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  • Jeff Miller

The number one mistake made when calling on national accounts


In our research with major national accounts, we conducted a series of confidential interviews with industry experts across a variety of foodservice brands and positions to provide a rounded viewpoint and in depth understanding of the specific roles and their expectations of world class suppliers. With this research we drew out themes and insights relevant to suppliers targeting large national accounts. What we found was that according to this group, the number one mistake you can make when calling on national accounts is over promising and under delivering.


I could honestly end this blog right here! Don’t do it!


The exact quote we heard was “Do what you say you are going to do.” We heard this over and over again from the people we interviewed. Many times, a supplier wants to simply say “yes” to whatever the customer asks and this is decidedly the wrong approach. In fact - you should be leading the conversation with your insights, ideas and perspectives that allow you to provide solutions that tie back directly to your value proposition, which is why a solid foodservice strategy is so important.


To illustrate how devastating over promising and under delivering can be, let me share an example that is pretty extreme. A supplier I worked with in a past role was creating a pre-made filling of savory ingredients for an item that would be assembled in-store. These ingredients would come in already mixed which was a great for our operations, simplifying the assembly for the crew member. If you read these articles or my series in prepared foods regularly, you will know that understanding and solving operational hurdles are paramount to your success at large national chains. The challenge here was that the supplier said yes to producing this product for us without being completely aligned internally to whether or not they could actually produce the product. My company had already invested a ton of money in testing this product, putting it on our national marketing calendar, creating advertising and purchasing spots, and then at the last minute the company backed out of the product and said they wouldn’t be able to produce it.


Let that sink in for a minute on how much they over promised and under delivered.


What do you think that supplier’s reputation was after that occurred? As a leader in R&D do you think I would ever even allow them in the building again? Would I look to work with them in any future role? If giving a supplier advice to someone who asked, would I recommend them?


The fact is that supplier had plenty of chances early on to figure this out, and the lesson you should take is that if you want to provide innovative solutions to your customer. You need to be proactive about what you can offer and do better than anyone else versus just saying “yes” and then hope to figure it out.


To avoid over promising and under delivering, you can practice on items and behaviors that are much smaller in scope, and in doing so increase the trust between you and the customer. For example, let’s say you promise that you are going to get a specification document to a customer on Friday. What do you think comes across better – getting it to them at 5pm on Friday at close of business, or getting it to them first thing Friday morning or even better sometime on Thursday? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been promised things in national account roles where the supplier waited until the very last minute. What message does that send? While the document technically arrived on Friday, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that they are on top of their game. It also puts unnecessary pressure and stress on the customer.


What do you do if you will not meet a promise or deadline?


I’m not going to say that I get this right all of the time, or even that a customer expects you to get this right all the time. It’s hard not to over promise because you genuinely have a desire and belief in many cases that you will achieve the outcome. However, there are times when things change – perhaps a package gets lost, or someone in your applications group gets sick backing up the sample timing, or maybe you just dropped the ball because you’re overextended. The key here is that these instances are infrequent, and that when they happen you are proactively communicating to the customer. The earlier on in the R&D process, generally the more acceptable the occasional mistake or missed deadline is. You should avoid them at all costs, but if they occur ensure you are telling the customer ASAP, even if you don’t yet have a solution. You might say or email: “Hi Sarah, just checking in as we promised samples on Friday but an unforeseen event has caused raw materials to be delayed and therefore we will not meet this timing. We just found this out and are checking now to understand the impact to the timeline and will advise back ASAP.” This is much better than not saying anything, hoping to find a solution and then calling the day the product is due, or worse, not calling or emailing at all. The customer generally wants to know as soon as you know so they don’t feel like you are hiding things from them.


Well there it is, the number one mistake you can make when calling on national accounts. What will you do to avoid it?