The Product Is King?

Ways For Suppliers To Think Beyond The Package

As seen in Global Retail Brands Magazine, November 2018

We often are product-obsessed in our industry and are encouraged by retailers to think that the product is the only thing that matters. With all the concentration around your functional attributes and manufacturing, it is easy as a supplier to believe that this is all you have to worry about. Great product, consistent quality, dependable service at the right price, and BOOM, my job is done, or is it?


The product is definitely king, but even in the age of brutal RFP’s (request-for-proposals) where this is what we are taught to believe and focus on, suppliers need to go way beyond this somewhat sterile prerequisite. This is the ticket into the game, the table stakes, but it cannot be seen as the end game where you differentiate and build a strategic partnership.


So here are some introspective questions to consider as you think about not just winning the business because of your incredible product capability, but winning it because you are holistically the best.


Do you sell the same way to every retailer?

The tendency for suppliers is to dismiss this question, but I see some of the best basically selling the same way and even with the same fundamental presentation. Oh, a few slides might change, and of course we deeply understand that retail channel differences mean different product and assortment decisions. But, do you truly understand the retailer, and the desk beyond the buyer you call on with real intimacy?

  • What are all the category and consumer metrics they are evaluated on? How are they looking at repeat purchase, stemming leakage, basket size, etc.?
  • What are the retailer’s overarching goals, beyond your category, in a macro sense? Can you help them?
  • How do they segment their customers from a shopper-marketing perspective?
  • How do assets beyond syndicated data affect their decision making?


Are your salespeople real experts?

The old dynamic of the retailer as just a “procurement” expert and the supplier as the true product and category expert has also been flipped at many places in the industry. Costco’s deep member, category and product expertise across Buyers’ desks is unparalleled as just one example. If you as a supplier are to shine today and be differentiated versus your supplier-competitors, your salespeople need to be expert beyond just the product. Salespeople have to have deep category knowledge, overarching understanding of what drives best practices, and be able to be conversant on global innovation. Unless you are a supplier with a Clarence Birdseye-like innovation (patenting the quick-frozen process), or you are the only one who owns it, your salespeople can’t acquiesce the role as “expert” to the retailer. They need to contribute to the strategic discussion.


Tell me something I don’t know

There is a popular political show where the host ends every episode with a question to his guests, “tell me something I don’t know,” and it applies to us in an interesting way too. Suppliers should always have something new, some provocative tidbit, some relevant insight to add to their retailer conversations at every point of touch. If you don’t, you run the danger of being a commodity, becoming a shade-of-gray in an increasingly RFP world.


Suppliers can distinguish themselves through insights, through the people themselves and through intimate retailer understanding and knowledge, and all of this goes beyond the product. Product is indeed the king, more than ever, but unless you reach beyond its confines, you won’t always establish an enduring partnership.




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