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Musings on the Foodservice Industry

DSRs can boost their value by focusing on customers’ needs

At a time when some “links” in the foodservice supply chain are belittling the value of distributor sales reps, veteran salesmanship consultant and author Bob Oros advises DSRs to turn the tables around by being creative and focusing on their customers’ needs.

Oros advises DSRs to use the Amazon approach – know what operators want before they do by asking, listening and engaging them in a conversation.

“Find out by careful listening and questioning what your customer wants and let them know that you are sincerely interested in helping them get it,” he offered.

According to Oros, the true purpose of a consultative salesperson is to find out what the customers want and then help them get it.

“To accomplish this, you have to listen more that you talk. If you can get your customer to talk enough, they simply cannot disguise their real goals and real motives. They may try as hard as they can, but invariably they will ‘give themselves away.’  When they do – you have the key,” he explained to The Food Connector.

Using a counter-intuitive example, Oros noted that operators’ objections to a sales meetings should not dampen a DSR’s enthusiasm. In fact, he said, they are the customer’s way of asking for a sales conversation.

“Most people like to be called on by sales people. Many times their current suppliers are neglecting them, taking the business for granted. By making the call and giving them the attention that may be missing, leaves the door wide open for you,” Oros said.

Oros said many restaurant owners or buyers are bored, tired of hearing or seeing the same thing over and over again, distracted by their daily routines and looking for some excitement. An encounter with a stimulating but credible DSR could even drive them to boost their purchases and sales.

“Why don’t you be the one to fill that need? Get excited about your products and services and ‘make their day’ by making the call,” he suggested.

Opening the door that was just slammed in the DSR’s face may also reveal an incorrect sales approach, Oros continued. A new tactic will help boost DSRs’ value and tone down restaurateurs’ lament about their reps’ nonchalant behavior about their businesses.

Rather than visiting the office before an appointment, gathering brochures, filling the brief case with samples, getting a complete product list, taking your laptop, and even asking a colleague to accompany you, Oros recommended that the DSR go it alone. In other words, make the cold call really cold.

“Why do you bring all this stuff with you and why do you invite someone to go along?  You might be thinking that the reason is to be prepared,” Oros asked. “But the real answer is that you lack confidence. That’s tough to swallow but it is the truth. Having all this stuff and bringing someone with you falsely assures you that you will have something to talk about.”

Oros’ formula for sales success will simultaneously boost the DSR’s importance. “Your job is not to talk, but to listen. Not to present, but to ask questions,” he said.

By not taking anything along, Oros continued, the DSR lowers the prospects’ defenses. “This takes courage because most sales people are taught that their job is to ‘show and tell.’  When you walk into an account ‘unarmed’ and simply ask permission to ask a few questions, there is very little pressure on the buyer and even less on you,” he observed.

The initial attempt at such a cold attempt will result in a strange sensation, Oros said, “the DSR will feel unprepared.” However, he pointed out that this should not be feared because it is a good sign. “It means you are trying something new and at the brink of learning a new skill.”

This kind of unexpected sales behavior will quickly turn a reluctant operator into an eager customer.

“What person in their right mind would say ‘no’ to a question like this:  I am here to talk about you. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your business to see if I might be able to be of service to you and help you achieve your goals,” Oros advised.

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