Sell What They Need: Common Mistakes Account Managers Make #2

Start Selling Buyers What They Need

Written by Darren A. Smith for KamCity.

Businessman and businessman negotiating sales
Sell what buyers need

No.2: Don’t Sell What You Have –Sell What They Need

Don’t Fall for a Feature Fest

The very low point of my week as a supermarket buyer often came at 4pm on a wet, dull, winter Thursday.

Having already had seven boring – to the point of wanting to chew your own feet off –  presentations from suppliers that day, up comes number eight, the last of the day – what a relief!

The NAM quite literally bounds into the room like Tigger on speed, super excited and hyper-energetic – so much so that you wonder what are they are on? – and please can I have some!

In their breathless excitement they manage to multi-task shaking hands, setting up a laptop, projector and screen and extracting various calculators, pens and note pads from their case. All whilst bombarding you with the most teeth achingly dull and predictable opening question ever created – ‘So tell me, how’s business?’

There then follows the most depressing noise a buyer will ever hear. The hefty, dull, thud of a 150-page presentation deck onto the table. Now it’s no longer your feet you want to chew off.

The presentation proceeds, a muddy trudge of one way trench warfare, a barrage of seemingly random facts, figures and features. A true pebble dash of every possible feature of their wonderful, phenomenal, groundbreaking, earth-shattering new product, initiative or plan.

Little wonder buyers have a reputation for getting bored and playing silly tactical games such as yawning, playing on their phones, walking out or even throwing the supplier out!

What are Their True Needs?

The art of successful selling is to not sell what you have but sell what someone needs.

If you can find what truly motivates your buyer and match that or those needs to a feature of your product or plan then your sell should be a shoe-in. Plus it will take less than 10 slides and under 20 minutes of your and their time – relief all round!

Let’s take a very simple hypothetical example. Let’s sell a 500ml bottle of premium branded still bottled mineral water with a suitably posh French sounding name – ‘Perrian’ – to two very different buyers.

Bottled water on a beach
Hypothetical bottled water pitch

Our first buyer is a light aircraft pilot who tragically crash landed over the Sahara Desert three days ago.  Is he interested in a 150-page feature fest detailing the provenance of the brand, the fact that the water is filtered to purity for 10,000 years through the snow covered rocks of the Alps, the way the bottle is moulded to evoke warm memories of Mont Blanc on a perfect winter sunrise?

NO! – he needs to rehydrate quickly or he will die – he needs water! – and at what price? – well in this instance once you have pointed out that your bottle of water will rehydrate him and save his life he will quite clearly pay any price you name.


Now let us take our second hypothetical buyer – remember our product – ‘Perrian’ – does not change.

Here we have a young chap who works in the financial services industry in beautiful Milan. He earns around 3 million Euros a year, always likes to be seen wearing the latest and best Armani suits and Ray Ban shades whilst he takes his leisurely two hour lunch at a super trendy sidewalk restaurant in the heart of the historic city centre.

Does our buyer number two need life saving rehydration?

NO! – he needs to be sold the super premiumness of the brand, as voted Europe’s trendiest water by Vogue magazine for five years running, as exclusively drunk by celebrity X and La Liga superstar Y and with calcium and other minerals that help keep a perfect youthful complexion.

So avoid the pebble dash, feature fest – it will just bore the pants off your buyers and do no justice to all the hard work you and the bigger team have put into your product or idea.

Spend time finding out their needs, what drives and motivates them and then sell the features or parts of your product or idea that best meet those needs and as we have just seen, if you can nail a ‘killer need’, something they absolutely have to have to meet a core need, then your sell is done and price becomes almost immaterial

What Needs do I Sell Against and Where Do I Find Them?

There are three types of need you can sell against – Business, Shopper and Personal needs – each can be as important as the other or used in combination depending on how important the needs are to the individual buyer and how well your product or idea meets them.

1. Business Needs

Two businessmen shaking hands
One of the types of needs you can sell against is Business

Business needs are those commercial business drivers that make a supermarket business successful.  There are clearly the generic, timeless ones: Sales, Margin, Share, Availability, Price Competitiveness etc etc.  However, you need to find which are currently top of their agenda so that your sell comes across as fresh, up to the minute and dynamic.

So where to look?  Well the good old internet is a great place to start particularly if the customer is a PLC.  Go to the investor relations section of their corporate website.  You will find a whole wealth of information about their plans and strategies.  They have to report performance to their investors –  the City –  every 12 weeks, so there is always a ‘Plan’ – be it a 3 step, 5 step, 7 step, growth, recovery, springboard or transformational plan – whatever it is it will be detailed in easy to understand and digest, PR speak.

Key Strategies

Play back any of these plans and strategies that your product or plan dovetails with to your buyer and it is a very brave or foolhardy buyer who says the corporate strategy is wrong!

Other great sources of business needs are people! – talk to your buyer, use advanced questioning techniques to garner the key information you need.  Speak to store managers and colleagues – they love to have a ‘whinge’ about what Head Office, sorry the ‘Support Centre’ is up to.

Keep fully up to date with the latest changes – their businesses change by the hour and day – particularly so in these increasingly challenging times – have an up to date news feed for the industry – NamNews why not! – and read it regularly.

2. Shopper Needs

Selling effectively against the needs of their shoppers is the new ‘gold rush’ of 21st century selling and something you cannot avoid or bury your head in the sand against – it is quite literally transforming the traditional roles of buying and selling.

Close of of woman with shopping bags
The second type of needs to sell against is Shopper Needs

The explosion of data derived from shopper loyalty programmes – Clubcard, Nectar, Sparks Card etc. etc. – has exponentially increased the amount of detailed behavioural data the big supermarkets and online players have about their shoppers – your customers.

Once they have captured a shoppers postcode and permission they can link the contents of their shopping basket not just to each other – nappies are most often bought with 4 pack lager?! – but to demographic, life stage, life style, affluence, health etc. etc.

The new 21st century ‘Gold Rush’ is the ability to take this unimaginably huge mass of data that has been collected and sift and sort it for ‘nuggets’ of insight that point to what drives shoppers to purchase what in particular and where – i.e. their needs.

Shopper Loyalty

All the supermarkets are locked in a battle for shopper loyalty.  Loyal shoppers are the cheapest to market to – they are quite literally in their stores.  They are the most profitable, spending, by definition, the largest proportion of their weekly grocery needs with that particular supermarket and with over 80% of UK grocery controlled by the big 5 there is little growth to be had elsewhere by either geographic expansion or shopper switching.

So, loyalty and driving the value spent by loyal shoppers is the key battleground of UK grocery retailing.  Those suppliers that present solutions to shopper needs that drive incremental sales and profit are those suppliers getting the new line listings and growing their own volumes – and hopefully profits too.

Unfortunately supermarket shopper data does not come cheap and perversely often prevents those very suppliers they are trying to encourage – the small, innovative, unique, point of difference (as opposed to Taste the Difference!) brands and products – from accessing the shopper data that would better inform even more targeted product initiatives.

As a supplier, you need to jump on board the insight bandwagon in whichever way you can – garner what data you can or can afford and find those shopper insights, those shopper needs that your product or idea can fulfil – an open door will await.

3. Personal Needs

It may not always seem the case but your Buyers are human! They have the same basic career and job drivers as everyone else – to progress, to look good, to be the best, to be recognised and rewarded for effort and success.

Selling against a buyer’s personal career and job drivers is not always the easiest to identify. Yet alone sell against but get it right and it becomes hugely effective. Quite literally getting to the core of what they are about, what drives them.

Much easier to help out a young, keenly ambitious buyer in their early career rather than trying to motivate the 30 year veteran who is simply clinging on the accrue the final pieces of that now extinct final salary pension.

A Buyer Who Will Love You

However, get it right, meet the right personal needs at the right time with the right solution. You will have a buyer who will quite literally love you and your brands for ever.

It has almost reached urban mythical status. But the very astute NAM who arranged to bring six examples of his brand icon – cute, white, Labrador puppies – to a ‘puppy petting session’ at a very large supermarkets Head Office right in the middle of particularly difficult negotiations managed to create a moment of opportunity by quite literally ‘softening’ the other side up.

Head Office sampling events, sponsored canteen lunches, giveaways in store, win a ‘Mini’ shopper competitions. Anything that is exciting and different but most crucially allows a young, ambitious and competitive buyer to tap out the…… ‘To All Staff’ email – showing what a bright, talented, going places young executive they are by arranging something so novel.

And you never know they may just get that one email reply they really want, from the CEO or MD with a …..‘well done young man/lady. Just the sort of person who will go far in this business. You must drop by for a quick coffee and chat – speak to my assistant’.

When Fishing – Choose the Right Hook

Close up of fishing pole
Choose the right hook

Effective selling is about meeting needs. Which feature, aspect or element of your product or proposition best meets their most important Business, Shopper or Personal needs?

Think of it like fishing. You don’t go out to catch a shark with a fly fishing hook. You don’t go to catch a trout with a huge great anchor sized hook.

Choose the right hook for the fish you want to land. It’s then as simple as slowly reeling them in. Using less than 10 slides and in under 20 minutes and not asking them ‘So how’s business?’ – pleeeeese!

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