“The first thing I think you need to ask (prospects) is what are their biggest challenges right now? There are a million things going through the operator’s mind all the time. How to be better, how to create the right menu, how to buy better. They have challenges, and we’ve seen challenges now like we’ve never seen before.” ~Chris Conder
Since Covid, how do you learn about new products if you are asked about one and you do not know?
Chris: My first place is Scoop, which three times a year we (US Foods) roll out 24 new items to our customer base. Second place is definitely our broker community and our manufacturer reps. But with that being said, with COVID, there hasn’t been a lot in the last two years. Of course, a lot of manufacturers can barely keep up with their existing items, therefore not much R&D of new product out there. Operators are starving for new product now. They’re searching for ways to make money because it’s harder and harder for them to do that now.
We have some of the sharpest and most knowledgeable specialists in the world. I lean hard on these folks to help drive business, like our great seafood specialist, COP specialist, chemical, ENS, and produce folks. There’s a wealth of knowledge among those folks and if you get them in front of the customer and let them go, they’ll do wonders.
How do you direct your Specialists? Do they go out on their own or do you lead them in the right direction?
Chris: Both. Now that we kind of know-how to navigate around Covid, we are doing ride-withs again, but we also send them out on their own. A lot of times one of the specialists will reach out because they got something that came through the pipeline, and they will want to go see a customer. Of course, if I can’t meet with them, I’ll set the appointment up for them and they’ll go out and see the customer. The nice thing about getting them out in the field is that they get to develop that relationship with the customers as well. Then there are times when they’ll go in on their own and take care of business. Because they are now familiar, they are able to get in and see them directly.
What advice would you give to sales reps who are concerned when they send in anybody other than the driver to meet customers… maybe they are worried that their customer might like them better than they like them (the DSR themselves)? Whether it’s a broker, manufacturer or one of their specialists or even the boss.
Chris: I feel like they are missing the opportunity. These folks are there to help, not to take away from us. Their responsibility is to help the TM grow their business. If a TM or DSR is afraid of someone taking that account, he might want to reevaluate his career in the food service industry, because that’s what they do for us. They help us. They don’t hurt us.
Do you use DOT Foods? And if so, how?
Chris: Absolutely. We get DOT trucks twice a week. These are keyable items into the laptop. We can key them in and boom, it opened up about 100,000 items that we have access to that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get access to.
DSR Dave: If you go to the AFDR website, you’ll see DOT Top 400 items. If you click on that, every Quarter, DOT gives us a sales history of five different categories, frozen, refrigerated, dry, protein and non-foods. We do this because I know how it helped me and anything AFDR can do to help salespeople is what we want to do. Many DSRs wonder what item they should sell first? It is my opinion that since DOT sells 4,000 different distributors and they give me this list every quarter, you might want to look at some of those items on that list because they are the items many people are using.
Does it help your sales to treat your coworkers with respect and kindness versus not?
Chris: Absolutely. You have to smear them with love. I was brought up to treat people the way you want to be treated, and I wouldn’t want to be treated in a rude manner so I would not treat others in such a way. You have to lean on people for their help, and that is where the smearing with love comes in. We haven’t been around many people in the past couple of years, but every year I would make my list out and buy 16-20 different little $5-10 gifts and wrap them up. And believe me, everybody in that building that helped me that year got a gift. It mainly was those in the credit department and purchasing, a nice little Christmas ornament or something. It just brought a smile to them every time. Little things like that go a long way in our world. Just be kind.
Do you miss having sales meetings due to Covid?
Chris: We haven’t had an in-person sales meeting in two years. It’s all been on Zoom. Yes, I miss them. I miss the camaraderie, the fellowship. You get to see folks you haven’t seen in a while, pick their brain, just collaborate. And also, on top of that, you always got to see and taste new product. Those were opportunities to get to see new items, new rollouts and vendors and the manufacturers would have tables there. I miss them very dearly. And I can’t wait till we have our next one.
Any prediction moving forward? Do you think that we’ll get back to having sales meetings or do you think it will be some kind of hybrid?
Chris: Yes, I believe we will see at least our company/division getting back to in-person meetings. Are we going to see the days of these massive food shows again? I don’t know. I miss those. The 200-300 booth food shows. Customers just thrive to go to those. That model has changed a little bit. But as far as the sales meetings, yes, because the vendors and manufacturers want to get in front of the sales teams and they want to sell product, and that’s the best way to do it when you have all of them assembled in one setting.
How are you getting samples out to customers during Covid? On the truck or with a broker?
Chris: It really depends on if it’s a manufacturer brand or if it’s exclusive brand to US Food. We have a great system to request our samples and we have a person in the division that kind of handles that process from start to finish, which is nice. If it’s something for example, from Hormel, they’ll reach out to them. A lot of times the broker will either email back or call the team directly to set up how they want to handle it. If it’s a private label, many times we will ship it on the truck with their order which works the best.
Let’s talk about prospecting during Covid and questions to ask.
Chris: I have been in the same territory for a very long time. I’m generally kind of old school. I’ll go in a couple of times and have lunch, kind of get a feel for the menu, maybe get to know someone in there, and get in front of the decision-maker to set up a formal meeting.
Once you get in front of that individual, discuss their goals and any challenges they are having. Just be a good listener, asking questions and you can take it from there with another meeting and getting hold of an order guide and shooting some prices to them, and hopefully the relationship will develop from there. One good thing about being in a small tight-knit community, many of these guys in the kitchen and in the front of the house, they bounce around. This opens up the opportunity to get in the door, so to speak when I go into a prospect.
The first thing I think you need to ask is what are their biggest challenges right now? There are a million things going through the operator’s mind all the time. How to be better, how to create the right menu, how to buy better. They have challenges, and we’ve seen challenges now like we’ve never seen before. That is the best place to begin that conversation, and you can kind of crack the can open to take that conversation further.
Is it easier or harder than it used to be?
Chris: Easier! We have so many more tools now than ever before in our toolbelt, back in the day, we were a one-man band, the problem solver, the check collector, and more. Now we have restaurant consultants, website designers, specialists of all kinds to help us. If it’s a staffing issue, we have staffing solutions for them.
DSR Dave: So, the challenges are still the opportunities as they always have bee; it is just now with Covid, we have a full toolbelt to tap into to come up with creative solutions.
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