What’s the difference between B2B and B4B? It may sound simple, but we have found that reframing your business-to-business (B2B) company as a business-for-business (B4B) company can increase revenues, customer retention, and employee morale. And for one supplier to food companies, identifying as B4B has provided it with a deeper sense of purpose that has ignited innovation and creativity within the organization.
Luker Chocolate manufactures and sells chocolate as an ingredient to other food businesses; one of us (Sergio Restrepo) is the company’s vice president of innovation. A few years ago, he noticed that Luker’s salespeople were largely pushing commodity products with volume discounts and knew fairly little about their customers’ businesses. The company’s B2B mindset meant it measured success based on the tons of chocolate sold — but it didn’t really understand its customers or what could help them make progress.
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The company needed a cultural reboot if it was to move away from an unsustainable competitive strategy based on price. Instead of thinking of itself as a business that sold to other businesses, it needed to think of itself as a business that worked for other businesses. Its primary metric of success needed to be how well it helped customers grow and become more successful.
For instance, to help the CEO of a small cookie company grow his business, Luker sent technical experts to help him improve his production process and design a better factory. Luker began sharing relevant market information and new consumer insights with him. It set up a business growth team that provided value-added services — at no charge, for the time being — including an in-house design team that helped the cookie company improve its packaging. That new look for the brand helped it get its products into a major retail outlet in Canada, a new market, and boosted its sales in supermarkets. And Luker collaborated with the CEO to develop a robust pipeline of innovations for his brand that have driven incremental revenue and connected him with potential customers.
In less than nine months, Luker’s sales to the cookie company more than doubled. It no longer discusses pricing with the CEO but rather how both organizations can grow sustainably.
In the B2B world of the food industry, private-label manufacturers or ingredient suppliers that compete on price are always vulnerable to bigger manufacturers that offer better prices.