It’s Not All About You

Editor’s note: This column appeared in our May 2009 issue.

By Jim DeBetta

Picture the scene…

After endless calls, perfectly crafted e-mails and perhaps a bit of shameless begging, the major retail buyer you have been after has finally

Jim DeBetta

Jim DeBetta

agreed to meet. Excitement ensues. Then the reality and gravity of the situation sets in. Your mind races with questions and begins to create a checklist in preparation.

Recently, I took a client of mine (we will call him Joe) into a high-level meeting with a major retail buyer. Though a great opportunity, Joe went wrong when he didn’t remember the golden rule of selling to retailers – these people are in business to make money. If you do not demonstrate this, you have no real chance of selling your product in their store.

Here’s an overview of Joe’s could have, would have, should have:

Here is what Joe did: Our meeting was only scheduled for 30 minutes, yet Joe spent the first 20 minutes talking about how great his product was and how friends, neighbors and a local store owner just thought it was the greatest thing ever created.

Here is what Joe should have done: Joe should have spent less than five minutes explaining what the product is, while focusing on the key benefits to the retailer‘s customers. Because Joe already convinced the buyer to meet with him we can safely assume the buyer received detailed information about the product and did not need to hear it twice.

Here is what Joe did: Joe told the buyer his product was sure to sell well in his stores, but did not provide any research or information to back it up.

Here is what Joe should have done: Buyers often hear this claim from hopeful inventor-entrepreneurs. Joe should have conducted in-store research about any potential competitive products the retailer currently sells and then ask the buyer if those products are performing well. Asking the buyer questions that pertain to his store and industry are critical to learning what concerns the buyer and then explaining how your product can be a solution.

Here is what Joe did: Joe talked to the point of exhaustion and the buyer kept staring at his watch.

Here is what Joe should have done: Joe should have spent time asking critical questions and then carefully listening to the answers to understand the buyer’s perspective. For example, ask a buyer how their business is and if there is an opportunity to place your product in their stores. You must probe and learn what issues, if any, exist with the current competition and if your product solves any of those problems. It is also important to learn what the buyer’s profit margin requirements are so that you can be sure your product gives the buyer the profit opportunity he needs to succeed. These and other questions allow you to properly interact with the buyer to learn more about what concerns him and what his needs are versus talking about you and your products, which does little or nothing for him and his company.

The key to an initial buyer meeting is to get to know the buyer, learn about his needs and take what you learn from the meeting to formulate a plan that helps the buyer achieve his goals. Rarely will a buyer ever agree to buy your product during your first meeting.

You must try to make him look good to his management team by proving the product can replace the current competition by offering an alternative that earns a healthy profit, generates great “sell through,” and encourages customers to come back to their stores to also buy from other product categories. If you have the buyer’s best interest at heart versus trying to just sell him stuff, you will gain a friend and advocate who can help you land your products on their shelves and achieve success.

Jim DeBetta is president of Slingshot Products, a national product-development firm that serves Fortune 500 companies and individual inventors. Visit