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Respecting the customer’s time

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

As a former VP of Innovation and R&D at a major brand, I can tell you that time was always a precious commodity for members of our team. It wasn’t so much that we felt we were too important to meet with certain suppliers, or that we were poor time managers, but rather there was a tremendous amount of competing priorities, deliverables, and last minute requests we would have to juggle.

Having this understanding in the way that you communicate, and how you look to use your current or prospective customer’s time is extremely important to being viewed as a valuable partner versus someone who is a time-suck. For a straightforward example, there was this one salesperson who was known throughout the building as a world-class talker. As the saying goes they could speak at 50 words per minute with gusts up to 200! Their calls were frequently avoided because there was no such thing as a brief conversation. The interesting thing was that this person did provide value, but the delivery and lack of respect for the customer’s time became a major detractor to the point where we only worked on projects we really had to with their company.

Here are a few ways you can work to show that you respect the customer’s time, and that interactions with you and your company are worthwhile.

Know your role

A common mistake I see with suppliers is they overestimate their relationship level in a customer interaction. They finally get that meeting with the new or existing customer and then promptly spend all that time talking about themselves, and overusing their time and relationship equity. After all, they worked so hard to get the meeting and the customer wanted to meet with them, so they should talk all about their great solutions and products, right? This is a great approach if you’re looking to bore your potential customers to tears, and a good reminder why traditional capabilities presentations don’t work. Suppliers need to understand the nature of their relationship and ensure they bring the right level of time commitment to the appropriate interaction, driving value for that customer with information that is relevant and conversations that are about the customer’s business.

It’s not you, it’s me

I’m sure some suppliers have had interactions where it felt like the R&D or marketing group was distracted, or seemed like they couldn’t wait to get out of the room. The first thing a supplier should do in this case is look inward to ensure what they were presenting was on trend and relevant to the customer’s business challenges. If it really was, and you did your homework and understood the customer challenges and presented a great pitch, it may just not be about you.

For example, if you’re presenting to an R&D or innovation group, you may be one of many suppliers presenting that week. I’ve had weeks where as many as 10 to 15 companies were giving presentations to my team. In that type of environment, you have to respect the customer’s time and ensure you’re bringing something of great value to them.

Do your homework up front

Taking the time up front to do your homework on a prospective customer shows them you both care about their business and respect their time not to waste too much time in a meeting having them teach you their business. To do this, you have to do your homework on the customer. Doing research, and potentially having a pre-call with an internal coach up front will prepare you to set the stage as a credible source of information at the beginning of the presentation.

You also have to know what the trends are so that you’re presenting ideas that the customer hasn’t thought of yet, or is a different look at the trends from what other suppliers might be presenting. It’s important to challenge them and their thinking a bit, while at the same time showing you understand their business. The meeting has to be worth their time and not just a confirmation of what they already know. It’s always good to validate their thinking, but that can’t be the only thing you do in order to win new business.

Anticipate future challenges

This can be thought of in two ways. First, if you are on top of major industry trends and needs, don’t wait to be asked to present your excellent solutions to the customers, but rather bring them proactively in a way that solves problems and helps them get a jump on the need. For example, back when clean label menus were just starting, many restaurant chains were at different timeframes in terms of cleaning up their ingredient lists. Some were on shorter timelines (think Panera), and others were on a longer timeline. At that time, some suppliers tried to pretend it was a trend that would go away, and would wait to be asked for solutions, or essentially forced to change. Instead, the best suppliers embraced the trend and offered solutions up front, cementing themselves as partners and also saving valuable customer time.

The second way to think about this is to ensure that items you present should at least have a sightline to being something that the customer can execute in their restaurants. This goes back to doing your homework and understanding your customer and what will work, what they can afford, and what fits their brand.

These are just a few ideas you can use to drive more valuable interactions and be seen as a supplier who respects the customer’s time, and truly understands their business.


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