Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 7: What next?

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This is the final chapter in my mini-series offering a peek behind the curtain into the world of retail buying. This short insight will offer some advice on how to maintain that listing and develop the business. Getting it onto the shelf is easy for a Buyer to do but making it leap off the shelves isn’t so easy.

It’s really easy to get overexcited when the Buyer finally says ‘yes’ and think that’s the job done. It isn’t. In reality agreeing to a listing is relatively easy for a Buyer to do but if that’s all they do your product will just be another area for dust to gather in warehouses and stores. So to be successful and professional you need to have a plan and a strategy to pull that stock through the supply chain to create re-orders and really make the Buyer look good! I’ve compiled some simple tips that will help a artisanal manufacturer devise their pull strategy to maintain that listing and develop the business beyond a simple listing…

In it for the long run: you need to show at least a 12-month plan of how you’re going to support your product and your newest stockist with a clear promotional strategy focussing on key trigger periods.

All lined up: you should have an aligned sales plan that is supported with media, social media and events that you might be doing. If you’re going to be at a key food festival sampling near one of your new stores then tie it in.

Tell people about it: half the battle with getting your product off the shelves is about communication. Tell as many people about your new product as you can; that means the internal team at your customer’s offices and at a store level. Sampling campaigns are really effective. It also shows that you’re proud of what you do and not afraid to face the taste test.

It’s vitally important that you know exactly how your product is going to sell in terms of store numbers, pricing, promotions and communication tools. It will demonstrate to your Buyer that you’ve really understood their business and know what it takes to make a difference to their KPIs.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini-series. It’s just my perspective from how I approached meetings and listings with smaller suppliers. I used to really enjoy working with up and coming manufacturers, getting to know their stories and buzzing off their enthusiasm for what they do; it made a welcome change from the robotic regurgitations that I was subjected to from a lot of large suppliers.

The series has walked you through:

  • How to get a meeting
  • How to prepare
  • Understanding a Buyer’s motives
  • Structuring a Meeting
  • How to take control
  • How to always be relevant
  • How to maintain and develop the business

It has only been a whistle-stop tour as I can write and talk for hours on this subject. My final piece of advice to anyone wanting to crack mainstream retail with their brilliant new product is: go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?

Northern Munkee.

 

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Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 6: So what?

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This blog considers the most important question of the whole process: so what? You can argue that there are much more pertinent questions in the meeting like ‘so when do you want your first order to arrive?’ However I believe ‘so what?’ is the one question that you should always have in your mind. Everything you discuss, present or ask should be working towards your desired objective so make sure anything you do is always proceeded by an internal ‘so what?’ Play your own Devil’s Advocate.

A bolshy Buyer will make this tip very easy and pose this question out loud each time they think you’ve stumbled across a pointless point. So prepare and pre-empt by asking the question yourself. You need to be constantly aware of what it means to the Buyer, how it will make their job better or easier and why it’s important that they continue to engage. I have experienced too many presentations with reams and reams of category information that only serves to act as a white noise and filler. I didn’t want to see it. Or may be I did but I was led to the right conclusion by an inept seller. There’s nothing worse than a boring presentation where you’re just watching the slide count drip away and the enthusiasm sneak out of the room in search of better things to do!

Pointless presentations: please please please avoid adding slides to your deck just to ‘add meat’ or ‘context’. It’s irrelevant. You might find that your Buyer takes a paper copy of your presentation as notes from the meeting and they’re going to re-visit it in a couple of months – will it still make sense when you’re not there to explain what the point of each slide was? Make it emphatic!

Questionable questions: think about your questions. You won’t be able to write a script because that’s not real life but you will be able to ensure that there’s always an answer to ‘so what?’ when you’ve uncovered a gem of information.

Confusion conclusion: never ever let your Buyer leave the meeting still thinking ‘so what?’ You want your Buyer being absolutely crystal clear on what you were there to achieve, what the key discussion points were and what the key action points are. Doubt and confusion can be like seagulls at the seaside: the first time you look there might just be a few white specks around a discarded tray of chips but in a short amount of time there will be a sea of white and the whole landscape is coloured with doubt and confusion. Chase those pesky seagulls away and don’t let the swarms get near your Buyer.

The next section of this series will assume you’ve got the listing and ask what next?

Northern Munkee.

Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 5: Take control!

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This part of my monthly mini-series is more about attitude than anything else. It is designed to induce confidence in a difficult situation. Sales people are taught that Buyers are always playing games, they always use tactics and they have the power in the room. This simply isn’t true. It is fair to say that there can be a balance of power in terms of size of businesses, who needs who more or who is under more pressure from their business; but at the end of the day there’s just two parties in the room, so let’s dance!

The reason that I felt it important to include a section on confidence and taking control is that I’ve been in a few awkward situations where the seller was almost waiting for permission to begin. They’d sit down opposite me, get out their pad, their pen and tablet computer and then…nothing. So dance monkey dance! If I was feeling that way out I’d just sit back, arms folded and let the silence engulf them. I know it sounds mean but come on! Don’t let this be you. You’ve called the meeting and the Buyer’s agreed to give you their time. They aren’t in the game of wasting time so they obviously want to hear what you’ve got to say so take the bull by both horns and drive.

Don’t be afraid: the expectation is that you take the lead. Set out your objectives and how you want the meeting to go when you first sit down. That way the Buyer is fully aware of what to expect and has the opportunity to add or subtract from proceedings if necessary.

Invite questions: questions are a good thing although it can really throw people. If a Buyer is asking questions it means they’re engaged it means they care. I remember asking a artisanal supplier ‘So what makes your product different to others? What makes it special?’ The suppliers looked really offended that I’d asked this. How could I? It’s their baby. Yes I get that but questions like this mean two things: firstly, that they hadn’t answered that so far in the meeting and secondly, that I’d just offered an opportunity for them to hit me with three or four strong USPs. Don’t be offended and don’t let it throw you off your flow. Pause. Acknowledge. Then deal with the question and be flattered that you’ve hooked an interest.

Never overpromise: a Buyer is trained to put unnatural pressure on you with anything from commercial demands to time pressures don’t succumb unless you’re comfortable. I used to hate suppliers missing deadlines, I found it rude. However I wouldn’t have any issue with someone coming back to me saying, ‘I can’t come back to you tomorrow. To get you the right answer I need a couple of days and will come back to you on Wednesday.’ That’s fine. The supplier had set my expectations and not rushed into anything that they can’t really deliver.

Next month’s issue will consider the most important question in the whole process…

Northern Munkee.

So what:

Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 4: The Structure of ‘Yes’!

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

The last edition of my monthly serial aimed to afford an insight into the mind of a Buyer considering their KPIs and how they might approach a meeting with a potential new supplier. So now that you have harnessed that insight how do you use it? Remember the easiest answer for a Buyer is always ‘no’, it involves no paperwork, no risk and no sell back into their business. The only time when the ‘yes’ may be a little easier to achieve is if the Buyer has approached you, which, you’ll be surprised to hear, does happen to some jammy sods – but it is a rarity! This month’s insight focuses on the best way to structure your meeting based on some of the highs and lows of my buying career…

I’ve sat through a LOT of supplier presentations and good ones are few and far between, trust me! Some suppliers come armed with just a blank A4 pad and pen, others come with the latest touch screen technology and you get some that offer a neatly bound and printed thesis of a presentation; it takes allsorts and there is no right or wrong in terms of formatting. However a Buyer wants to know that you’re bothered about the meeting and you’ve thought about what your presenting. It’s a great tactic to let your food do the talking but you must make the Buyer feel special. It’s OK not to use a presentation if it doesn’t feel appropriate but it’s not OK to not have a presentation, that’s just lazy. Think about the flow of the meeting. How do you want it to play out? What do you want them to say? What do you want them to think? What do you need to know? If you could get your Buyer to write down three things what would that be? Then think about how you can make that happen. If you structure the meeting and your presentation in the right way your sale will be the natural conclusion. I hate the sales mantra ‘Always be Closing’ – if you’ve consulted, guided and advised you won’t need to close; it will be a no-brainer.

I’ve outlined a simple meeting structure below:

The Art of Questions

I would advise everyone to start a meeting with lots of questions but the problem is that sales people usually love the sound of their own voice; this is partly due to their over zealousness and partly due to their over confidence. Please, apply Pareto’s Law. If you have ever exited a meeting and you’ve done more than 20% of the talking then it probably wasn’t a great meeting! Selling is all about asking the right questions, listening and applying a solution based on what you’ve heard. You may need to change your presentation, or how you spin your presentation, based on the output of these questions but much better to think on your feet than fall flat on your face.

Get Them to Lean Forward

I’m not a body language expert but I know when a Buyer is on the hook and this needs to happen early. You need to engage them from the off so your opening pitch needs to be sharp, rehearsed and meaningful to your Buyer. If you can get them to lean forward and prick their ears up they will hang off your every word for the duration of your pitch.

Set the Scene

Now, I don’t mean spend 15 minutes discussing the macroeconomic environment and the leakages from the British economy but it is important to provide some context and an understanding of the wider marketplace and category. A word of warning here though: don’t be a bore! I’ve endured enough presentations on market overview that were just white noise in the presentation. I’ll explore ways to combat the boredom in future blogs.

Relevant Needs

This is where you’re working towards the natural conclusion. Move the meeting and the pitch from the wider market to your specific customer’s needs. Your Buyer will be concerned with the market and what their competitors are doing but ultimately you’ll only get to ‘yes’ if you make it relevant.

Trusted Advice

This bit is really key and, surprisingly, often omitted from a pitch. You must be clear and specific about what you’re proposing. Relate it back to everything you’ve gleaned previously and it will feel natural and seem logical.

Review

One common exercise in sales training circles is to ask two people to negotiate over something and to reach an agreement. Each party would then regurgitate their understanding of the agreement separately. Rarely do the two agreements marry. So the message here is re-cap, review and re-confirm. You must ensure that you summarise what was discussed and what the actions are; this will save you a lot of heartache. It also gives the Buyer confidence that you have understood their requirements and will deliver what they need.

Structure in a meeting shouldn’t be rigid but it is a framework and there are many ways to approach this. Treat your meeting like a story but just make sure you’re the one writing it and not the Buyer.

Northern Munkee.

Take control:

So what: