“I never give up on a prospect, even if it takes 14 years to get the first order!”
Kelli Sawyer of Ben E. Keith, Mid-South division in North Little Rock, Arkansas is AFDR’s August DSR of the Month for 2022, earning her a permanent place in the AFDR DSR Hall of Fame. Kelli’s territory is in Southwest, Arkansas around the Magnolia and Camden area, which is about 150 miles from the warehouse. She lives in and around her sales territory.
DSR Dave: How did you get into the business in the first place?
Kelli: Well, that’s an interesting story. I was in pharmaceuticals 16 years ago, and when I became pregnant with my first child, my territory was so large that I was looking for something a bit closer to home and a little more flexible. My sister-in-law worked at Ben E. Keith and called me one day and asked if I’d be interested in working there, and the rest is history.
The only food service experience I had previously was at age 15 waiting tables at a family friends’ restaurant for about a year.
DSR Dave: When you first started, what were some of the hardest things to overcome in the first couple of years?
Kelli: The hardest was coming out of pharmaceuticals and selling only three products at a time. Going from 3 to 19,000 different items that you’re selling was really hard. The product knowledge was a huge hurdle to overcome. I started digging in to figure out the products we were selling, and center of the plate was probably the hardest to wrap my mind around. But at Ben E. Keith, we have huge support systems that I learned very quickly, if I didn’t know the answer, I would just say, I don’t know, but I’ll find out; and most prospects liked that I did find out. I also utilized our chefs and support system here at Ben E. Keith significantly, and I still do.
For me, product knowledge was harder than even cold calling because I’m very friendly and strive to be kind to everybody because that’s who I think you should be as a person. Prospects respected that from me.
DSR Dave: How did you learn about products? Was there any system to the madness when you first started?
Kelli: I’m a hands-on learner and one of the biggest things I did was to get in the kitchen with my customers and simply try to learn and see firsthand what they were doing with the products they bought from us. I also used the training modules at Ben E. Keith that we could get online and do webinars to basically learn the products and really work through getting the information that I needed for those products. The third way I did it was through the manufacturers. They were great. I became friends with the brokers and the manufacturers very quickly just because they were very hands-on and if I needed help, they would come down, and ride with me, talking about the products. I learned a lot on those rides with, and I still do that once a month and every single time, I learn something new.
DSR DAVE: You started with zero accounts… talk about your first customer that placed an order with you. How long was it after you started that you got the first order?
Kelli: I started off with zero customers, but thankfully I was blessed and built that pretty quickly. It was about a week. It was actually the gym that I go to, and she was opening up a deli. We kind of did it together just from ground zero. I helped her get all the equipment and we did everything from menus to the food specs. It was really a cool first account because I literally got to do it all with her. I explained to her what I was doing now and that I was with a great company. I was honest about learning it together and confident that I could help her. I was so excited! I still sell that account today.
DSR Dave: What is the secret to your success in growing your business?
Kelli: I sold insurance before selling pharmaceuticals. I’ve always looked at sales as just the law of numbers. The more people you go see, the more people you are going to eventually get Yeses from and so I literally knocked on every door that might possibly sell food. And I worked long hours. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was long days, 70-hour weeks. My background is in business with a marketing degree, so I learned a long time ago that whatever you’re passionate about, you’re going to sell better. Therefore, my take on my business is not so much product knowledge, even today. But I really have a desire to see small businesses succeed. And in doing that, I helped them with their menu analysis and with their profitability, and we really discussed the business side of things. I think that really set me apart from my competition because I went about it that way.
Restaurant owners need that so badly because they don’t have the time to spend looking at the business side of things enough. I helped them to do that, and it became my niche per se, and that’s what I was comfortable in.
Other topics discussed on this Podcast include how Kelli works on prospects until she gets that first order. She never gives up and explains how it took 14 years to get one account… Great Stuff!
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!