It’s Tuesday at 10 am, time for your standing weekly call with your favorite buyer. You dial them up and dive right into the routine dialogue…
“How business is going?”
“What do you think of the next big trend?”
The business-side of the call is going well, so you throw in a personal touch - “Are you and the family doing anything fun this weekend?” Your buyer opens up so you end up chatting and joking about anything but work for a few minutes. This gives you comfort and confidence to dig a little deeper on the business-side before wrapping up the call…
“So, what’s your strategy for holiday this year? Any big changes you can share with me?”
Your friendly and productive dialogue immediately transforms into awkward silence and rebuff. You can cut the tension with a knife, and you don’t want to make your buyer uncomfortable, so you change the subject and move on. After that phone call ends, you can’t help but think, “What gives? Why won’t they share this information with me?” After all, you’re a great vendor who has a strong relationship with this buyer. This could affect you and your business – especially if you don’t have the necessary amount of time to bid on their new strategy.
Unfortunately there are topics most buyers simply won’t discuss with a vendor, no matter how strong the relationship is nor how you ask them. You certainly don’t want to make your buyer uncomfortable, so you’ll need to be more strategic gaining this intel. To help prepare for your next standing meeting with a buyer, let’s closely examine the 5 most common topics buyers aren’t willing to discuss – why they are so hesitant to share and what you can do to stay ahead of the game.
Question 1: Do you have OTB to spend?
Why: By now, your buyer has a strong understanding of your product and core competencies. They have a POV on what they want and most likely already know where their dollars are going. Furthermore, your buyer isn’t interested in receiving an overwhelming flurry of random products you send after discovering they have extra money to spend. If your buyer has extra money and wants to spend it on your product, you will know it before you can even ask. They will have already reached out to you to see what sales driving product you can ship to them fast.
What you can do: Don’t wait until discovering your buyer has OTB to spend – systematically send your buyers pictures of new groups, key items, and best sellers. Provide them with everything needed to keep your product front of mind when OTB opportunities arise. Regularly sending your current line sheets to your buyer will create a relationship where you’ll never need to ask this question (“Do you have OTB to spend?”) again.
Question 2: “What is your department strategy this season?”
Why: Generally, there is a certain amount of confidentiality expected across the vendors and the industry - your buyer doesn’t want confidential information to get out. If their strategy doesn’t apply to you, your product, or the potential giveback they are going to ask you for---it simply doesn’t matter. They are only going to share what pertains to YOU and YOUR product.
What you can do: Pay attention to what is going on with both their store group, as well as what is happening on their department floor. With regular floor walks and trend analysis, you may be able to identify a strategy and formulate an opinion of what could (and should) happen for next season. In this unknown, there is an opportunity to build your relationship with your buyer by proactively sharing your analysis and making collaborative recommendations to your buyer. Be careful, though - there’s no guarantee you will be the selected vendor even if the buyer decides to act on your suggestion.
Question 3: “What is REALLY going on with management?”
Why: Do you know everything that’s going on in management within your company? Probably not. Likewise, your buying team most likely doesn’t know any more than you do. Decisions made at the upper levels are only shared with teams moments before the press release. There may be internal gossip, however, a respectable buyer is highly unlikely to spread gossip and rumors related to their company, management, and position.
What you can do: You should already be doing this, but if you’re not - follow your store group’s news releases and ask your buyer about the articles after they are made public. They may have additional insight to share, or they may not but either way it’s a clear way to demonstrate and broadcast your interest in your customer and their company.
Question 4: “Who else is in your vendor matrix?”
Why: In a small industry, identifying and measuring up your competitors should be simple - but in a larger industry it’s not always transparent. Again, buyers are not going to share this information for both confidentiality reasons and strategic reasons. In addition, they’re not interested in hearing your thoughts on their other vendors – in other words, talking smack about your competition isn’t going to give you a leg up. If a buyer does happen to share this information with you upon asking, it should be a red flag – after all, you wouldn’t want them telling the competition about your account.
What you can do: Knowing your competition is the best way to stay ahead of this question. Regular research and reviews of your competition and their product should definitely be a part of your own strategic planning. Identify their strengths and weaknesses and look for opportunities that you can zero in on and build upon. Shop around too, not just with your key accounts but across the entire industry as well. If you need help with a full SWOT analysis, call Mod. Merchant.
Question 5: “Why are we getting cut?”
Why: There are a lot of reasons that your buyer may have decided to cut you as a vendor. Maybe your product isn’t cutting it, margin and profitability are tough, unforeseen strategic changes, lack of relationship, and sadly political reasons do sometimes take their toll. If your product is selling---this typically isn’t an issue.
What can you do: Usually the decision has already been made by the time they reach out to you. You can request additional meetings with your buyer and their management, pleading your case to maintain the account, but that is usually only given as a courtesy. The best thing you can do is end the vendor relationship cordially, gain as much feedback as you can, and keep the communication line open. This may be a wakeup call that your line needs an overhaul, so be sure to take their feedback seriously - Quality poor? Costs too high? Not enough unique offerings? Use this feedback to fix the problems, reposition yourself, and win back their business through routinely sending images of your updated offerings.
As close as of a relationship as you have to you buyer, sometimes it doesn’t matter. There are strategic issues, confidentiality concerns, and political scenarios at play that will override your relationship. Your opportunity presents itself in these moments of unknowns by being prepared and ready for whatever this relationship throws at you. Being “always ready” and flexible is something that you buyer will remember favorably and will set you apart from your competition.
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