Guest Blog written by Tom Larsen – Managing Partner at TD Back Office (, a B2B service company that helps retail-oriented product manufacturers managed their back office operations (ie. Order Management, Inventory Management, Sales Support, etc….). Tom can be reached at 530-913-9334, by email at, or visit his website
Everyone wants to be able to stand and deliver a product presentation like Steve Jobs. Turns out that’s not hard, if the audience is a room full of avid followers, and the advance hype has been high and the name on your product is Apple. It may even be recommended. I’m talking here about confusing presenting with selling.
No one, particularly a retail buyer, wants to hear a long drawn out story of the toils your company went through to get to today, the hard work of the company to produce what it makes, the 1001 reasons the product is great. What the retail buyer wants to know is how much is it and what will my customers know about this product before they see it. What will drive them to see it? Should the company founders act as the primary salesperson? The answer is No!
The store buyer is in the business of make money selling the products they select to put in their store, which is now almost always an unassisted sales environment. Therefore, what story does your packaging tell about your product? How is your company going to support the retailer for sell through (marketing, advertising, social media, etc.)?
If you are a new supplier to that retailer, there is every chance the retailer is already concerned that you don’t actually realize what it will take to support the sales in the store, with additional inventory, with in-store signage, whatever. “Yes, thank you for creating this amazing product, but, no one is going to see it to buy it, so tell me about your investment in sales and consumer facing marketing.”
Steve Jobs always had the history of Apple and the passionate Apple consumers, not to mention stores that had an Apple sign over the doorway and a heavily assisted sales environment. As the newest vendor in the store, you will have exactly zero of that. So how do you go from being nobody to getting into the store? You sell!
By selling you ask questions. You want to learn how to serve this Customer, the retailer (not the consumer) to make money in the space. What is needed for the retailer to succeed? Remember they are looking for ROI, not amazing new product. Learning how to be a partner through questions is not presenting. What we saw of Steve Jobs was not selling – it was presenting.
Want to know why the incumbent’s version of a product gets placement and the new guy does not? The retailer has every reason to trust the incumbent since they are already making money together. Would you hire a new financial planner if your person was already delivering results that satisfied your expectation? Of course not. Then why expect the retailer to do it by throwing out a vendor in favor of you and your product.
Selling is part of a dialogue. Presenting is a monologue. Founders talk 80% about themselves. Sales people talk 80% about the buyer. You want to win shelf space? Start by meeting the needs of the retailer (your Customer) and not just making a good product with a great product presentation