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Supplier struggles: Finding the decision-maker

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Question:

As a supplier, I'd like your advice on the best way to approach restaurants in my area. I'm finding it difficult to get in touch with a decision-maker. If I leave materials with a manager or another employee, the answer is inevitably “no” from a faceless entity I never have the opportunity to meet.

– Renee Moffett, Franchisee, Filta, Dallas

Answer:

Your question is the lament of every salesperson. Finding the right decision-maker or gatekeeper for purchase decisions is a challenge and, since our industry has diverse operations, there is no single way. Even in my own world of culinary education, I often frustrate sales reps and service providers who think they landed a deal with the entire university’s foodservice, when in reality we may have agreed to buy something for our small culinary program.

Further complicating this picture is that different ownership structures require different approaches depending on the product being sold. To use your service of oil filtration as an example: Some operations will have this decision specified as part of the operations for their store and may have a company under contract for every operation under the brand; in other cases, the franchisee or ownership group may make that decision for all of their units, which may include multiple concepts; still others will leave the decision up to unit management. Even then, are you dealing with the general manager, chef/kitchen manager, or purchaser? Or does it need to be approved by a regional operations or sustainability person? And if you finally find the right person, you still have to make a sale.

Some ideas:

  • Look at successful models. Study your existing clients. Who makes the decision there and who are their counterparts at their competitors?
  • Do your homework. Use the web, LinkedIn and face-to-face networking events like Restaurant Association meetings to get to know the players so you don’t sound like a cheesy telemarketer saying, “Who is the person who makes your oil filtration decisions?”
  • Ask for names. It sounds like you are walking into operations, and leaving information to be passed on to the right person. I suspect your brochures are seeing more trashcans than purchasers. Don’t accept, “I’ll pass this on to my district manager,” as an answer. It’s not unreasonable to ask for that person’s name and contact info.
  • Come out and ask. Too many sales people try to be coy. We all have limited time and don’t want to waste it. I was at an event last week speaking with a distributor for far too long before he realized I was happy with my current specialty foods purveyors. Just ask for help connecting to the right person and if they are open to a conversation. The answer may pleasantly surprise you and if it’s a no, you have more time for the next prospective client.

As often is the case in this industry, the question doesn’t have an easy answer, but clear and honest communication goes a long way towards the solution.

More on getting past gatekeepers here

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