, the company needs strong customer relationships. Price-points are important, but cost is not actually the be-all and end-all of a winning sales strategy. Loyal customers are by far one of the most important business assets. To build these relationships, and keep them strong, suppliers need to offer the customers valuable, additional services and perks that are consistently relevant to their business. 

Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps companies manage their repository of loyal customers and promising prospects. It does this through improved visibility into your customers’ product preferences, buying behaviours and budget forecasts. Armed with this information suppliers can outsmart their competition and make sure that the goods are offered to the customers at the right time, at the right price and bundled correctly with any other relevant products. 

Being active

The faster a company reacts to any unusual customer behaviour or lucrative business opportunity the better. However, proactivity is critical too. Data-driven business technology can help to ignite a more traditional sales approach with dynamic intelligence and reporting, alerting the team to potential strategic and tactical actions that have not yet been considered.

If, for example, a customer consistently buys a large amount of bubble wrap at the beginning of each year, the company will know. The software will track each historic customer purchase information and alert the supplier to a proactive, relationship-strengthening opportunity.

Developing personalised customer relationships is a tactic that businesses of all shapes and sizes can and should pursue. The correct use of technology, combined with the right sales culture and ethos, will help engage with customers as people, rather than as profits. By being authentic, relevant and agile, smaller suppliers can soon become known for smarter, better business, giving the company a sizeable advantage when competing against the big players.