If you are a food broker or on the sales team of a manufacturer, you have an important role to play in nurturing your business relationships. With regular sales routines and on site visits on pause or with an uncertain start up date in the near future, it’s understandably easy to be distracted by business aspects that are out of your control. But the effort you put into building your customer relationships now will outlast this strange time of transition.
Focus on Conversations not Conversions
The tension of having sales quotas but also dealing with extreme economic hardships is as real as ever. Especially this summer, your accounts are simply not in a place to make new purchases. Perhaps they have laid people off, or had to close due to restrictions, or are just beginning to return to more normal business hours as the country phases back open. In these circumstances, it is not the time to do a hard sell. Take the time to talk to your customers and see where they are at. Ask them questions about how they have been affected, what they are currently struggling with, and if they have had to adapt their business in a new way moving forward. Frame your conversations as a way for you to be a resource or helping hand. If you care about their predicament, it will go a long way in building trust. Empathy goes a long way.
Provide Value and Be Innovative
Now that you’ve heard how your customers are pivoting or what their struggles are, you can provide value where appropriate. If you have products that align with how your customers are adapting or successful ideas you’ve seen work with other businesses, it might be the time to share- but only if you feel it’s truly beneficial. Make sure to read up on industry reopening practices and recommendations so you are aware of the challenges your customers face.
In a recent article, Food Management believes that “self-service stations and touchpoints like soups, salads and yogurt bars will be greatly reduced, if not removed completely.” This means you might need to provide products that are grab and go, easy to assemble, or work well for take out. Some restaurants are adding self-service fresh markets. Take stock of the products you have and how you can leverage them to help your customer’s bottom line.
Err on the Side of Over-Communication
One tip straight from Women in Food Service is to err on the side of over communication. “It can get a bit exhausting constantly sharing, updating and clarifying up, down and across the organization. But the time you invest in communicating (even when all you can share is that no further updates are available) is likely to drive high returns. Remember that a key part of effective communication is listening.”
If you are working on a large sale or perhaps developing a new food program with an operator, continue communicating all the details and updates regularly. In a time of confusion and uncertainty, having extra details and updates puts your customer at ease and empowers them with the information they need to make important decisions.
Leverage your tools to improve customer experience
If you are using a CRM solution, like the Food Sales Enablers integrated platform, you are able to track when customers were contacted last and filter those who have not been contacted in over 60, 90, or 120 days, for example. This can give you and your sales team an idea of accounts to focus on, and prioritize those who have recently purchased from you and those who need a check-in.
Setting a regular cadence of outreaches ensures you stay up to date with everyone. Using your product catalog, send customers spec sheets quickly and easily. Be proactive! If an operator usually purchases a specific SKU, or maybe they’ve adjusted their offerings and a newer product that would be a better fit – compile an email with relevant spec sheets attached and a quick note to let your customers know you are thinking about them.
Whatever you do during this time as a [business] is how your customers will feel about you for years to come.
-Ashley Stachura from Ingram Micro
Focusing on gathering information and building customer relationships during this period of uncertainty will strengthen your connection when business ramps up again.