Paul Hargreaves is the chief executive of Cotswold Fayre a specialist fine food wholesaler.

Face to face sales – dead or alive?

I enjoyed my weekend after not having one last week. It will be the same for many who were exhibiting and setting-up the show last weekend. As always, I spent the rest of the week exhausted and “peopled out”, but it serves me right for wearing a silly suit drawing attention to myself. One of the highlights of the show is being able to catch up with many customers and suppliers that sadly time doesn’t permit the rest of the year, so it’s a good exhaustion I am feeling!

It is easy to think the hard work is done after a busy show. It is not! You may have some orders taken at the show, but most of your leads will be interest and not firm orders. How will you follow them up? Years ago, all companies had “sales reps” (immediately I know you are thinking of a man in a bad suit with greasy hair and a shiny briefcase). They weren’t all like that, but many were! These days very few companies within speciality food have sales people out on the road. Even some wholesalers have ditched their sales teams or stripped them back. But is this the right direction to go? Do we still need face to face sales in the days of the internet?

One might argue that in these days of increased competition, there is more need for face-to-face sales than ever before? But some buyers are resistant to “reps” coming in to push their particular brand. With the number of brands in the market now, that is hardly surprising. But how are you as a brand owner and producer going to ensure that it is your products on the shelves over the next few months rather than the many others that buyer saw at the show last week?

One way of doing this is to ensure your products are listed with a wholesaler with an active sales team. These experts in their trade can then go out and ensure that interest in your brand is turned into an order. In our case, these people are most definitely not seen as “reps” – a term I banned internally 18 years ago. Rather they are Account Managers, and the buyers view them as people who help them maximise profit for their store, by ensuring every inch of space has the products there that are going to generate good sales. This is account management, a long way away from the greasy-haired rep. Many of our sales team have been retailers themselves, which clearly helps. These account managers should be allies helping buyers increase profit, not blinkered sales people pushing their own wares. The time for an experienced sales team like this is not past – one might argue more essential than ever with the plethora of new brands coming to market.

Finally, on a different note, I was pleased to receive an invitation last Monday to the Golden Fork Dinner – an entertaining evening as always. We had a couple of vegetarians/vegans on our table, who didn’t seem particularly pleased that for the third year running an animal product was the supreme champion (and the two years prior to that a dairy product won). Should we be alienating those who are part of the fastest growing UK food trend at present – veganism? Are there any vegetarians or vegans on the main tasting panel?

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