The sales job has changed, but grocery always leads the way

I thought it was now accepted that relationship in selling is not as important as it was. But James Halliwell’s feature (‘Death of a salesman?’, 20 August, p28) revealed 75% disagree that a data-driven approach, rather than a relationship-based one, helps make you a better salesperson. I’m afraid it does, folks.

The art of selling is alive and kicking to those who recognise that the buyer’s job has changed and master the new skills. It’s progress and, as always, other industries will follow. Our buyers are now under pressure to deliver category results and their job description does not include being friendly. They work with spreadsheets every day so sellers need to speak their language. Buyers will only listen if they think you can help.

An obsession with old-fashioned ‘relationship’ gets in the way for many. Buyers will engage with you to support their category while pressurising your competitor – but then it’s your turn over the cliff next. So strive instead for business rapport built on respect, service reputation and a pipeline of insight to grow the category. If you can deliver this it’s amazing how likeable you are. This periodical power play is less relevant with fewer suppliers so the reset work can only help if you make the cut. Buyers always have their favourites so a bit of flair will help you.

What is great about our trade is the high level of sophistication and intellect mixed with the aggression and tactics. That combination makes it equally impossible for the data drones and the relationship Ronnies alike.

Remember, ‘selling’ is just presenting something you have to another party in a way that focuses on the benefits to that person, and makes them want it. Benefits to the buyer include contributing to their budgetary targets, so financial capabilities are a must for NAMs. Benefits include stock reduction and inventory investment, so logistics are needed too. Buyers need growth, so consumer insight and innovations are also to be included. But beware – 20 pages of data is dull and wastes time. The purpose of the data is to make the buyer recognise and need the opportunity you are revealing. So keep it focused and then if you’re creative, you can make data presentation fun – a personality thing. Imagine that.

Sentinel Management Consultants deliver sales, negotiation, planning and finance training courses for our clients worldwide.