Thinking About a Career in Sales or Just Started?

Because I work in a big-fish company we get A LOT of sales calls and meetings from A LOT OF PEOPLE and it can get overbearing hearing pitch after pitch.

After hearing hundreds of pitches, getting hundreds of phone calls, and a bunch of other annoying things, here’s what I’ve concluded.

Why I buy things from some people and not others

It really all comes down with how unique your product is and how awesome the sales rep is. That’s all. Those two factors are the yin and yang for getting me to buy things.

You might have the best product in the world but if you are unresponsive, downright rude, or mess up even once, you leave a terrible impression to whomever’s buying.

Conversely, a salesperson who knows how to read people and cater to their needs in a non-annoying way has the best outcome to success even if their product is not very unique. That’s because talking to the salesperson is more convenient or even more enjoyable to talk to. This however, is not a surefire way to win.

So this article distils what I look for when looking into innovative products and inspiring people.

I’ll be using a lot of examples on flavor houses because they are an industry that is decently commoditized and use their high margins to assist their sales reps.

As a disclaimer, I’m not a salesperson, but I am someone you should sell to. The one who makes decisions and I can guarantee there are other people who have this thought process.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Having your product do the talking takes a load off the sales person. If your product is (proprietary) unique, or even better, has clinical data, and case studies that prove something, then your product has pretty much done the work for you. It’s just your job to be knowledgeable enough to answer any questions when you pitch the product.

I’ve seen amazing products get sold by mediocre salespeople because the product is a must have. Even if the customer service is terrible, because their product is superior, I have to commit.

This gets frustrating when the people who sell this USP Product runs out of material because they bit off more than they could chew.

One example of this was a pea protein project I did. I had to sample about 20 different types of pea proteins to try and replace one that was equivalent to the pea protein that was running out of stock. Unfortunately, none of the pea proteins were a match. In fact, I was quite disappointed that most companies pedaled the exact same Chinese pea protein and the sales person AND our purchasing team were too apathetic to even look into it.

Timing is everything

In most situations, I’ve bought things because another supplier craps out on us or we need something quick. If the alternative delivers, then they have a huge chance of getting it all.

I’ve known a couple of companies in general who gives turnarounds in times of crisis. In times of need, the salesperson keeps distant yet constant contact on us and when someone say, runs out of an ingredient, we call on them.

This leads to a compound effect when you factor in the fact that the more connected you are in the food industry, the more, chips you have on the table. My CSO always references people when we have an ingredient problem. Heck, now I start to reference people when we have an ingredient problem.

There are several tactics to get into this position and that’s mainly planting seeds and getting on people’s radar. This is a delicate balance of sending Christmas cards versus calling once a week to ask for an update. But let’s think more innovative.

A very popular saleswomen helps her IFT section to the point where she made it a hip, young place for food professionals to be. These 24-30 year old food scientists will remember this saleswoman because she is always there putting her all in these events expecting nothing in return. So if 50 people go to these events, and they have a great time and remember her, then she now has connections that can potentially help her through the rest of her career.

Once in a while, you get an unexpected sale from someone you met a long time ago. Over time, this adds up, especially if you’re a hotshot in the industry. Thanks for connecting.


The more memorable you are, the better

Great salespeople are inviting, welcoming and most importantly, memorable.

My most memorable experience was from a flavor vendor who got a couple of SKU’s from us. We always meet her in conferences and her products were ok.

However, my perception changed completely when I went to IFT16. It was in Chicago and I went to Girl and Goat. Funny story, I came from 2 other mixers that night so I wasn’t super hungry.

I am so glad I went.

It was a private room in the basement surrounded by wine. Apparently, Adele was there a week ago. Then we had about a 9 course meal with the best food I ever ate. Octopus salad, their favorite green beans, and a whole leg of goat with 6 different sauces and unlimited pita bread. Being a wine expert, the saleswoman kept on pouring. This was an imprint on probably the best meal I ever ate.

And she does this every time when we visit her. My coworkers and I want to buy her products because she imprinted a phenomenal memory in our heads. And that’s why she is the top saleswoman in a certain industry. Everyone in my industry knows her!

Whether or not you think it’s unfair is ok. Pharma got caught doing this (though it was more extreme in those days). Point being, probably the best way to invest in a client is to imprint a very pleasant memory.

It doesn’t even have to be an extravagant dinner. I ask for flavors for this one company because they give bomb-ass pens and tins of organic candy. They get business once in a while, actually quite often. There are several salespeople that I just find fun to be around and this gives them amazing leverage.

What makes you memorable? Is it your personality or the way you can work a room? I think that’s more important than people think. For me, if you have impeccable taste in restaurants, you’re on the top of the list.

Though there are signs of schmoozing in this segment, most sales people don’t take advantage of making the customer feel special and maybe they shouldn’t if we’re not a top prospect. However, the good salespeople who do go all out, I hear their names pop up all the time.

The less annoying you are, the better.

But how annoying is too annoying? I think there is a point.

Factors I find annoying:

  • A lot of talk about yourself
  • A lot of badmouthing other people
  • A lot of up selling on a product
  • Your voice

So every person is different and a lot of technical people fall into two camps. They’re either very honest or very nice and then talk smack about you after you’re gone. It’s very easy for me to express my disinterest when a vendor is either boring, or has a boring product. Just look at my face. This might be why a lot of salespeople go to the purchasing department because the leverage there is just being a good person and nothing about being a good product.

However, conversely, a lot of sales people are trained to be tenacious. In fact, a common quote is that most meetings are scheduled after the 7th or so call. I’ve also had this happen where if a salesperson keeps on trying, I let them have their meeting. It’s a good form of tenacity and you have to admire it. It’s something I dislike, but it strangely works. Keep annoying me. Why not?

Customer Service is EVERYTHING

I have a lot of friends in the industry, and I try to find a use for their products but sometimes you just can’t because the product is not special enough for our consideration. Ok, nice, another fiber. Another sweetener. Another whey protein. Is this fiber EU GMO compliant? Can you give me documents in a week? How about a day? How about samples? How about case studies? Will it run out in 6 months? If you surprise me and get it to me in a day, then that shows a uniqueness not only in your product, but more so in your company

Inconvenience kills the thought process. The faster you are in answering questions, supplying information, getting documents and sending samples, the more we will absolutely love you.

The faster you give people stuff, the more they will likely go back to you again.

Our biggest partner in the flavor realm delivers a huge amount of quality. They (used to) deliver flavors in a couple days, give us all of our documents the next week, and the sales rep would always diligently ask if we needed anything. This type of service makes us keep on buying because they are reliable and their flavors are quite good.

But customer service won’t overcome a good product. I’ve had flavor houses demonstrate excellent customer services, training courses, and good people but they just could not win out over when comparing their product to the competitor.

I can’t fathom how hard it is to be a salesperson in a food ingredient company because the factors it takes to actually get someone to not only buy your product, but also see if that product will be successful.

I hope these tips help overcome one hurdle: the grumpy technical person.

Author: Adam Yee

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