The days of hard selling are over. Today’s business owners and sales execs need to build relationships and prove their value as a trusted partner. Herschel Oppel, founder of Retail Revolution Group gives his tried-and-tested tips for getting sales right.
For many SMEs, landing a corporate client is the ultimate win. Unfortunately, accessing the decision maker is difficult, and, if you do manage to get your foot in the door, holding their attention and proving your value is even more so.
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So how do you close that all important sale when your prospect is a high-level corporate player who’s short on time and receives multiple pitches on a weekly basis?
For Herschel Oppel, founder of Retail Revolution Group and former group MD of Platinum Group (holders of the Urban Wear, Hilton Wiener and Aca Joe brands), it’s all about how much value you bring to the table.
Building a relationship
“CEOs and senior managers are incredibly busy,” he says. “You need to respect this fact – you’re asking for a slice of very valuable time, so you better make the meeting worth their while. Never, ever waste their time, because you won’t get a second chance to create a good first impression.”
His advice is direct: “For me, the first meeting is never about the pitch. It’s a relationship builder. Step one is setting up a chat with the decision maker. I like to suggest a coffee. I use my contacts, network connections and even LinkedIn to make first contact. I don’t just ask for a chat over coffee though. I let them know that I’ve got some valuable industry insights to share. This meeting is about them – they should walk away from it having learnt something valuable that they can now implement in their business.”
The first meeting is also Oppel’s chance to share his story. “15 years with Platinum Group hasn’t just given insight into the retail industry, but great stories to share as well. It’s important for anyone I’m meeting with to get a sense of who I am. The more personal the better – relationships are built on personal stories, and credibility is the direct result of offering valuable ideas, so it’s a two pronged meeting. This isn’t a pitch or a hard sell. It’s sharing my experiences, lessons and insights. It should be relaxed and entertaining, but also full of interesting nuggets.
“For me, those nuggets center around details about Aca Joe’s turnaround, and what I’ve learnt from my annual trips to the UK and Europe, evaluating their best retail groups and how they’re approaching the market. The CEO who I’m meeting with should walk away from our chat feeling smarter and more informed for having spent an hour with me. They should return to the office with some new ideas about how the industry giants are approaching their sector, and how they can leverage those ideas in their business. And I want them to feel like they know me, and can therefore trust me.
Having achieved the first steps towards creating a strong relationship built on trust, with a clear focus on adding value to his prospect, regardless of a sale, Oppel then asks for a second meeting.
“This is when I really come prepared,” he says. “It takes a large degree of time and effort on my part, so I need to be sure that this really is a company that I want to do business with, and who is interested in potentially doing business with me, before I formulate the pitch.”
In Oppel’s case, the pitch is preempted by a lot of research. “I become a mystery shopper at their stores,” he explains. “I’ve found that the best way to find pain points and devise solutions is to experience the brand. I then formulate a strategy based on a careful analysis of my personal experiences with the brand, benchmarked against international standards, and with a number of solutions ranging across budgets.”
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In order to be able to create a pitch that’s relevant to his prospect, Oppel draws from the first meeting as well.
“If I did my job properly at the first meeting, the CEO should have shared some of his pain points with me, enabling me to understand his business needs better. If I can’t prove the value I’m adding there and then, there won’t be a third meeting. Corporate decisions take time. Show the value upfront, build relationships, and don’t be afraid to leverage your networks and experience. At the end of the day, corporates are made up of people, and people do business with people, so be a supplier or partner they can trust.”