What goes into productive sales calls at retail?

Feb 13, 2017
Warren Thayer

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

Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, how do you make the best use of precious time during a sales call? What information should you ask for, and how much should you share? How do you defuse a tough situation? What works and what doesn’t? What must you never do?

I asked a broad range of industry people for their thoughts on these questions and more. There was agreement on some tactics and strategies, but not on others. Sorry — no magic bullets that are always guaranteed to work. Here’s where I found decent consensus:

  • Know your limits before the meeting starts. It’s the same principle as being at an auction and deciding how high you’ll bid on an item before it is put up for sale. That way you won’t get caught up in the heat of the moment and offer too low a price (vendor) or accept too high a price (buyer).
  • Easy does it. Don’t yak just to fill in silence. Wait. Listen. Say your piece and shut up. Let the silence build even if it gets a tad uncomfortable. One buyer told me, “He who speaks first, loses.”
  • Vendors, try throwing in some value-addeds instead of price reductions during your negotiation. You’ll probably get out cheaper. Buyers, watch out for value-addeds that don’t add value.
  • Know when to fold ‘em. Don’t make a bad deal just to make a deal. It’s a slippery slope and, once you slide down, it’s hard to come back the next time around.

Many conversations focused on data — too much, too little, lack of relevance and its high cost. When it comes to specific strategies for sales calls, most of my discussions eventually came around to preparation.

Retailers say too many manufacturers produce Technicolor dog and pony shows about their products but know little about what is actually important to the buyer. Vendors say buyers resist appointments, are secretive about their goals, take phone calls during presentations, charge outrageous prices for data and demand way too much.

Aside from that, things are apparently fine.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can the sales process be improved for both retail buyers and vendors? What old-school strategies or tactics don’t apply anymore?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The supplier discussion should become a partner discussion."
"Here’s a simple one: Understand the decision-making authorities of the people in the room and “sell” accordingly."
"Answering the “what’s in it for us” question during the sales call should include support for store traffic and conversion."

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11 Comments on "What goes into productive sales calls at retail?"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.

“Listening improves your vision” … and ability to reach consensus that creates wins on both sides.

Mark Ryski

Collaboration is key — and it never goes out of style. Having frank and earnest discussions about objectives and expectations for both parties is a good place to start. Too often the discussions can feel like us vs. them and it creates a difficult context to truly find win-win outcomes.

Jon Polin

Here’s a simple one: Understand the decision-making authorities of the people in the room and “sell” accordingly. Frequently in a retail environment, it seems that sellers (vendors) are selling without a clear decision-maker in the room. If it’s clear that the ultimate decision-maker isn’t in the room, the seller (vendor) would be better served by leveraging the participants to best understand how to most efficiently address the needs of the decision-maker. A seller (vendor) should utilize the participants in the room based on who they actually are rather than delivering a canned sales pitch.

Charles Dimov

As a vendor, tie all your “value-add” back to the client’s business. Will it increase their in-store revenue, decrease their costs, speed up inventory turn, reduce holding costs, increase in-store foot-traffic (prove it), bump up their brand exposure (prove it) or drive an increase in margins?

Show them how each area helps them. Then listen, listen, listen. And help out in the areas where your customers NEED help.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Answering the “what’s in it for us” question during the sales call should include support for store traffic and conversion. Putting product on the shelf is secondary to consumers pulling it off, so the supplier discussion should become a partner discussion.

Ed Rosenbaum

There are a few important points. One is to know that the person you are speaking with is the person making the decision on the product or service you are selling. Next is being a good listener to hear what the prospective buyer is saying. That will tell you as a salesperson how to proceed with the meeting. Third is to know when to close and/or walk away as Kenny Rogers sang in his famous song “The Gambler.”

Scott Magids
3 years 5 months ago
The point about the “dog and pony show” is very much on point, and it’s true that reps throughout every retail segment often don’t know enough about the product or enough about the buyer. Old-school razzle-dazzle tactics don’t work so much any more, as buyers are looking for — and expect — more detailed information. And if you’re not giving it to them, it’s readily available elsewhere and from other vendors. At the same time buyers expect rich information though, they still have an emotional need and it’s your job as a sales rep to understand that emotional need. The buyers may want to feel important, to feel like they are making a contribution to their companies, and they want to feel respected. Often that may mean understanding the buyer’s corporate culture as well as broader societal culture. Is the target company entrepreneurial and agile, are they process-driven or do they have a top-down hierarchy? On the other hand, do you see the company as more laid-back, with your counterpart having independence in their decision-making?… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

The tried and true spin-selling approach is the most successful. If you can master using the four types of questions then you will succeed.

Ralph Jacobson

I like the tactics mentioned in “The Challenger Sale” book by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon from a few years ago. The seller needs to, 1.) Teach the customer financial insights about their company that the customer didn’t know, 2.) Tailor those insights to the specific role of the person being pitched (merchant, marketer, etc.) and 3.) Take control of the sale by being assertive and pushing the customer outside their traditional comfort zone to generate breakthrough results.

Ryan Mathews

In a phrase, “Focus on the consumer, not on gaining temporary economic advantage.” That’s good advice — for both buyer and seller.

Ricardo Belmar

For the vendor … know what pain-point your solution solves for the customer. No amount of “shiny, new” technology is going to help a retailer if it isn’t solving a specific problem — increasing conversion, improving customer experience, better associate engagement, reducing operational costs, etc. No one is interested in how great the technology or product is if it isn’t solving a problem for the people in the room.

For the buyer … know that a good vendor (aka a good partner) is willing to walk away from a potential sale if the value isn’t there for you. Be willing to work with a vendor that offers to solve a problem by sharing knowledge and information to jointly determine if the solution or product is a fit for you in your environment. If it isn’t, no respectable vendor will keep pushing for a sale.

"The supplier discussion should become a partner discussion."
"Here’s a simple one: Understand the decision-making authorities of the people in the room and “sell” accordingly."
"Answering the “what’s in it for us” question during the sales call should include support for store traffic and conversion."

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