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Fifty Cent … Not the Musician, the Deal Breaker


Guest articles > Fifty Cent … Not the Musician, the Deal Breaker


by: Doug Martin


Kalamazoo Michigan is a nice area with nice people and I was excited to make calls up there with a local distributor in the booze business. By booze I mean they were wholesalers of spirits, beer and wine to the local retail and restaurant trade.

Most sales folks I know envy those who are selling the elixir of life, as it must seemingly be the world’s easiest sale. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a highly competitive, skinny margin business with near zero loyalty. And those in the business in Michigan, work hard at maintaining their shelf space and putting their own stock out.

To add to an already tough job, the entire state of Michigan was in shock, having being hammered relentlessly with economic woes. Few areas were hit as hard as Michigan. No one would have blamed the good folks there if they had just covered their windows with tin foil and rocked themselves to sleep in the fetal position.

I waited for the morning briefing meeting to finish off and connect with my ground trooper for a day of retail calls. I could hear the murmurs from the briefing room and the commotion as the meeting broke up. And as the team exited, mostly with slumped shoulders and defeated expressions, an older fellow approached and asked if I was Doug.

If you’ve been in the people business for any real amount of time, you get good at reading peoples faces and interpreting their expressions. This was not the time to appear overly optimistic. I nodded my affirmation and he simply said “Ok, let’s get going, it’s going to be an interesting day”.

Settled in the truck I decided to break the ice; “Um, I’m going to go out on a limb here, tough meeting?”

“Yeah, you might say that” came the downtrodden reply, although I thought I detected just a slight curling of the lips. “We have a price increase to implement and it’s not going to go over very well”.

Kevin had lived through many challenging times before and had a lot of road experience behind him. But this monetary adjustment heaped on him seemed to knock all the wind out of his sails. The increase he was agonizing over was a 50-cent surcharge on split case orders. The anticipated pushback was almost insurmountable to him. Not to discount the fact that Kevin really couldn’t find the logic in the charge either. I sat quietly.

Our first stop was with a buyer from a 14-store grocery chain. And although I’m certain under different circumstances, Phil would have been an easygoing guy; the aura of stress around him had him too, at the brink. Did I mention things were tough in Michigan? Everyone was rattled, buyers and sellers alike. In the truck, I had gotten all the background information on the price adjustments and asked Kevin if I could do the presentation to Phil. Understandably skeptical, Kevin agreed, with the proviso that he’d jump in if I started to mess it up.

With the niceties out of the way, a clearly agitated Phil (downsizing had cost him two assistants and he was dealing with an enormous workload) gave us the signal to begin.

“Not to overstate the obvious” I began “times are tough in Michigan and we’ve got some good news, that may appear to be bad news initially”.

Raised eyebrows can mean so many different things, but in this case I figured it meant-Don’t you dare try and give me bad news. But one must bully-on so to speak and although Kevin was in near meltdown mode, I continued, “We are implementing a small surcharge on split cases of 50-cents…”. Whereupon Phil tersely interrupted and defiantly stated, “Not here you aren’t”.

Before any response could be uttered, Phil launched into a tirade, shifting his eyes between Kevin and myself, as Kevin slid further and further under the desk. “Worst economic cycle in 40 if not 50 years and you have the nerve to bring me a price increase? Do you have any clue what the unemployment rate in this state is”? For the sake of the kiddies who regularly read my column I’ll not go into the verbatim’s of Phil’s lengthy hmmm what’s the word I’m looking for, balling out. But he had said the magic phrase I was hoping he’d say, and as his crimson face retreated back to it’s original color, I jumped in.

“The reported number is 14% but the real number is probably closer to 16%” I commented.

Somewhat confused Phil said “what…” not really emphasizing it as a question.

“The unemployment rate” I said, adding “but do you know what the unemployment rate is at this distributor”? Not expecting an answer I just kept on going “Zero”.

“The management of this distributor knows that part of the big picture to economic recovery is keeping people working. They have made tough decisions is a variety of their business disciplines with an eye on keeping their staff levels the same. In other words, not adding to an already big unemployment problem. Everybody, your customers included, has a vested interest in keeping their neighbors working. The nominal split-case charge ensures three warehouse people continue to be warehouse people and as such, contribute their share to the economy. If your customers knew that paying a dime more for a bottle of wine would keep Michigan peeps working, do you think they would gladly pay it”?

“Well, I’m not sure…” was Phil’s somewhat shy response.

“How about we ask them Phil. Let’s schedule to build a small floor display featuring a selection of my distributors products. And we’ll put up a Notice to Customers sign that explains how this distributor hasn’t laid off a single employee and their on-going commitment to Michigan’s economic recovery. Small things that add up to bigger results, and we’ll let your customers decide.”

You could see the wheels turning in Phil’s mind during the silence and when he came to a decision he turned to Kevin and said, “OK, I’ll give two weeks down the isle with a four by four, I want to approve the signage though”.

We spent a few minutes by the door with Phil talking about how this tough time will inevitably come to an end, but man it’s tough. Strong handshakes all round and we were off.

Kevin and I jumped in the truck and started to our next destination as the swirls of a feature order danced in our heads. “C’mon” he said, “I’ll buy you a coffee”. And for the first time since we met, I saw a slight smile cross his face when he said, “It’s only 50 cents”.


About the Author: Douglas Martin is a Professional Corporate Sales Trainer featuring his trademarked seminar program EPIG™ Customer Relationship Architecture and purveyor of The Weekly Sales Beast. where his lighter side of heavy selling musings are syndicated worldwide.

Contributor: Douglas Martin

Published here on: 13-Feb-11

Classification: Sales


MSWord: Fifty Cent - Not the Musician, the Deal Breaker

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