Challenges, problems, and triumphs
-- from a manufacturer's perspective.
The Three L's: You Can't Sell Without Them
How to look, listen, and learn.
by Vinny Da Vendor (September, 2003)
(Note: Vinny is a top exec for a major industry
manufacturer. You can read his previous columns by clicking on the
headline at the top of the right-hand column.
Those who know me understand the nature of my madness: "Bark,
Bark, Solve" is the way I operate. I've barked in a couple of
columns, now it's time to solve. That said, let me provide you with
some constructive thoughts on dealing with the big-box retailers.
Now, more than ever, is the time for manufacturers to: A.
Look for ways to assist retailers achieve their goals. B.
Listen to what the buyer is telling you about what should/must be
done to advance with the chain. C. Learn the tools of the
trade (specific to each retailer) to accomplish A and B.
If you are a manufacturer servicing the $30 billion craft industry,
and your annual sales are in excess of $2 million, then I am certain
you are dealing with our big-box retailers. If you are not dealing
with the big box retailers at present, chances are you are aching
to, as this is seemingly the only means to dramatic sales growth.
No longer is the salesperson the only person dealing with customers.
Today it takes a village to bring up sales in a big box retailer!
When a salesperson "closes the deal" with a major
retailer, it is not the end of a sale, but the beginning of a
For a long-term marriage, you need to LOOK, LISTEN, AND LEARN long
before you book your appointment with the buyer to unveil your next
line of products.
1. Chances are this account makes up 15% or more of your
sales, thus you will be greatly interested in LOOKing to see what
growth opportunities are available to you. LOOK at the store's plan-o-gram
of the specific niche you cover; if it's small enough, set up that
part of the store on a wall in your building.
LOOK for holes in the plan-o-gram that you can easily fill to
increase the retailer's breadth of product offering and consequently
the sales. LOOK up the POS quantities on your products using the
retailer's system. Determine what is working and what is not. Make
recommendations for changeovers.
2. Ask the buyer for input into the retailer's goals for the
department in the coming year, and LISTEN to what is said in-between
For example, the buyer might say, "I hear paisley patterns may
be the trend this year; what are your thoughts?" This is not an
idle question. The buyer is not only telling you that he wants a
paisley pattern ASAP from you, he is also saying that your
competitor recently showed him a paisley pattern item, he liked it,
he feels it will best accomplish his sales goals for a certain hook
that you currently occupy, and he wanted to see your version before
he gave your hook away.
3. LEARN all you can about your products through the data
that the retailer will share with you, and provide the buyer with
concise strategies for improving the department's sales using your
Ten years ago I was struck by an eloquent speaker who said that we
had moved into the information age, a revolutionary time wherein
more value would be placed on information than any other activity of
business. He was right.
Today the retailer provides his vendor partners with access to a
wealth of product-specific data. Chains have now moved aggressively
to convert their suppliers into product-line managers for their
buyers. Suppliers are expected to advise the buyer on how their
products are doing and what should be done differently.
A supplier's ability to successfully obtain, analyze, cull out, and
report back meaningful information from their customer's data is no
longer a key element to set the vendor apart from his competition.
It is a requirement to continue to do business in the future.
The supplier who LEARNs from the information provided, and
successfully encourages the buyer to make changes to grow sales,
will be well-rewarded come time for new business when the open-to-buy
is flowing free!
Well, I just finished studying data, and I must get into the nitty
gritty on a store level for my widgets -- I've got a salesman
gnawing at my ear for strategies.
Note: To read a chain's buyer's advice on selling to him, read
"Benny Da Buyer" HERE.
To comment on Vinny's columns, or to suggest new topics, email Mike
Hartnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.