1604: Tony Dickson DSR of the Month, Ben E. Keith, Oklahoma – Part 1 – Getting Started, Prospecting


1604: DSR of the Month, Tony Dickson of Ben E Keith-Oklahoma

Tony Dickson of Ben E. Keith Foods in Edmond, Oklahoma is AFDR’s February 2023 DSR of the Month, earning him a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Tony’s territory is in and around Kansas City, KS, about 350 miles from the warehouse.

“There’s so much information that’s relayed to the DSRs these days, and you must get that information out to the restaurant owners and operators. If you don’t, another DSR will, and that’s who they will lean toward for their go-to person.” ~ Tony Dickson

This is a summary, so we recommend that you LISTEN TO THE PODCAST because there is great content not typed out!

DSR Dave, DSR of the Month Tony Dickson, and guest host, former “DSR Joe” discuss the first few years of being a DSR.

Getting Started: How Tony’s first few years prepared him to be a DSR.

Tony began his foodservice industry career in restaurant operations for four years in Phoenix, Arizona 34 years ago before deciding to work for a meat company in a purchasing role for about two years. That meat company was bought out by a broadliner, and he then transferred to Kansas City, his wife’s home, where he began his first sales job.

Tony started his first sales job with Alliant Food Service which had a warehouse there. After a few years, Alliant added on their own purchasing department, and since Tony had COP purchasing experience, they offered him a purchasing role, which he took.

Dickson spent eight years with Alliant before moving to Ben E. Keith in a sales role helping them open the Kansas City area, which is 350 miles from the Edmond, OK warehouse.

What hurdles did you have to overcome in the first few years?

Tony: One of the hardest hurdles when I first began in sales was trying to figure out what to say to prospects, walking in the back or front door, and who to talk to. It is easier nowadays to do some research on the internet about a prospect beforehand, to have a name and some knowledge about their place. By the time I was with Ben E Keith, I had more confidence and eventually had figured out my approach and had learned the best thing to do was not waste their time and have a purpose. Your purpose is to find out who your contact should be and get a date and time in which you can come back in to chat with them when it is more convenient for them.

Out of ten accounts you prospected, how many invited you back for a meeting?

Tony: Well, it is a numbers game, it depends, sometimes you get hot, maybe 4 or 5.

DSR Dave: For those greenhorns, that means you need to be calling on 10-12, not 4-5 to get some to say, “Yes, you can come back for an appointment.”

Do you go back if they tell you they are not interested in making a move to a different distributor?

Tony: You have to go back because you never know what was going on that day, maybe the operator was short-handed or too busy. If I am truly making a Cold Call, my only goal is to find out who the owner is and if I can set up a time to come back. Don’t waste their time. Stay persistent and give them reasons to consider you, be that resource.

PROSPECTING / COLD CALLS: If you have not met them before, but you want their account, what do you do? 

  • Go in the front door asking for the point of contact and finding out if they are having any issues.
  • Listen and let them rattle off any issues you can use to bring samples with plate costs or offer solutions.
  • Do your homework before online and/or by going in and eating a few times so you are not just walking in out of the blue.
  • Start building an inventory list when you go in to eat so you have something to talk about when you do finally get an appointment. If you do your homework, you should have 50 to 100 items already on their inventory list.
  • Make sure you let the buyer (Chef, Owner, etc.) know when you do finally get to talk with them that you have been in to eat.
  • Understand that when you do walk in cold without an appointment, they might be in the middle of something like getting ready for a banquet or putting inventory away, all kinds of things that they might be tied up with and might not have time to talk to you. So, don’t be offended and try to get an appointment to come back.
  • If you’re trying to stay incognito when going in on your first calls for homework, it might be a good idea not to take your laptop, it is a big clue that you are a sales rep right away. Maybe use your phone or notepad.
  • Be a student of the industry so you know what’s going on and maybe relay that to the prospect because they might not have time to know what you know – like why eggs are so high.
  • Outwork your competitor and get their attention somehow. Keep going back, and stay persistent.
  • Greenhorns, remember to relax, have fun with it, and realize that you’re just talking to another person whether in a white tablecloth or casual place. 

When I was an operator, I did not like the DSRs who came in with a price sheet lowballing the competition, not any value. I liked the people who wanted to help me with my business.

Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!