Customer relationships will continue to evolve in 2022
Since the onset of the pandemic the interaction you have with retailers and distributors has changed a lot. There have been some positives and some negatives, but it is the new reality and it will continue to change in 2022. We experienced a period where there was more cooperation as retailers and suppliers were working closer together just to get food to stores, but that period is now over. We are all working to manage through the pandemic as it drags on. Costs are increasing and logistics are challenging. Retailers understand the issues, but they want product for their stores.
Between now and the end of 2021, we will share 10 SKUFood insights to help you make the most of 2022. We try to help you see the entire value chain and prepare your business to respond to changing customers and consumers. Each week we will share a different theme and some ideas and opportunities for you to consider.
There are some positives to online meetings
Many of your customers are still working remotely or they have a modified schedule where they are expected to be in the office 2-3 days per week. Employers are all trying to find the optimal solution. There are benefits to the new reality:
1. You should be able to schedule more frequent but perhaps shorter meetings online.
2. Your costs are reduced with no travel expenses and these meetings require considerably less time than they used to.
3. You can have more people from your business participate. In the past you would not incur the extra expense but now it is not an issue.
4. You can develop relationships with people working at your customer in different departments. In this new world retailers seem to be more willing to open the door to these relationships in areas such as food safety, logistics, product development etc.
5. People are more focused in shorter, content filled meetings.
6. If you are working in a project such as a plant expansion you can provide regular updates.
7. You might meet more people from the retailer’s business. My experience has been they might have 4-6 people on a call which was not the practice in face to face meetings.
8. Depending on where you are you can share information about a region they are not travelling to.
9. You can actually get to know people better when they are taking calls from home. I now know category manager’s kids and pets!
Bonus: You don’t have to wait in the waiting room with all of the other suppliers for them to come and get you.
The elimination of face to face does present challenges
We all do miss being in the same room. There have been many advances in the online video conference, but it still is just not the same.
1. If you have a new category manager, it is tough the first few times online. Try to find some information about them in advance and request some other people like assistant category managers who know you or your business.
2. It can be difficult to read body language online. The first requirement is to have them turn on the camera. Some are great for this and others are not. If they do not have the camera on you can ask them if they can see you, because you can’t see them. Often this will be enough but you might have to just come out and ask them. Band width can be an issue in some areas which just makes it impossible.
3. Sampling is an important part of your relationship with customers. You will have to send product in advance and try to find opportunities to make it an event. You might have to partner with a company in the same city as the retailer to deliver and share your samples. There can be complications, but think of the money you are saving when you do not have to drive or fly to the meeting.
4. You do not learn as much about their business because the contact is limited to the people on the call. I used to learn a lot from just being in the office with them. Remember to ask more questions about how work is going and what is happening in their business. Make notes and build on this in future meetings. You are building a relationship one session at a time.
5. The chance to meet at your facility is much lower now. Use video and photos to illustrate what is happening in your business. This can be more effective than the ‘plant tour’. You can show them what you want them to see.
6. Technology can be a challenge. There are a number of video conference platforms out there and you need to know which one your customer wants to use. Chances are you will need to master a few platforms. It pays big dividends to practice and become proficient. Small things like having the settings correct for sharing videos and other options make a big difference. Keep the meeting focused on where you want it to go. We practice a lot at SKUFood to make sure we have it right. We have all had to learn a lot.
7. Internet connection is a big issue. Many places are challenged with band width or inconsistent performance. If you are leery about your Internet connection you might have to find a better place to conduct the meeting. We know the technology companies say WiFi is great but there is something comforting about the ethernet cable being connected to the computer. We would always recommend a wired in connection if you can. If you are away hotels do not always have the best Internet. Test to make sure before you are committed to connecting from a hotel.
8. You want to see them, but they need to see you too. Take the time to create a good set up for video calls. You do not have to invest a fortune, but a decent webcam and some inexpensive lights will make a big difference. Keep your background simple and make sure there is no light behind you. It is distracting for your customer if they cannot see you properly.
Trade shows have really changed
Industry events and trade shows were always an opportunity to continue developing relationships with existing customers and meet new ones. Most have shifted to online platforms. They are different but can be effective when you learn how to use them.
There are often far more people participating from the retailer side because the costs and interruptions are much more manageable. Similar to video calls learn the platform and take advantage of the functionality. Most have video conference capability now and you will have to initiate the conversation, but most are willing to talk if you start.
One advantage of the virtual trade show world is you can research people in the moment. When you are in person and someone comes to your booth you don’t have time to check their LinkedIn profile. Now you do and you can learn about them quickly to help with the conversation.
Platforms like RangeMe are becoming more prevalent
With more interaction shifting to online you will need a great presence on applications such as RangeMe. Your customers are there and you need to have a great presence that reflects your brand positioning..
If you have any questions or require help connecting with your customers virtually, you can always send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (902) 489-2900.
As we approach a new calendar year, we will continue to share insights to help you position your business for increased success in 2022.
“We build customer relationships differently, not better or worse but differently”
If you see things happening let us know so we can share them with our community. We also want to hear if you find this helpful and benefits your food and beverage business!
Shopping for food and beverage can be theatre
Johnnie Walker premium scotch has launched a 3D 4K artificial intelligence holograph to complement their display at an LCBO store. This display can interact with consumers and will probably attract a lot of attention.
We can’t all afford a 3D holograph but we do need to find opportunities to interact with consumers and bring some entertainment to food and beverage. Challenge your business and find innovative ideas within your sales and promotion budget.
If you happen to be in the LCBO store on Spadina in Toronto let us know what you think!
The pandemic impacting labour agreements and relations
We have heard about the challenges in many of our food processing facilities during the pandemic. We believe this will continue for some time to come. Cargill are trying to come to an agreement with their work force. We also see Chapmans Ice Cream dealing with a situation where they offered vaccinated workers a premium and there is backlash from both sides of the vaccination debate.
Your work force is so valuable so make sure you are doing what is reasonable to keep them working and safe. If you do see challenges on the horizon communicate with your customers.
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