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Biz Ladies: 5 Steps to Delight Your Wholesale Buyer


Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Tara Swiger, author of Market Yourself: A System for Smart + Creative Businesses, and the community concierge at Vianza.com. At Vianza, Tara helps designers keep their wholesale information in one organized location, and today she is helping us better understand how to properly manage our wholesale relationships. Thanks, Tara, for this helpful post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

If you’re a designer selling wholesale to indie boutiques, then you’re aware that the health of your business is directly related to the health of your relationship with your buyers. As a former indie boutique owner, a current wholesaling maker, and a community concierge for Vianza (where I help designers and boutiques simplify their relationships), I’ve learned that these relationships are built on communication. Clear communication will help set expectations, prevent misunderstanding and build trust. But all that communicating takes time and effort, which is in short supply in your business.

To save time, set up your communication strategy and system before you need it. If you’re already in need, take a day to create it now to save time later. Here are our five steps to keeping your customers happy and your communications clear.

1. Answer their questions before they ask.

Answering buyers’ questions before they ask will keep your inbox empty(ish) and give potential buyers the confidence that they have all the information they need to make that first purchase.

What kinds of questions should you answer?

Think through the buyer’s process: What will they need to know at every step? This includes product details, pricing, order minimums, policies, ship-by dates, shipping methods and payment procedures.

It used to be that you’d put all this info in a few dense paragraphs on your printed catalog or line sheet. But now your website can answer this and so much more, and it is infinitely easier to update. For the really important questions (like How do I place an order?), put the answer in more than one place: have it with your catalog, on your about page and anywhere else the buyer might think to look for it.

2. Respond promptly.

Yes, you’re busy. But what is more important than getting and keeping customers? You can save a lot of time by creating a system around replying. (Checking your email 50 times a day is a pretty ineffective system!)

  • Start by scheduling times when you’ll answer questions and concerns, and make it daily so no one ever has to wait more than 24 hours (during the workweek).
  • Draft a reply to the most frequently asked questions and save it, so you can just copy and paste it when you need to. (Gmail has an app called “Canned Responses,” which will let you save an email and then use it again in the future. You can find it under Settings / Labs.)
  • If you find yourself answering a question with every customer, you know this is worthy of a one-time answer! Pop the question and the answer on your website.
  • The last step in having a quick reply time is to train everyone on your team to answer the most basic questions (this is especially important if you speak to buyers on the phone). Everyone who answers the phone should be able to answer the most basic questions or find the information quickly. To bring everyone up to speed, keep track of the questions your team gets the most often, then compile the answers (or how to find the answers) and share them with everyone.

 

3. Check, check again.

The biggest obstacle between you and a happy customer is misunderstandings. Nip it in the bud by making sure you understand each other at every turn.

A few places to apply a particularly careful eye:

  • Their order. After you’ve received it, let them know, and send them a copy so they can check that it’s correct (and so that they can compare it to what they receive).
  • When their order will ship. Even if you’ve splashed this in 34-point font on every page of your website, you still need to give your buyer her specific, personalized date.
  • Your payment policy. Ask your buyer to confirm that she understands the terms and when and how she’ll be expected to pay.
  • After the order is shipped. Just because you popped it in the mail doesn’t mean she received it or that she’s happy with it. Follow up within a week of the expected receipt and ask for feedback. (This is a great way to collect glowing testimonials!)

 

4. Do what you say you’ll do.

Of course you intend to do what you said you would (or else you wouldn’t have said it!), but you can’t just rely on your good intentions. To be sure you do what you promise, keep track of what you say. And before you promise something, check yourself. Is it really possible to have their order ready in that timeline? Don’t overpromise; it’s far better to surprise the customer with your unexpected promptness than to disappoint her with your lateness.

One way you might be accidently overpromising is your website. Your buyer reads your website assuming it is current and true. If anything is out of date (from the products and the prices to the shipping times), buyers might expect something you’ve completely forgotten about. Give it all a quick read-through every month to make sure it’s current (this is another reason why it’s good to double-check with each order).

5. Communicate at every step.

It’s not enough to take the order and fulfill it correctly; your buyer wants to know you’re working on it. To keep her in the loop, let her know that you’ve received her order, are fulfilling it and when you’ve shipped it. And don’t forget to follow up to ensure that she happily received it!

Put these five points in practice, and you’ll soon be hearing how fantastic and easy to work with you are!

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12 Comments

Annette

Very good tips. I receive your blog by e-mail and lately each blog is overlapping with articles that were sent in the previous e-mail. Any way to fix this or is this done on purpose? I read a lot of blogs, so seeing the articles once is plenty. Thank you.

Grace Bonney

annette

can you send me a pic of the problem you’re having and tell me what browser you’re using? i haven’t had this problem and can’t replicate it on my end….

grace

Shannon @ Caravan Pacific

Thanks for the tips, very helpful! Also, it’s good to create a spreadsheet of your wholesale customers to keep track of their wants and needs, trade shows they go to. Will check out your site Tara, sounds like a great time-saver!

Ashlee

This post could not have come at a better time! My small business is just getting into wholesale and I have been terrified to take the leap because I am afraid I will make a mistake. I literally just set my first wholesale order today after reading this post. Thank you!

Tamara

Also important are line sheets, purchase orders, invoices and pick slips with clearly listed inventory lists, quantities, extensions, totals, shipping cost and suggested retails (msrp). Use excel or some other program for generating paperwork. A well designed line sheet and seperate price list are so important (so you can adjust prices if/when needed, AND so the retailer can show your line to a prospective customer without revealing the wholesale price) Add everything up twice & triple check that the contents match the totals and counts reflected on the packing slip included with the box. Carefully package up work with plenty of protective measures like bubble wrap, wadded paper or styrofoam peanuts, baggies, etc to keep items seperate and safe in transit. We get vendors work in often who regularly leave out several of these key points… They define the difference between a true professional and an amateur, and definitely can encourage more frequent reorders when all your ducks are in a row for the retailer.

Tara

Thanks, everyone, for your sweet comments!
Tamara – Vianza actually creates purchase orders, and invoices for you automatically, as soon as the order is placed, no Excel required!
Your points about the shipping are SO very important, thanks for sharing them!

elisa shere jewelry

Great advice! I completely agree with the email confirming the order, I always attach an invoice with my confirmation email – I also confirm the timeline at that time. Also, the follow up email is great for shipped orders. Another great piece of advice that wasn’t in this article – follow up every couple of months to see if they need to reorder. Often stores are so busy, and they’ve been meaning to get in touch. So many times I’ve sent an email off and received an order the same day.

Lynne

I’ve stopped working with wholesalers who are really slow to reply to emails, which is more common than I ever thought. Also, I love wholesalers who have high res product images they can share with me. I photograph the items myself for my website in a styled way, but it saves time and expense for me if I have the cut outs for press already available.

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