Prelude 3: You're in the Dark

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The pitch slap.

That stinging, post-pitch strike from a retailer that you didn’t see coming, whether it lands the day after your meeting or several months later.

Maybe they just said no, left you hanging forever or kept you in the dark.

Either way, you're determined to make sure it never happens again!

In this three-part series, I outline three behaviors that, whether perpetrated by your internal teams or third-parties, will leave you wide open.

 

The following is Part III in Carol Spieckerman's series for retail suppliers: Three Little-Known Preludes to a Pitch Slap .

Read Part II: You Didn't Know When to Stop

Read Part I: You Got Flattered by Chatter

 

"Why didn't you tell me?" 

 

Ask any retail decision-maker how many times they’ve heard these five words from a supplier and you’re likely to get an eye roll. It’s hard not to go there when you’ve just walked into one of your customer’s stores and spotted a big, beautiful program filled with competitors’ brands and products, or when you’ve just read a press release announcing a partnership between someone who you thought was your best customer and a competing solution provider. It’s one thing to be given a crack at a program and lose fair and square, but something totally different to not even be given the chance.

Most suppliers and brand marketers assume that retailers will inform them about any opportunities that touch their particular categories, capabilities, or brands. Quite a few expect it. Not only are retailers under no obligation to do so, their process of developing a short list for big programs has never been more subjective. That means more suppliers are getting surprised with a pitch slap. One executive for a major retailer recently told me, “I don’t waste my time – I know who is strategic and who can handle the business. Those are the ones I go to.” Putting raw capability aside, in my experience, suppliers get left in the dark on big programs for three illuminating reasons:

1. They have a perception problem –When it comes to retailers, perception is reality. You can offer the greatest products, highest quality, and best price and still find yourself left out of retailers’ decision sets if your company or your retailer-facing teams are perceived as being:

  • Tedious to work with
  • Slow to make decisions
  • Out of touch with the market
  • Frantic, overloaded, or otherwise unable to take on more
  • Unable to play well with others (including competitors) 

 

Many of the most coveted retail programs are multi-channel, multi-category, multi-brand, and multi-stakeholder. This means that they require more than just the ability to execute. Soft skills such as collaboration, project management, and the ability to think on your feet aren’t lost on retailers, and they come through (or don’t) in every interaction that you have with them.

2. Their retail relationships are limited –I recently spoke with an accessories supplier who couldn’t believe that a consumer electronics merchandise chief had coordinated a comprehensive program that included housewares, apparel, and accessories. The supplier had found this out after the fact, and asked their buyer contact the question that opens this article. The simple answer was that while some of the products in the program came from the buyer's area, she wasn’t in charge of pulling the program together. These days, it pays to forge relationships, not just with retailers’ upper management, but also with decision-makers in other departments. This is particularly true as the distinctions between categories such as toys, electronics, and fashion continue to blur.

3. They aren’t asking the right questions – It’s easy to get into a sell-in-and-go-home rut with retailers, but doing so is a surefire way to stay in the dark. Every meeting with a retailer should close with pointed questions regarding upcoming initiatives and, going back to the point above, who is responsible for coordinating them. If you took the advice offered in Part II of this series, you should have plenty of time to drill down. As fast as retail is moving and as opportunistic as retailers have become, it also makes sense to inquire about new format launches (not just new store openings), new roles that are being brought into the organization, new data capabilities and metrics, new content sharing opportunities, and other points that go beyond simply selling in products.

Getting left in the dark is a pitch slap that stings like no other. Managing perception, expanding relationships, and asking the right questions help to head it off while lighting the way to high-volume opportunities.