Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. In this story, Matt Jones, Vice President of Sales for Materialogic in St. Louis, tells how persistence and careful listening helped him uncover a much larger opportunity than he’d expected.
Our industry faced serious challenges. Customers were going out of business. Others were on the auction block. That meant trouble for us. We had fewer prospects to pursue. And the ones who remained were squeezing us on price. Our smaller accounts were disappearing. In order to stay afloat, we had to go after the big players. We learned that a nationwide restaurant chain was shaking up its operations. We were a beer distributor. It looked like a great opportunity.
Our well-known brand got us in the door. Then we hit a roadblock. The purchasing department insisted that we only deal with them. But they weren’t the real decision makers. In fact, when we asked about the company’s new strategy, they couldn’t explain it to us – because they didn’t understand it themselves!
A near-fatal assumption
To get to the real decision makers, we kept steering the conversation back to the strategy. We asked detailed questions, which Purchasing couldn’t answer.
Finally, they threw in the towel and let us talk to someone who could tell us what we wanted to know.
It’s a good thing for us – because we’d made a near-fatal assumption. We thought we were there to talk about a contract to become the chain’s beer supplier. “Anybody can supply us with beer,” the decision maker said. “We need someone who can help us sell more beer – and other drinks too. Are you that someone?”
At that moment we weren’t. But we were willing to become that someone.
This was a do-or-die strategy for the prospect. Margins were plunging on their food operations. In order to survive, they needed to significantly increase beverage sales. And it was a world-shifting moment for us. Being good at distribution was a given. But now our business was to add to the customer’s bottom line. We had to stop thinking like distributors and become the marketing department for their entire beverage category.
A new world
We went all out. We studied 30 markets. We told the prospect not only how much beer but how much wine their customers drank. We identified customers’ top three beer choices. We recommended everything from prices to the right glassware for beer and for wine.
Then we created an entire merchandising program: new taps, new coasters. We found their staff needed training and made a CD ROM about beer, how it was made and how to pour and serve it properly. Our wholesalers did on-site trainings.
Did it work? Within 18 months we controlled two thirds of the restaurant chain’s taps nationwide.
This was my Greatest Sale because we focused on what the prospect needed, not on what we were selling. Because we listened carefully and were willing to change, we could leverage our knowledge and add tremendous value for the customer.
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