While selling has never been an easy profession, currently it’s more challenging than ever for a variety of reasons. Good salespeople connect with customers, earn their trust, deliver value to them and continue to nurture the relationship driving long-term account value.

But while sales methods have changed in the 21st century, so too have customers. Generational differences are greater than ever, and in the case of business-to-business selling, the way companies buy has also changed radically.

While B2B may be very different from B2C selling, at the heart of it, you’re still dealing with people. Many companies have gotten more skilled at budgeting in recent years; they have also ratcheted up their expectations of what should normally be provided as part of simply doing business.

Add on top of that the fact that customer expectations are a moving target and you have to agree—selling is not an easy job.

At Fey Promotional Products Group we’ve noticed a dramatic contrast between what customers expected five years ago and what they want today. It is a fair statement to also say that customer expectations have become more demanding, and it is equally true that the consequences of failing to meet those expectations from both a distributor and supplier standpoint have become
more significant.

Customers choose to move to a competitor for lesser reasons and with greater ease than ever before—but you already knew that, didn’t you?

The Survey
Back in 2014, Nielson conducted a survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 different countries regarding their views on corporate social responsibility. I must admit, I always wondered if people really cared if a company is socially conscious and, if so, do they prove it with their wallet? The survey sought answers to three key questions:

1 How passionate are consumers about sustainable practices when it comes to purchase considerations? 

2 Which consumer demographic segments are most supportive of ecological or other socially responsible efforts?

3 Which social issues/causes are the most people interested in?

What Nielson uncovered was truly amazing, and indirectly resulted in becoming the starting point for our Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) journey. The findings revealed that two thirds of the “sustainable mainstream” population (a cluster of three of the five segments) choose products from sustainable sources over other conventional products. These consumers will buy as many eco-friendly products as they can and have personally changed their behavior to minimize their impact on global climate change.

Additionally, these consumers are more likely to buy products repeatedly from a company if they know the company is mindful of its impact on the environment and society.

Implications For Distributors
What I found equally amazing is that of the global respondents who are responsive to sustainability actions, half are Millennials. They represent 51 percent of those who will pay extra for sustainable products and will check the packaging for “sustainable” labeling. Think about that finding for a moment and what that could mean to your business future.

As companies continue to develop, Millennials will soon be making more buying decisions on the end-user level. Suppliers looking to make the sales transaction and the relationship with the distributor as effortless as possible need to understand the many factors that are involved within the sales cycle, including the important demographics and psychographics of those inside and outside the channel.

It’s no longer a question of whether consumers care about social impact. Consumers (and end users) do care, and they show they care through their buying actions. Truth be told, most distributors, when asked, will state they add value to their clients. But when pressed to define what that value add is, they have a hard time coming up with more than a statement such as, “I source items for them at the budget they request and make sure the product is delivered on time.”

Distributors looking to become real value adders and cement their relationships with their clients understand that the definition of value isn’t what the distributor thinks it is, but what the client thinks it is. In today’s business world, distributors need to become more aware of their clients’ mindset and what they really value.

Implications For Suppliers
As the marketing director for Fey Promotional Products Group, I know that understanding trends and forecasting is important for growth and company development. The findings by Nielson, when combined with other industry data such as the growing Millennial force within our industry and requests by distributors for product safety testing, made me stand up and take notice.

Any promotional products supplier looking to differentiate itself needs to focus on determining how its brand can effectively create a shared value bridge by marrying the appropriate social cause and consumer segments while simultaneously creating an effortless business transaction with distributors. Obtaining QCA accreditation was that bridge for Fey Promotional Products Group because QCA qualifies suppliers based upon five pillars:

• Social Compliance
• Product Safety
• Product Quality
• Environmental Impact
• Supply Chain Security

If you are unfamiliar with the QCA moniker, I strongly recommend you become aware, because your clients will be demanding more and more from you as a distributor, and if you are not providing that value, they will find someone else who will. Your clients likely will very soon (if not already) want verification and peace of mind that the workers making the products they are considering buying as a promotional tool are treated well by their employer, their workers’ health and rights are protected, the products they are putting into the hands of their customers have been tested and are validated as safe, and the company manufacturing the product they are considering buying has procedures and practices in place to minimize environmental impact and is doing what it can to be earth friendly.

Sounds like a tall order to comply with, doesn’t it?

The interesting thing to note is that when a distributor deals with a QCA supplier, all of those issues have been addressed and answered, which enables the supplier to bring true value to our client relationships. QCA is a Chicago, Illinois-based independent accreditation organization whose mission is to elevate the standards by which industry firms that import and/or manufacture promotional products provide consistently safe, high quality, socially compliant and environmentally conscientious merchandise.

The five main components of QCA are vetted and verified by an outside agency not affiliated with QCA. This outside agency verified that Fey Promotional Products Group passed all examination rigors for each pillar, which ensures distributors (and their clients) that the supplier they are relying upon produces products deemed safe according to current Federal standards. It also ensures that the supplier is socially compliant, treats all workers (in the U.S. and overseas) well and is an environmental steward, doing what it can do to make this world a better place.

With the way business is changing, and based on the expectations of your clients, partnering with a QCA-accredited supplier gives the distributor a competitive edge and provides the value customers thrive on. Fey Promotional Products Group and our associated brands are proud to be in the group of one percent of all promotional products suppliers that have been accredited by the QCA program. We didn’t do it for ourselves —we did it for you and your clients.


Ron Williams is director of marketing for supplier Fey Promotional Products Group (Fey Line, Magna-Tel, Mi Line and Reflectix) located in Edgerton, Minnesota.