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Four tips for continuing your dialogue with a buyer after a meeting.
- In the day or two following your meeting, send a thank you email or hand-written note card to the buyer thanking them for their time and interest. It shows your appreciation, indicates that you have continued interest in doing business with them, highlights your ability to follow up, and reminds them of your existence.
- If you have committed to following up with the buyer on any outstanding issues, get back to them as soon as you can. Show that you have follow through and can do so in a timely manner. It builds the buyer’s trust and confidence in you. In that email or note card (see #1 above), let the buyer know you will be in touch with that information.
- We send a newsletter to our buyers once per month. The newsletter contains information relevant to my buyers (i.e. Psi Bands press, sales tools, testimonials). It’s an opportunity to showcase to our buyers how we continually drive sales to their doors, and to remind them I am available should they wish to discuss anything with me (i.e. we are not bugging them!).
- In your meeting, you confirmed the buyer’s decision making timeline. As such, you know when to be following up. If you have not heard from the buyer on that date, email them and inquire as to the status of their decision. “Hi buyer xyz, I am coming to you today to see if you can share any updates with me about your decision to include my product xyz in your assortment. I look forward to your reply!” Short and sweet. Note: there is no reason to reach out to the buyer before their decision making date that they gave to you unless you are still in negotiations, owe the buyer more info, and/or are awaiting info from the buyer.
Here is a round-up of resources to help you continue your momentum after the trade show.
Question: How do I follow-up with buyers post-show?
Answer: Templates for follow-up emails and letters of introduction: http://www.retail-path.com/letters/
Question: How do I make sure I get purchase orders after the show?
Question: I was approached by international distributors. Should I work with them?
Question: A big box retailer came to my booth. Am I ready to do business with them?
Question: I received an order. What do I need to do now?
Question: I met some sales reps. How do I know if they are good?
Planning for your next trade show begins NOW. Do a post-mortem recap on this past trade show. Use these learnings to inform your next trade show approach and strategy. Here is a checklist to help you plan for the next show: http://www.retailtable.com/from-the-retail-buyer-making-trade-shows-a-smashing-success/
From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Product Entrepreneur’s Guide for how to network & ask for help without putting people off
You already know it’s critically important to actively network. But how you network is of even greater importance because you don’t want to put people off. Following are some tips for developing mutually respectful relationships and reciprocity.
- Know what you want and be specific in your request. When you ask for someone’s help, be specific with your request. If you are unfocused, then you are not being mindful of the other person’s time (not to mention you are not getting the results you truly need for your own purposes) – and they are not going to give you more time later down the line because you’ve completely irritated them. Map out in advance the questions you have, write them down, and when you ask someone for their help, share this list with them in advance so they are also prepared to answer them. Additionally, in your request, ask for a specific amount of time (i.e. 15 minutes or whatever duration is realistic to get your needs met and be respectful of the other person’s time). And, when that time elapses, your time is up, unless the other person continues to show great interest and drives the conversation forward.
- “Give, give, get”. I love this quote by Angela Jia Kim of Savor the Success. Do not expect others to give to you unless you are willing to give to others. That means you are giving (valuable information) more than you are getting in the long term, but when you do get, the payoff can be big. So, stay connected/dialed in to targeted networking groups/social media and provide value-added tips wherever/whenever you can (see #3 below). To emphasize, the key is giving timely and valuable information so as to not put off others. Irrelevant and one sided/braggy information is not well received. The learning curve to getting your product on the retail shelf, especially in larger retailers, is huge. The more people who are rallying for you, the better. Even the most simple tips that are shared from one product owner to another can pay off big. A bonus: when you give authentically, it makes you feel good.
- Network in like minded groups. Be targeted with where you spend your time networking. As a product-based entrepreneur, we have similar goals: expanding retail distribution, increasing our profit margins, improving systems, maximizing marketing spend, etc. So, join product-based entrepreneur groups that encourage reciprocation amongst like-minded participants. When we come together and collectively share resources, strategies, and ideas, the sum is greater than its parts.
Here is a quick video on how to find a Retail Buyer’s name and contact info. And below the video is how to get their email address.
HOT TIP: Need to find the email address format for the retailer you are seeking? One customer recently tested http://www.email-format.com. After finding the retail buyer’s name on LinkedIn, she used this site to guess the email format and…success! She got in contact with them!
By Vanessa Ting
Of course! Any exposure on national media is always welcomed by buyers. It drives foot traffic to stores, which converts to sales. Plus those reruns are known to drive additional sales lifts when they re-air.
But just landing Shark Tank is not enough. You need to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of it.
Here’s a handy dandy checklist.
After you have taped your show and your air date is assigned, there will be much to do and very little time to do it. With that air date in hand, quickly do the following:
- Announce to your current retail accounts your air date. Check their inventory levels to make sure they are set up to capitalize from your appearance.
- Ask past Shark Tank entrepreneurs what their average store sales lifts were. Cite this data (don’t use company names unless you have permission) to retail buyers. This helps retail buyers determine how many additional units they need to stock to fulfill demand.
- Tell retail buyers you have been courting about the upcoming Shark Tank feature and the date. Give them ship dates (hopefully you heeded Romy’s advice and stock-piled your inventory levels) and order lead times. Tell them what date to send the PO for product to arrive prior to the air date.
–For retail buyers who are “on the fence” about your product line, I would call or send a personal email.
–For retailers where no relationship exists, send them an e-newsletter blast or post card. Don’t forget to inform retailers of their deadline for when they need to send their POs to get shipments in time.
- After your appearance airs, measure the sales lift. Look at your sales on Amazon or your company website. Ask your retailers what sales lifts they got. Measure, measure, measure. You will be citing these results to future retailers as you court them.
To those of you pursuing Shark Tank, good luck!
I’m going a little rogue today. Instead of following Romy’s post about Shark Tank with my own (which I will post soon), I’m sharing this post that originally appeared on my website.
This week, I’ve been training my new consultant, who is FANTASTIC by the way. And her insightful questions have unveiled topics that I haven’t covered in my blogs and should!
So without further ado, here are the different types of retail pitches any product entrepreneur will find themselves using at any point in time. I’ll explain why you need to know these at the end.
Tier 1: “Elevator Pitch” Retail Story. Objective: To gain the initial interest of retail buyers. Length: 30 seconds
Usually this short-form Retail Story (AKA Retail Pitch) covers just the basics. It is a short description of your 1) product, 2) current retail distribution, 3) sales numbers and 4) past marketing success.
For example, “(Target Market) will use (Product X) to (solve this problem). (Product X) is currently sold in (Retailer 1), (Retailer 2) and we are in discussions with (Retailer 3). We average (X) Units Per Store Per Week in sales. Our last marketing feature in (Media Vehicle) drove sales lifts of 150% for our retailers. Do you have a few more minutes to discuss whether our line is a fit with your stores?”
This might be what you use at a trade show when you greet a buyer, sales rep or distributor that visits your booth. Or what you say when you get a buyer on the phone or come across the store manager in a boutique.
Tier 2: “Coffee Pitch” Retail Story. Objective: You have now piqued the buyer’s interest after the Elevator Pitch and have bought a few more minutes with the buyer to discuss further. Imagine you are having a quick informal discussion over coffee or you’ve bought a few more minutes of the buyer’s time during that initial phone call or trade show booth visit. Length: 5 minutes.
The goal here is to offer more context or color commentary on the Elevator Pitch PLUS add a quick reassurance that your vendor execution is up to snuff.
For example, “(Product X) delivers the benefits of (benefit 1) and (benefit 2) and is different from current products in the market because of (Point of Difference). We can deliver these benefits better than our competition because of (Reason To Believe). (Product X) retails for (SRP) and we offer retailer margins of (x%). As for sales, our sales turn of (X) Units Per Store Per Week at (Retailer 1) is higher than the category average and higher than (Competitor 1). Sales have grown (X%) versus last year and we project it to grow another (X%) this year. We have the ability to support sales at shelf with our marketing plan. Past features include (list 3 to 5 key media vehicles) and our next feature will be (media vehicle) on (date). We are reliable vendors and execute well; our vendor scorecard ratings are all in the (% range). I’d love to sit down and walk you through what we propose for your store. Can I set up an appointment?”
Tier 3: “Presentation Pitch” Retail Story. Objective: You have earned a formal appointment with the retail buyer and will now go through a longer, more detailed Retail Story. In this format, you are making a formal business case for how you’ll benefit retailers. Length: 30 minutes
The goal here is to go into detail on your sales history and forecasts, the recommended assortment for that retailer, plus your detailed marketing plan for how to support sales at shelf. You’ll also align your proposals to their merchandising objectives and growth goals with analysis such as ‘how you will add incremental sales to their assortment and not cannibalize current items on shelf’, or ‘how you build basket size through either multiple purchases or cross-purchasing with complementary items’. You will discuss at length vendor execution, inventory management, ship dates, and product testing. You will discuss pricing – SRP, wholesale cost and margin. You may also spend time talking about how to differentiate your product assortment from other retail channels.
I don’t have an example for a “Presentation” Retail Story because it is unique to the retailer you are presenting to and to each business’ strengths and weaknesses. But you can see what a template looks like here. My clients typically send the Retailer Pitch Deck to retailers they are cold-calling or are lukewarm. It’s amazing how often we convert retailers’ interest with the Retailer Pitch Deck.
Finally, why is it important to differentiate these different pitch types in your proverbial ‘sales tool kit’? You have to select the right level of information for the situation you are in. Obviously. But you’ll be surprised how often buyers get turned off because the right information is not succinctly presented to them. Us buyers are impatient folks who get pitched to constantly. Cutting to the chase actually engages us. The categorizations above ensures you tailor your message to the buyer’s frame of mind in the various occasions you might encounter them. And maximize their engagement.
I cannot tell you how often great brands get told “NO” because they don’t tailor their message and just rattle on with information that is not relevant for that particular moment. Buyer’s evaluate brands in stages. It’s a filtering process. So help them filter by organizing your information in a way that aligns with their thought process. If there is one way you can make a buyer’s life better ( and I’m pleading after years of frustration with bad pitches), it is to organize your pitch and tailor your message to the buyer.
Your buyers/retailers care about their bottom line, as they should. If that means you are driving sales to their doors, then yes you should consider a show like Shark Tank that has approximately 7 million viewers and can create some amazing brand awareness, thus driving consumers to your retailers’ doors.
That said, your chances of making it on air are very slim due to tens of thousands of others applying. Additionally, your readiness to appear on air has to also be closely managed. Timing is sometimes everything – you want to make sure that you are fully ready to leverage such an opportunity and that means having a solid infrastructure and inventory readily available (i.e. you have the resources to produce that inventory).
So, are you ready to apply? Consider the following when answering that question. Do you have the time to apply? If you are already strapped for time, the answer may already be no and you can stop reading this blog post. The process is time consuming. If you apply and are invited to go to the next round(s), they include submitting a video, a ton of paperwork, researching the Sharks (you want to know who you are pitching to), familiarizing yourself with your financials so that you know them inside and out, practicing your pitch, a lot of communication with your assigned producers, travel, etc. If you film (and there are no guarantees that you will film even after going through the above steps), there is the time between filming and airing (and there are no guarantees that you will make it on air). Between the time of filming and airing, you will need to prepare for many steps (keep reading) – and you will have to make a leap of faith that you will air because there is not enough time to wait until you “know” that you will air. You will likely be given 2-3 weeks’ notice that you will appear on air. With this short lead time, consider the following short list readiness factors:
- Is your web site prepared for the traffic (highly likely not) so you will need to get this all dialed in.
- Do you have the inventory on hand to sell directly from your web site and/or ready to ship to your retailers should they request some in advance and/or wait to post airing and then suddenly want your product shipped pronto? This means investing in the inventory. Do you have the cash to do so? No one wants to wait for product. Not consumers and not retailers. Don’t put yourself in the situation of being in “reactive” mode and aggravate everyone in the process.
- There are a lot of emails, social media posts, and phone calls that will follow in the days and weeks post airing. Do you have the support staff to handle these communications and stay on top of your day to day operations?
Ask yourself: Do you have the bandwidth to leverage and fully maximize these opportunities? Opportunities include inquiries from press, retailers, distributors, investors, etc. It’s super exciting! But, would you be better served applying to the show next season? That’s for you to answer.
Building a brand is an ongoing effort though. So, whether you have a great platform like Shark Tank to spread the word, most companies won’t have this unique opportunity. So, like everything, stay the course and build your brand over time. Create a story and build upon it. Your retailers want to know that you are a partner for the long term. Show them visually how you are generating awareness for your brand over time. Example: http://psibands.com/press.html
From the Buyer’s Perspective: I have all these retailers who want my product line. How do I prioritize?
By Vanessa Ting
What a great problem to have! No, really – it can be a problem.
Last week, I was at Target HQ to present a line that recently launched in market. How they were invited to Target for a line review is actually a crazy story. They launched in Spring 2014 at a trade show at which a Target buyer stopped by their booth and collected information. Fast forward a couple months later, out of the blue, they received a call from (a different) Target buyer inviting them to Minneapolis to present their line for consideration for the 2015 assortment.
Let me be clear. This rarely happens.
So what does a new brand do when a huge retailer is knocking on their door?
I’ll answer that in a second.
While my clients were excited by the prospect of selling in Target stores in their first year in market, I was afraid for them. As we prepared for the meeting, they began to realize what selling to any large retailer would entail. They had to figure out:
- How to negotiate lower ingredient costs to meet Target’s margin requirements
- Get a new manufacturer who could handle Target volume and do so with short order lead times.
- Get a new warehouse, fulfillment, logistics and distribution system set up without any shipment history to base price quotes on. And get those costs down to meet Target’s margin requirements.
- Get an expert in supply chain and inventory management on staff to manage operations.
- Get EDI compliant.
- How to battle the low brand awareness typical of new brands and how to scale up their marketing quickly in order to support national retail distribution
- $$$$ to: fund these large inventory orders, pay for all supply chain partners, fund their marketing plan, and to hire their supply chain expert.
- And after all that, their profit margins were shockingly slim.
All of a sudden, selling to Target sounded like a scary and financially risky idea to my clients.
And this is why it is rarely good to sell to a large retailer immediately. In fact, not only does it behoove brands to hold off on big retail, but to scale up smartly, slowly, and be choosy about which retailers you sell to and when.
What is a smart way to prioritize retailers? In short, a smart way takes into account:
- Diversifying your cash flow so that you are not dependent on one retailer to be providing your cash flow
- A retailer that allows you to grow your brand building momentum and is well matched with your current brand awareness levels
- Retailers that will give you sales history, which is the “currency” needed to sell to larger retailers.
- Retailers that are within range of your infrastructure and operational capabilities.
I have a framework called a Strategic Retailer Roadmap that is appropriate for brands 0-3 years old. One feature of the Roadmap is that it breaks retailers into 3 broad categories or Account Types:
- Prestige builders (retailers that are pre-trend and get your product in front of influencers, but may not have high store count)
- Revenue drivers (retailers that have a lot of doors AKA store count but may not be brand enhancing for your products. They are not brand diluting either)
- Key accounts are retailers that hit the sweet spot between the above two categories.
I’m simplifying things here for the blog. In reality, the Strategic Retailer Roadmap has more facets to it. But each brand needs to identify the right level of penetration within each Account Type for each stage of growth (e.g., Phase 1, Phase 2, etc). I create these Strategic Retailer Roadmaps for clients who are getting tons of calls from retailers but don’t know how to prioritize them or for brands trying to decide which retailers to go after first. It has helped provide them with clarity, has broken the growth stage into smaller digestible steps, and minimized the feelings of overwhelm.
So brands, if there is a takeaway from this blog post, let it be this: Build a plan for how you will grow your retail distribution and reference it often. When a retailer calls, see where they fit in the plan and do the math to see if you can handle the financial risk of taking on that account. And do NOT be afraid to say no. Ultimately, saying “no” is the defining difference between smart profitable companies and companies that seem like “overnight successes” but then crash and burn. Which one will you be?