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BITAC® F&B - Listen to Your Customer!!

At BITAC® F&B suppliers are saying listening is as critical as selling. Here’s why this is such a big deal.

Thursday, January 31, 2013
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The way business is getting done by smart suppliers is shifting. Most supplier side industry insiders are starting to realize the best approach to connecting with the customer has nothing to do with the typical sales spiel focusing how amazing a specific product or service may or may not be.

Instead, savvy sellers are creating solution oriented sales techniques where partnering with industry buyers to problem solve gets the inside track. That is, it gives sales people the chance to discover true opportunities that just don’t make a sale but also forge lasting relationships. So for many lodging business suppliers they’re realizing the need to think more about listening to their customers to decipher how to come up with truly best in class solutions.

At this week’s BITAC® Food & Beverage East held at the luxurious El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico, we held a panel discussion focusing on how to better listen to and be proactive with customers. BITAC® is of course the industry’s preeminent idea exchange and at this sold out event attendees not only got a chance to network with top industry F&B decision makers, but also get the inside track on what is really happening in the hotel business.

“You absolutely must listen carefully to your customer. It is the only way to stay ahead of the curve as much as you can,” said Nick Bellini, VP Business Development with Sambonet USA/Rosenthal USA. “Industry suppliers don’t always hear what the industry is asking for but you must listen carefully and incorporate that information into creating products.”

According to Craig Smith, Eastern Sales Manager/Corporate Executive Chef with Montague Company, paying attention is critical if you want to get that sale. “If you listen intently, a customer will tell you everything you need to know about their business. Manufacturers should be in the helping business and if you listen close enough you may get ideas that become standard products in the line-up,” he said.

When you pay attention and listen you can ask the right questions you’ll be better prepared to offer us solution oriented sales solutions says Deanna Kay, VP of Torn Ranch. But she also warns not to take one person’s opinions as sacrosanct. “Don’t just have one person you talk to, you have to get multiple opinions. You may not always get the complete story if you speak to just one person, she said.

“When you work with brands you have to get involved to really understand what they need. Everyone realizes because of turnover in these companies you have to get into extended service time after time. So we try to make it as easy as possible for the customer to do their job through listening to their needs,” said Bob Beck , VP of Hospitality & Retail with Vistar.

But it’s also critical to innovate. When Luins Williams, Jr. founded Premier Label Water Company in 1992 very few people drank bottled water. Now water is near the top of all beverages sold every year.

When he introduced the product he experienced many, many rejections before making that first sale. But he kept at it because he knew he was on to something. “We got instant acknowledgment after the first bottle. Everyone jumped on board,” said Williams, Jr. “Nobody wants to be first so it becomes a question of how do you get [someone] to say yes the first time? You have to believe in yourself and also do lots of homework and research.”

Finally, suppliers need to be a good resource for buyers too; even if a sale is not on the line. In a real time poll of BITAC® F&B attendees we learned that most everyone thinks suppliers can also be a great resource. When asked ‘Do you believe suppliers can be a valuable information resource for buyers?,’ 77 percent said absolutely while 17 percent said somewhat just five percent said they could do a better job.

“They can be a resource for us and we can be a great resource for them too,” said Jay Achenbach, VP Foodservice Chain Accounts Sales with Libbey.

“We really are all service companies. When people call with a problem, that’s better for us. If you think of yourself as a service company first, not just to do sales and cooperate you can really problem solve and the sales will happen from that,” said Kay.

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