Great relationships do not just happen.
Great relationships do not happen just because you have a great product.
Relationships with customers are the result of a lot of work and take time to develop. So often when we see a producer or a processor’s business, they view the customer (retailers) as an intermediary between their great product and consumers. This mindset usually results in problems.
It is not easy, which is why you need to work at the relationship all the time and you need a plan. Following a strategy of reacting to whatever happens is not a plan and you will not maximize the opportunity for your business. It can be frustrating but in the end the results are usually better.
In the alignment column in our C.A.R.T. process we ask the question; What is your plan to communicate and develop the relationship?
You can plan to communicate
You should have a plan to communicate to every customer. Use the calendar and plan the right amount of communication for your business. If you are a small vendor with a few SKUS then you should communicate once per month. If you are a large vendor with many SKUS then the frequency of communication needs to increase to at least two times per month. Focus on the key selling periods for your products and work in advance and also follow up from each of those periods. That might provide you with 4-6 opportunities with a note in advance and one after the sales period.
Look at the industry trade show calendar. Every category or department has 1-3 events per year. You can communicate in advance or during these events. You can share your virtual booth in this world we are living in now or perhaps something you are launching or improving in relation to the trade show. Remember to do this from their perspective, not yours. A new piece of equipment is interesting to you in your business but how does it impact them? Better shelf life, reduced shrink from damaged product?
Right now industry events are not happening like golf tournaments or dinners but some have switched to virtual formats. Make sure you include any of these in your communications plan.
You should plan when you need to meet with your customers. Our experience has been it is easier in the virtual world to meet with category managers. Most are working remotely and they seem to have more time. Perhaps they are not being sucked into endless meetings that are not very productive (you didn’t hear that from me!). Your meetings can be shorter and more frequent, if required. Remember to learn the technology your customers want to use. Some are good with using zoom and others might want to use Microsoft Teams. Research these platforms and you probably need more than the free version. They are not too costly and when you have the paid version you have more options to increase the professional image you portray.
Develop the relationship
You have a communication plan which is great. In the suggestions we shared, you should have at least 12 points of communication through the year. Make the communication count and you should always have a purpose. Every year when you do your annual planning consider the relationship and what you need to work on with each customer. It can be different, depending on the retailer and the category manager.
Trust or confidence is not built in one or two emails or virtual meetings! It is a journey.
To really develop the relationship, consider the priorities of your customers and what they have told you about the definition of success we discussed last week. Perhaps service level and sales have been identified as priorities. If they are, let them know how things are going. They manage hundreds or thousands of SKUS and they might not have checked on yours. If you agreed success was a 95% service level, track the numbers and share the results.
Most food producers and processors are making changes and improvements all the time in their business. You should share these with your customers but remember to relate this to their point of view. Help them understand what it means for them. Labour is a big concern for many to get products produced. Share your plan and how you propose to overcome this challenge. Retailers want to work with proactive suppliers who find solutions so they have inventory when and where they want it.
Great relationships do not just ‘happen’
Keep a file folder in your drawer, or on your computer if you prefer, for each customer. Every time you receive an email, see something in an industry publication or when things change in your business, consider if it deserves a note in the file. You are busy, you mange multiple customers. When you can add a quick note to a file you create content for your communication that will help develop the relationship.
No news is not good news. It amazes me how many suppliers believe as long as the PO’s keep coming that they are doing fine. You will not always get an answer back from your customers when you communicate but that does not mean stop communicating. Relationships are built over time and you need to work at it. A response is a small victory, celebrate it!
Every time your category manager changes you need to consider starting all over again. Never assume the previous category manager will share anything about your business. Think of this as job security, it keeps you busy!
We are always searching for opportunities to help your business
With consumers spending more time online than ever your digital marketing needs to be effective and innovative. Influencers can be a component of your strategy. Influencers work individually so it can be a challenge to find the right one and understand what they do.
Check out this website to get a sense of what is out there. This is essentially an online marketplace for influencers. Like an Amazon for influencers! Many are U.S. based but it does give you an idea of what is out there and how they work.
If you have any questions about how to get your local products on the shelf or in the shopping cart you can always call me at (902) 489-2900 or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.