Pursuing an ecommerce venture typically involves an inordinate focus on existing and potential clientele. They are your bread and butter, your key to growth and sustainability.
But there’s another sink-or-swim element of an online selling business that may be tempting to overlook. Have you communed with your suppliers lately?
In the ever-evolving world of internet selling, connecting with those whose goods help you fill orders is a complex undertaking. Whether you’re a fledgling newbie or an established merchant, your ability to provide a good product mix with reliable deliverability is potentially more important than recruiting new customers.
What have you to lose?
But how much attention should you pay to suppliers? What level of contact with them is adequate? Is it ever wise to plan in-person meetings? Let’s look at some theories.
Depending on whom you ask, personal contact with suppliers is either an integral business practice, or a complete waste of time. On the positive side, sellers note the ability to work with certain suppliers on long-term projects and guarantee their spot in a distribution chain that may be restricted. Also helpful is a glimpse at prototypes or new products not yet available to the general selling public. It may help you alter your merchandising plan for the short or long term.
Others share anecdotes of future relationships that transcended their ecommerce business, including business ventures outside of online selling. This is a hidden asset inherent in B2B philosophy and shouldn’t be overlooked.
That flip side
These face-to-face encounters aren’t on the to-do list of many, however. Successful ecommerce merchants have prodded along without ever laying eyes on a supplier. And their explanations vary.
Among reasons to avoid in-person visits are practical time constraints, a lack of need to establish a close personal relationship, and an actual aversion to establishing close relationships. The latter is only partly tongue-in-cheek; often people go into online selling for a reason.
Aside from those, assuming you are a high-volume seller, you may have intermediates who will make those visits in your place. Sending merchandising managers to rub elbows with suppliers can be an efficient way to maintain relationships without spending personal time.
Small-scale merchants may run an online store as a supplement to a full-time job, and can’t find the time to initiate personal meetings.
Global affairs of the heart — and warehouse
Taking a slight detour from the main topic, consider the fascinating cultural tradition of interfacing with figures who dominate much of the online industry: Chinese suppliers. With a high percentage of resold or drop-shipped goods coming out of that country, it makes sense to curry favor in a way that maintains a healthy ongoing relationship.
Chinese businesspeople place a premium on the personal side of business relationships, and will often go to great lengths to entertain and accommodate resellers who visit. If you have the time, means, and inclination to go abroad, it can’t hurt to plan a cozy dinner or tour with high-volume suppliers in Beijing, Shanghai, and other prominent Chinese business centers.
If you decide to take the leap, do so with preparation. Chinese culture involves customs and rituals that are central to their lifestyles. Get a sense of the best way to navigate through an onsite visit to China, honoring customs and respecting tradition, in this useful piece.
Ultimately the decision is yours. Your business will not be made or broken based on whether you trade handshakes with suppliers. But it’s an important consideration, and can serve to shape a successful future for your growing entity.