Have you spotted an opportunity? A product that caterer or other food related businesses really need? If so, you may already be developing a product that will solve a problem for potential clients, let’s say restaurant owners. How do you gear up to approach the right people, convince them you have what they need and get your product sold?
Choose the best fit and don’t be intimidated by big names
You should always aim as high as possible when approaching restaurants. Go for the big names and large chains. It’s good to start with businesses you sense have brand or culture alignment with your product. If you’re a match it will be hard to ignore you.
It can be hard to break into restaurant chains as they often work in different ways, with long term trusted suppliers. Don’t be surprised if you have to diversify, working with distributors to sell your products to larger restaurant brands.
Part of aiming high means targeting quality small independent establishments. These can be very influential in the long run, enabling you to build a solid local reputation that will help you take your business nationwide.
Work your network
Use your existing network, and avoid blanket networking events, as these can be a waste of time if your product only targets a particular type of food establishment. A good name in the industry, through happy customers, is also essential as they do the talking for you. You can reach out through social platforms to up and coming brands you believe are essential to work with. Look at people you are already connected to – and if they are the right fit, contact them as well.
Maintain a focus on your clients
In all instances, it’s important to relate to the people you are talking to as a human and a business owner yourself; offer them something they need (or didn’t know they wanted). When it comes to following up and trying to secure a meeting or product demonstrations, be efficient: check in, but don’t be overly persistent, as you don’t want to become a nuisance.
When talking to restaurants, it’s important to keep the focus on them. Seek out what your customer needs and approach that first. Don’t over-promise or pretend to be something you are not: It’s important never to be too salesy, especially in early communications. You should start by listening and gaining a sense of what the restaurant owner is looking for, and show how your product can provide the solution, or fulfil objectives in ways they may not have thought of. When you’re ready why not invite people to meet your team and see your product being used – at your office or at a happy client’s place?
Remember: always think like a restaurant owner. For example, don’t call or drop into see them at their busiest times! Showing you understand their day-to-day challenges means they will want to work with you.
Show confidence through your brand and product knowledge
Confidence in your product goes a long way, and that is conveyed through your brand identity. A strong brand conveys quality, vision and professionalism. Of course, you have to have the balance right – it doesn’t send a good message if your branding has all the bells and whistles but your product, or knowledge of your product capability, is found lacking. Take some time to ensure that your brand materials and marketing showcase your product, that they tell the story of how you got here and portray your business as aspirational and going places.
Build relationships for repeat business
Getting your product into restaurants goes a long way beyond just closing a deal. Once you have an agreement, you need to keep working to ensure the product is operating as it should be and continues to fulfil the restaurant owner’s evolving needs over time.
Always look after the small independents as much as your larger clients. Over time they can have as much of a platform to shout about your product (or more) than your larger chains. Everyone respects the care and attention that independents give to sourcing their products, so keeping them happy is vital. Again, focus on the individual, not simply the brand or size of the business; keep the conversation channels open, ensure the product is performing as promised, and invest in your customer service as you grow.
Wherever you are on the path to developing a commercial product, you should be planning how to sell into restaurants. Spend time researching, keep making new contacts work existing connections and get to know the businesses and business owner who could one day become a maintain stay of your enterprise.
By Laura Gozney, co-founder of Gozney, makers of commercial and residential stone fire pizza ovens