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.


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.

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