FD Buyer: Want To Sell Me Your Product?

Dec 16, 2009

Warren Thayer

a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a
current article from Frozen & Dairy Buyer magazine. 

In this article,
Betty Buyer, a fictional store buyer based on interviews with a group of
retailers, offers advice to Sammy the Seller.

Listen, Sammy,
if you really want me to buy your products and put them on my shelves,
why don’t you do a better job preparing for our magical little 15-minute

Do you realize
that I sit here and have blind dates with vendors, brokers, distributors
and even researchers who bring me about 10,000 new/great/different/better-for-you
products every year? I’ve got to plan, schedule and process paperwork tied
to all this, then make decisions about it all.

So if you think
I lie awake at night wondering whether your new item should get four facings
— or perhaps five — you’re seriously delusional.

Believe it or
not, Sammy, I want a successful sales call. I want to say yes. (But not,
as in your dreams, “Yes, yes, oh, oooh, yes, yes!”) I want to bring my
customers new products and programs that actually make a difference for
them by saving time, money, hassle, or whatever. Here are three things
you can do to make it happen more often.

1) I need
to know why your product will be wanted by my customers. You
should be able to tell me this when we meet.
Being unlike anything else on the shelf is not enough. Different doesn’t
equal desirable and desire is what moves the customer.

2) I need
to know how you are going to educate the customer about your product
and get them to try it in my store. Will
you use price to drive trial or will you plan product demos? Will you
have POP materials, will you use a web site or will you Twitter everyone
in my market? What is your plan to ensure your product will survive in
this competitive environment? I don’t have these answers for your product,
you do. Or you should.

3) You need
to know my customers. I do.
You need to know what it is about my customers that will make your product
desirable. The fact that you sell well somewhere else does not mean the
same will happen in my store with my customers. Show me. I realize I
have a big piece of the puzzle too. I cannot be a moving target for you.
I have to tell you what my company’s objectives are, what we use as internal
measures, how we benchmark success, and how we see ourselves positioned
in our market. If I don’t provide this to you, then I deserve to get
10,000 plus items every year with few items making any sense at all.

Sammy, you have
to be able to articulate these things to me. Doing these three things will
show me how easy it is to say yes. And isn’t ‘yes’ what we all want to

Questions: What should take priority in vendor sales calls to retailers?
Can you come up with some frequent failings by sellers in such calls?
What are some frequent failings by retailers in their dealings with vendors
during sales calls? 

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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10 Comments on "FD Buyer: Want To Sell Me Your Product?"

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Dick Seesel
12 years 5 months ago

There are a few cardinal rules that vendors should follow, especially if they are making their first sales pitches to prospective accounts:

1. Shop the store ahead of time: Gain an understanding of how your product fills a needed void in the assortment (in terms of category, price, whatever) rather than duplicating existing content.

2. Understand the strategic positioning of the store: Don’t present merchandise to a buyer that is completely out of sync with her company’s direction or target market.

3. Edit your assortments: The buyer is dealing with limited shelf space, opened to buy and has the ability to test new products. Make your presentation as concise and focused as possible, instead of trying to show “everything under the sun.”

While these are good guidelines for an initial presentation, the established vendor should pay attention to the same rules.

David Zahn
12 years 5 months ago
A well-timed reminder of the dynamics of the sales call experience. These questions should take priority in a vendor sales call with retailers: “Why me?” (Why is it suitable for me to consider it? How does it help me achieve my objectives? Why would it hamper me to ignore it? etc.), “Why my category?” (What financial, marketing, sales, etc. need does it address?), and “Why my shopper?” (Does it bring new shoppers to the category? Does it create a more profitable sale? Is it incremental? etc.). Frequent failings on the mfr. side are numerous, but a short list would include: Not restricting the amount of information presented to the time allotted; Not understanding the data or analysis provided by marketing, category management, or other functions and just handing the presentation over with a quick, “this is supported by research” type comment; Not providing the “here is what is in it for you” commentary, and expecting the retailer to “fill in the blanks” on his or her own. On the retailer side: Not sharing objectives, processes,… Read more »
Doron Levy
Doron Levy
12 years 5 months ago
This article intrigues me because it works on the logic that the vendor is the idiot in the relationship. If something doesn’t work on the shelf, it’s 98 percent the buyer’s fault. Remember, the buyer is the one saying yes or no, so ultimately, the responsibility for shelving products that move lie with the buyer. Buyers who sit and wait for calls to come in from vendors are not doing their job and are actually hurting the retailer they work for. The last buying group I worked with were surprised to learn that their phones actually did dial out. It also amazes me how some buyers get their jobs. In one real world experience, I find it amazing that a buyer who has 5 years apparel experience can now be a produce expert overnight (I guess that’s why that business isn’t around anymore). Buying is a hard job. Knowing your category inside and out takes time. How can you possibly know what’s hot or what your customer wants when you are in a cubicle all… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
12 years 5 months ago

Great article! Should be read as a reminder by every salesperson out there. Simple and to the point. All buyers do things for their own reasons, not the sellers’ reasons. When you figure out what the buyer wants and than provide it for them, you do not have to sell. They buy.

When I first got into sales, I was taught by one of the smartest buyers in the market that he did not care what I had to sell. What he wanted was a way to make sure the goods would move off the floor.

Same is true today as it was 30 years ago. Don’t sell the merchandise, sell the promotion.

Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
12 years 5 months ago

I would add:
1. Beware the myth of closing the sale – Most buying decisions aren’t made at the selling table so your goal is to make it easy for your buyer to jog his/her memory when decision-making time does come and to arm them with insights and information that will make your case when the actual meeting is a distant memory.
2. The consumer is your retailer’s customer, the retailer is yours – If you frame your premise this way, you’ll be on the safe side. While consumer data and localized insights are important, retailers don’t appreciate suppliers who make half-baked assumptions about THEIR customers; customers that they have researched and gathered an unprecedented amount of data from. On the other hand, retailers tell us that many suppliers are clueless about their initiatives, hot buttons and visions for their total brand (in-store environment, themes, private and proprietary brand programs, web-to-store tie-ins, etc.).

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
12 years 5 months ago
I enjoyed reading this article because is can be used as an example for far more than just retail sales. Some additional thoughts beyond the items mentioned in the article. Seller:1) Do you homework and make sure you understand your buyers’ needs and objectives. What are they trying to solve or work on? Store traffic, price competitiveness, market basket growth, assortment, private brand growth, etc…. Once you know this, present your product as a solution to those challenges.2) When presenting, don’t spend all your time on how great your company and products are. Spend your time presenting a solution that solves your buyer’s problem. This is tougher than just talking about yourself, but the rewards will be worth the extra work.Buyer:1) You are absolutely busy with 10,000 products being presented to you each year. That said, help the seller by creating a simple one page document that outlines all the key objectives you are focused on for that year. Also, include key shopper information that will help your seller better understand who your customers are… Read more »
JoAnn Hines
JoAnn Hines
12 years 5 months ago

Understanding the retail environment is critical. Having clear, well defined packaging concepts or examples to show is crucial. Buyers want clear differentiation of their products from competitive shopping environments. Don’t take a “one size fits all” approach. Retailers like the idea of a customized package that suits their consumers.

From a product packaging standpoint, be prepared to show exactly how the product engages the consumer in making a purchasing decision. Show how your packaging has the right “benefits” for a prospective consumer.

Demonstrate how your retail footprint for your product packaging is cost effective and worthy of shelf space.

Above all, be flexible. Even if you have put a lot of thought and effort into creating the right packaging, the buyer may hate it.

Mark Plona
Mark Plona
12 years 5 months ago

Certainly not to sidetrack the discussion but….

Often times, Buyers/Category Managers will “say yes” to an item for reasons other than the item’s ability to sell itself on its own merits, even if the presentation is weak.

Be it flawed thinking, let’s face it–profit is profit. That may end up the only successful, albeit shallow approach to bringing in another mediocre item or line extension.

Of course they must pitch all their items but in the grand scheme of things, if the salesperson (fbo their principles) has the item’s best interest in mind, they may need to rationalize that issue first before recommending the item in the first place.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
12 years 5 months ago

There are so many products, services and packaged goods companies in the market. The ability to differentiate your product’s value proposition and to get the end user to listen is the true challenge. I am not sure how we address this, but this is the challenge.

Consumer packaged goods companies have been disintermediated from their customers. Retail data companies (IRI/ Nielsen) have data that they may or may not share and when they share, does it provide value?

Listening to your customer and interacting with them is the challenge.

Dave Wendland
12 years 5 months ago

Certainly buyers have become more cautious in light of SKU rationalization initiatives. Here’s an article I penned on the topic that addresses the issue of seller preparation: http://is.gd/5qbNY. As stated earlier, pre-planning and doing some homework are the keys.


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