Suppliers Listen Up: Your Pitches Miss the Mark

I was hopeful that the upcoming supplier pitch to add a new product to the line would meet our retail client’s expectations.   We had been working with the retailer to implement a new process for structuring supplier meetings to facilitate more collaboration, value-creation and efficiency. 

As part of the process, all suppliers are given a clear meeting agenda and specific “asks” or needs the retailer wants addressed, so that everyone is focused on defined priorities. These are provided well in advance of the scheduled meeting, with an opportunity for the supplier to provide input.  Since implementation, the meetings have been met with great success.  Both the retailer and participating suppliers (read: those who followed the directions) appreciated the efficiency and clarity advanced by the process, and the results were consistently outpacing expectations.

Unfortunately, this was not one of those meetings.  Throughout implementation of the new structure, we identified a troubling trend: the larger the supplier, the more likely they would ignore the requested framework.  And in this particular pitch, the Fortune 150 supplier did so to their own detriment.

We understand the dynamics in these meetings and are not naïve to the tactics employed by suppliers to control the narrative.  We also understand how some suppliers may believe they are smarter with better resources, better data and superior insights.  But even if these beliefs were true, what retailers really want—and (large) suppliers routinely seem to miss—is that retailer asks and needs be directly addressed, even if it is difficult to do so.  Without being able to address each specific ask, the two parties simply become ships passing in the night. 

This particular meeting started with the suppler providing a lengthy background on the company and its mission.  Strike one as it was not on the agenda and already well known to the buyer. The supplier then moved into their current product performance with the retailer.  Strike two as the metrics were well known and shared in advance of the meeting.  And then the supplier segued into other brands owned by the supplier that had similar attributes to the products under discussion.  Strike three as not only did the retailer not ask for a recap of these products, the brands had already been expressly rejected.  At this point we were at minute 55 of an hour meeting and the supplier had not addressed a single ask.  After being informed that the meeting would be a hard hour, the supplier fumbled through 5 minutes of an unfocused barrage of information regarding the new products, still failing to explicitly address a single ask.

In the end, our client did not receive any of the requested information.   Predictably, they will be passing on the supplier’s new products.  In addition, they are looking to reduce the supplier’s overall SKU count because other suppliers in the space stepped up by directly addressing the requested asks, thereby showing how they would be better partners in the future. 

The takeaway for suppliers (or anyone pitching in a meeting) is not novel: Understand the buyer’s asks and needs before the meeting.  If these needs are not clear before the meeting, it is your responsibility to get clarity.  Once understood, show how smart you are by addressing those asks and meeting the retailer’s needs, while finding ways to also meet your own.  A sales pitch that only addresses your own needs without regard for the other’s will always miss the mark.

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