I once asked the boss of a manufacturer what piece of advice he would give to a salesperson if he only had three words to say it in?
“Conversations make transactions” was his answer.
While it might sound like it could come straight from the pages of a David Brent leadership book, his point was that the income and success of his business was wholly dependent on the strength of its relationships with customers.
Suppliers in the foodservice equipment sector spend their entire lives trying to cultivate, grow and retain relationships. The better they are at this, the more kit they generally shift.
At the biggest multi-site customers, major purchasing decisions are often made by just one or two key individuals; board approval may not even be needed.
But any seasoned supplier knows it’s not just about investing in the largest names. The buyer purchasing one or two units today could be the same person that ends up placing an order for 200 units in the future.
It’s important to know that it’s a two-way street, as well. Buyers have something to gain from building strong relationships with suppliers beyond merely just increasing their chances of achieving more favourable prices.
Plenty of equipment buyers that I know will tell you that a supplier willing to go the extra mile — one that is perfectly happy to take a call on their mobile on a Saturday evening or who is content to jump in their car to sort out an issue at a moment’s notice — are worth their weight in gold.
One of the consequences of the wide-scale redundancies the industry has suffered is that so many relationships will need to be rebuilt from scratch.
In the past few months, some highly experienced kitchen specification figures have sadly lost their jobs due to restructuring. In many cases, their responsibilities will be shared among other employees — perhaps even delegated to individuals or areas of the business that previously had minimal equipment involvement.
Suppliers, some of which have had to reduce headcount themselves, will need to identify where the decision-making influence now resides and establish rapport.
Over time, when normality does eventually resume, people will resurface at different companies, take on consultancy roles or form their own ventures.
Partnerships created over many years prior to Covid will bear fruit in ways that are impossible to comprehend at the moment.
In the meantime, suppliers who react fastest to these changing dynamics and pinpoint where the power lies will be better placed.
After all, conversations make transactions.