In terms of sales, are you more focused on opening new accounts or on servicing your current customers?
Existing business always comes first. We try to add new partners as well but not at the expense of existing business.
Is the sales cycle taking longer today or are your customers quicker to make purchasing decisions?
The major difference between the last few years and now is you actually need a compelling reason for the retailer to bring a new line or a new brand into their store. During COVID, people would buy anything so long as you had it in stock. Today, if you have a good reason for them to pull the trigger, it doesn’t take any longer than usual, but you definitely need that reason.
How much of the sales process today is handled in person in comparison to through the use of technology?
I don’t have hard numbers, but I’d say an increasing amount of sales come through technology now [more] than they did prior to COVID. During COVID it was a necessity. Now that things have opened up, some have returned to a preference for face-to-face business while others have made the switch to the ease of technology now that they are used to it.
Have the buying motivations of your customers changed in the past year? If so, how have you had to adjust your sales pitch?
Retailers are becoming more discerning on what they want to bring into their stores. In terms of how we address that, it’s on an individual basis. We try not to approach retailers as a homogenous group. Each has specific concerns. We listen to what is important to them and then try to work with them to provide a selection of our brands that will work for their store and their model of business.
How do you typically acknowledge or thank your long-term customers?
We try to show our appreciation by keeping our promises. While many companies reduced or removed specials altogether, the benefits of our Aganorsa Leaf Select program remained in place during the pandemic. From a fiscal perspective, it would have made sense to take away specials when we were having trouble supplying the market demand, but we felt ensuring we keep strong relationships with our partners was more important.
What’s a skill that you feel more sales people working with tobacco products need to learn today in order to be successful?
Empathy. You need to be able to understand the perspective and the experience of the retailer on an intellectual and emotional level if you want long-term success. That requires empathy.
This story first appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.