The answer to almost every question is, of course, ‘it depends’. I contribute regularly to the constant debate about the validity of relationship selling. A lot of sales directors believe that building a strong relationship is imperative, because in their youth it worked for them. But in fmcg, things have moved on, guys! These buyers are now under immense pressure to deliver category results and their job description does not include being friendly to your teams. That said, you know that there are times when it does all seem to be great - for example, when you are a start-up with an offering that increases the buyer’s turnover and margin. Truth is, it depends on the situation.
Delegates at a recent Grocer conference were addressed by several successful young companies with words of wisdom about how they got on well with their buyers. They also had all launched into categories with a unique, premium offering.
So when you offer a means of pressurising existing suppliers and a way to help a buyer meet his targets, he will like you - funny, that. However, once you are part of the base, this changes. At the same event I chatted to James Averdieck, founder of Gü. He had just finished his talk, and had mentioned how in the early days, he had found Sainsbury’s and Waitrose to be very supportive, but admitted to me that the loveliness didn’t last long!
In Tesco, they formally train buyers on their version of ‘tough love’ and ‘periodical power play’. This systemic abuse involves engaging you to support their category while your competitor is pressurised. During this phase, many sales directors believe they have a great relationship and budget for next year on the basis of this success. Big mistake, because it’s your turn over the cliff next. There is nothing illegal here, just excellent aggressive buying practice executed to perfection.
Learn to deal with it. An obsession with old-fashioned relationship gets in the way for many. Strive instead for business rapport-built respect, service reputation and a pipeline of insight to grow the category. If you can deliver that, you don’t even need to be likeable. But even then, does life become easy.