Starting a business and growing it into a success requires a significant investment of time and resources. You may be able to reduce some costs in the beginning by wearing multiple hats, but the reality is you will eventually need help.
When weighing your options, you’ll likely consider at least one business-to-business (B2B) vendor or partner for assistance in the different facets of your day-to-day operations, including accounting, shipping, manufacturing and marketing.
A B2B vendor is a company that focuses on providing goods or services to other businesses specifically. When you collaborate with a B2B vendor, you ideally build a mutually beneficial relationship that fosters growth and adds value to your organization.
Some B2B vendors are more suited to work with small businesses. Some examples of B2B vendors for small businesses to consider include:
Salesforce is a customer relationship management (CRM) platform whose services centralize marketing, sales, commerce, support and IT. Currently serving more than 15,000 businesses of varying sizes, Salesforce can track your sales from initial interaction to final invoicing. Plus, you can integrate the platform with marketing tools you may already use, such as Sharpspring (formerly Constant Contact).
Read our in-depth review of Salesforce to learn more about this software.
Grasshopper is a virtual phone system that allows you to streamline your business communication. The phone system’s app routes business calls to your personal phone, giving you the benefits of a full-featured business phone system without the costs and hassles of installation, maintenance and extra equipment. The app keeps your personal number private and notifies you when a business call is coming through so that you can act accordingly.
For more information on this virtual phone system, check out our Grasshopper review.
Microsoft Teams is a business communication platform that has carved a niche in the organizational communication industry, especially during the pandemic. Microsoft Teams offers workplace messaging, cloud storage, video conferencing and more as it competes with services like Slack and Zoom. Microsoft Teams is part of the Microsoft 365 application suite, so implementing this solution means you’ll have access to other business apps like Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
If you’re looking for a credit card processor for your business, Stax is worth considering. Stax helps keep consistency and connectivity between purchases for your business, no matter where and what device you use to complete a transaction. The service has a flat-rate pricing model that keeps fees and markups to a minimum. This structure is beneficial for a business making less than $7,000 per month.
Read our Stax review for pricing and feature details.
Paychex functions as a one-stop human resources and payroll service with a multitude of features. Paychex helps streamline payroll while handling payroll taxes and employee benefits packages. It also streamlines onboarding, offers time clock and attendance features, and helps you set up 401(k) offerings.
For a complete breakdown of its services, read our Paychex review.
We ranked Paychex Flex as the best HR program for companies with remote workers, while other HR partners are better suited for different circumstances. You can find the best fit for your company among our picks for the best HR software.
The B2B vendors you choose will be crucial to your company’s development, so it’s essential to work with the right partners. We asked business leaders for advice on finding and maintaining the best B2B partnerships.
Any potential business partner should have an excellent track record. Gregg Landers, director of the growth management consulting team at CBIZ MHM, recommends finding out how much a potential vendor knows about working with businesses in your field or how much it knows about the specific responsibilities you need it to perform.
Longer-term relationships show a commitment to helping business partners develop instead of just engaging in transactional arrangements, according to Doron Cohen, chairman and CEO of CIAL Dun & Bradstreet.
Landers noted that a company with many partnerships in play might have a more “transactional” focus. If you’re looking for a partner to help you carry out high-priority, time-sensitive tasks, you may want to avoid signing on with a vendor that’s juggling dozens of clients.
“[Find out] if they have availability for your work,” Landers said. “It’s not uncommon for third-party services to take all the sales they can and end up overscheduling.”
Cohen recommends asking for specific examples or case studies of previous clients. This will help you learn whether the potential B2B vendor truly acts as a partner and introduces new ideas and ways of doing business or if it provides an off-the-shelf service.
While you can read online testimonials and ratings, there’s nothing like having a conversation with someone who’s been in your position with this company. Eric Casaburi, CEO and founder of the Retro Fitness gym franchise, said that you should learn as much as you can about the experiences of a vendor’s previous and existing clientele.
The right questions will help you find a B2B vendor with the perfect balance of previous experience and current support capacity.
Think you’re ready to make a deal? Here are a few more tips for forging and keeping a successful partnership.
The first step in establishing any business partnership is clearly defining your objectives and setting achievable goals. What do you hope to accomplish by partnering with this company, and will a partnership truly benefit both of you?
“Often, partnerships fail because each party did not clearly understand the other’s core objective,” Cohen said. “If you can’t clearly explain your goal, how can you expect someone else to help you achieve it?”
Landers agrees. “You need to figure out what’s important to you before you start talking to vendors, and really figure out what they prioritize in terms of what they deliver to customers.”
While you need to find the best partner or vendor for your needs, it isn’t all about you: Any B2B deal should benefit both parties. Cohen reminds small business owners to take the time to understand the other company’s goals and how your proposal can assist them.
“This allows you to approach [the vendor] with a win-win solution,” he said. “Be prepared to explain your business model and objectives [too], as it is often assumed that each party already knows more than they do about the other party.”
If you’re entering your first business partnership, you may not know all the ins and outs of working with another company. Talking to other business owners in your industry who’ve had successful B2B deals can help you navigate some of the trickier situations that may arise.
“The internet puts so much information at your disposal, but the best research in small business is to get your foot on the ground,” Casaburi said. “Talk to people who are doing what you’re doing, and start there. As long as you’re not competitors, others will often help you.”
Small businesses often work with limited budgets, and many decisions come down to cost. Though price is always a factor, you get what you pay for, so you have to consider the deal’s overall value to your business.
“If it’s a critical element that you’re going to outsource or [you want to] use a vendor to develop something that gives you a competitive advantage, you may not always want to have the lowest-price provider,” Landers said. “If it’s a less critical support [role], price is more of a factor. Understand where your value is.”
Businesses are not disparate entities, but rather complex ecosystems that require strong leadership to keep all vectors pointed in the same direction, said Joe Humm, director of client success at RevGen Partners. A harmonious supply chain environment that tightly connects suppliers, manufacturers, operating plans, forecasts and logistics is possible. However, businesses often overlook one of the biggest threats to success: quality.
“Organizations [need] to gain the bird’s-eye view of quality across their entire supply chain and to make the necessary adjustments to ensure poor quality does not disrupt their end-to-end supply chain,” Humm said. “[They should] have open and honest conversations with their suppliers and CMOs, such that they are using data to maintain objective dialogue about their quality-related performance and the next steps they should collectively be taking to replicate successes or fix issues.”
As with any type of business partnership, trust is necessary for a B2B deal to work. Casaburi said that you must be able to trust the people you’re shaking hands with – and trust only happens when you take the time to build a solid professional relationship.
“I’ve found that old-school relationships really flourish through good and bad times because of trust,” he said. “You need to believe in your partner and treat them like a partner.”
Bassam Kaado contributed to the writing and research in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.