Like anyone else involved in sales, Barry Eisenberg was looking for better leads. And he ultimately found them simply by making better use of the SAP's Ariba supplier network, a virtual marketplace of buyers and sellers that his company already had up and running.
"We had plenty of people to contact with over the years, but we just weren't getting to the right buyers. It was hits and misses," said Eisenberg, who heads up the business development division, contracts and e-procurement at New York-based B&H Photo.
B&H is a well-known seller of photo, audio and video equipment to individual consumers, as well as corporate and government customers. Its clients include numerous large corporations, every major television network and most of the major entertainment companies, Eisenberg said.
"A good 95% of the Fortune 500 buys from us," Eisenberg said, whether it's for film and television production, Web work, education or security cameras.
The problem was that despite the success they had already experienced, the company knew it could do better.
"It was phone call after phone call after phone call," said Eisenberg. "Meet with one person, and ask who else we should be speaking to. It was a lot of legwork."
B&H had initially begun using the Ariba Network about ten years ago, when one of their customers strongly suggested they join. "I didn't even know about Ariba at the time," Eisenberg said.
SAP purchased Ariba Inc. in May 2012 for about $4.3 billion. Ariba is the provider of the Ariba Network, the cloud-based marketplace that brings together buyers and suppliers. Ariba also provides cloud-based financial management software and other business-to-business tools.
Making better use of the Ariba supplier network
Until a year or so ago, the firm used Ariba primarily for receiving purchase orders and e-invoicing and not much else, Eisenberg said. "We were using it for more like a fax machine than a procurement system."
For more on SAP and Ariba:
Read about some of the questions around SAP's acquisition of Ariba
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Representatives from Ariba approached B&H about how they could get more out of the network, he said, including how to use the Ariba Discovery part of the network to connect to potential buyers. B&H then moved forward by setting up a profile on the network and using commodity codes and other information to designate what kind of a business they are and what they sell.
The company now receives a daily email that includes RFQs (requests for quotation) from interested companies that designate the same codes in their request. The email also includes notices from companies that are simply hunting around for suppliers of audio and video products they may want to do business with in the future.
Getting the right codes is key, Eisenberg said. "In the beginning, we got things like [bids for] paper towels and diapers" because they weren't specific enough in designating they sold photo paper, not paper products in general.
"You do have to do some work picking out your commodity [codes], otherwise you're going to get stuff that's not pertinent to you, and you're going to be sifting through a large amount of info," Eisenberg said. "Now, out of three or four [RFQs typically received every day], two or three are good leads. We just respond to the ones we feel fit us well. "
In one year alone, B&H has been able to increase sales by more than $400,000 using the Ariba supplier network, Eisenberg said. A significant portion of that has been from pulling more sales out of existing customers, he added.
The buyers on the network often remain anonymous until it's time to reach a deal. Therefore, Eisenberg said, it's important to include contact information so that potential customers have someone to call if there are any questions.
"It's one of the things I like less about it," Eisenberg said. "Although I understand the reasoning behind it: Buyers don't want to be disturbed."
This was first published in February 2013