The second session in our week on building markets to build a movement focused on how social enterprises can navigate different routes to market.

Cecilia Crossley, founder of social enterprise From Babies with Love chaired the discussion which featured Amy Brogan – Supply Chain Director at CBRE, Chris Clarke the Director of Performance and Improvement at SCAPE and Chris Gale the Head of Social Impact at eBay. Each speaker looked in more depth at how social enterprises can access specific markets – the public sector, B2B sales, and selling to consumers.

Navigating routes to market with the public sector

”There are officers whose job it is to open market to the sector – those buyers want to hear from you and a lot of the time they struggle to find you” – Chris Clarke

Chris Clarke is responsible for social value at SCAPE – the public sector procurement specialists. He spoke about the best ways social enterprises can engage with public sector buyers.

Big public sector construction projects have lots of procurement requirements which can be burdensome for suppliers. However, there are real opportunities for social enterprises to win and deliver public sector contracts.

Chris mentioned how the Social Value Act, which requires public bodies to factor in economic, social and environmental well-being is making a big difference. Public sector buyers are increasingly looking to leverage benefit in whatever ways they can, meaning that social enterprises have the chance to play a bigger role in public procurement.

Chris had two main tips for social enterprises looking to work in these markets.

  1. Look at collective buying – if you think your social enterprises cannot deliver at scale, look to working in partnership with other social enterprises and even non-social enterprise businesses to win contracts.
  2. If you’re looking to work with the public sector – find the relevant people within public bodies whose role it is to open markets to social enterprises. There are officers whose job it is to look at social value – find them and contact them directly. A lot of the time they are looking for suppliers who can create social value but don’t know where to find them. You should look them up on LinkedIn, on their websites and also have a look at local authority procurement policies to see what they say on working with social enterprises.

Working with Corporates

Amy Brogan from CBRE, who provide global commercial real estate services, had three key messages for social enterprises working in B2B markets.

  1. Understand the value chain – do your research and understand who you’re selling to and also who they are selling to. By this she meant that you should look to the end point of the supply chain and identify whether you’re a tier 1 or tier 2 supplier. In the facilities management industry (FM) she identified the difference between tier 1 (hard FM) suppliers and tier 2 (soft FM) suppliers. In short “if you turn a building upside down, hard FM is the things that don’t fall out” with soft FM covering items such as catering. Buyers want to hear from you but you need to make sure what you offer is clear – “no one likes a cold call, but everyone loves a call where something new is offered”
  2. Network – think long term when you’re building relationships and “know that perseverance will pay off”.
  3. Make sure you’ve got your elevator pitch nailed. Don’t dilute your core strengths. Lead with how you are going to provide your impact.

Selling to consumers

“every pound you spend is a vote for that business” – Chris Gale

Recent research carried out by eBay showed that since the pandemic 56% of consumers believe it’s more important to buy from businesses that give back to society.

Social enterprises are well-positioned to take advantage of this demand and Chris was keen to stress the power of the stories social enterprises have to tell.

Working for one of the world’s biggest online platforms, Chris cautioned against seeing e-commerce as something businesses can just do on the side. For cash-strapped social enterprises he said that e-commerce can be really hard and that it takes time and energy to build an e-commerce plan.

What is vital to get right when selling to the public is marketing. Chris placed huge emphasis on the value of comms and marketing stating that “the comms doesn’t do itself”

One thing NOT to do to win business in your distribution channel.

All speakers also spoke about the one thing social enterprises should not do when trying to win business.

Chris Clarke – when looking at public sector contracts, Chris’s top tip was not to waste your time going through public procurement exercises. Don’t start applying for a tender process if it’s not something your business can win. Start by identifying the people who run procurement and filter yourself out of a process as soon as you can if it’s not suitable.

Chris Gale – in selling to consumers don’t sell online unless you are committed to investing in your online presence.

Any Brogan – Don’t contact corporates without having a clear value proposition on how you are going to help them and your clients.