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: