Selling effectively to owners of restaurants and bars is mainly about effective relationship management. Sounds simple, yet most aspiring vendors are ill-equipped and ill-informed to achieve this goal. I have heard horror stories from my bar owner friends who have had to endure very awkward sales approaches from reps who clearly had no idea what they were doing.
For example, one story I heard was about a craft beer rep who came in with an entitled attitude, dropped off a six-pack of canned beer, said, “I’ll check in with you in a week to see if you like it,” and then left. When they returned, the bar owner didn’t even remember their name, who they worked for or what they were selling. As sad as this sales approach is, it’s widespread in the industry.
While many high-income vendors differ in their approach to generating business, most will agree that the relationship must come before a value proposition is presented.
Here are four tips to help build better relationships with bar owners, which will ultimately lead to selling more products and services.
1. Publish a Newsletter
Get a list of all the liquor licensees in your territory and self-publish a newsletter that portrays your personality, shares your opinions on certain issues, and demonstrates knowledge about your field. Print it out, put it into an envelope that appears to be a personal letter, and send it to your list monthly.
After some time doing this, your reputation will precede you, and when you meet these people who have been receiving your information face to face, they’ll be more respectful, interested in knowing what you’re about, and more likely to do business with you. Set aside 30 minutes each day to write compelling content that would be interesting to an audience comprised of bar operators. If you do this consistently you’ll generate more leads, lose fewer clients, and close deals more easily.
2. Go the Extra Mile
Your lead list will likely not be huge. It will probably be 100 to 200 names, maybe 1,000 if you’re working a large territory. Since it’s so small, it’s up to you to know everything you possibly can about everyone on your list. The more you know about them, the better you’ll market to them because you can make it personal.
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I, for instance, once sent a birthday card and a bottle of wine to one of my bar owner clients for his birthday. He gave me three referrals worth $50,000 over the next few months. There was no solicitation in the bottle of wine or the birthday card, it was just a nice gesture to a key contact. This guy had a lot of vendors and I was the only one who sent him an actual package for his birthday. Going the extra mile helped me stand out from the pack and ultimately made him an evangelist for my business.
3. Meet Your Clients Regularly
Nothing beats a face-to-face sit-down with a client who’s already buying from you. So many good things happen at meetings.
Clients you meet with face to face stay on longer as repeat customers. Additionally, valuable intel is generated during meetings. I meet with my clients regularly to discuss the effectiveness of my services, but during these meetings clients and I often talk about the industry. It’s during these conversations that I get insider info like what bars are shutting down or under construction, who is firing who, and general gossip. Sometimes it leads to referrals.
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Other times, plans are discussed to expand with them as a company. I have several bar operators as clients who started with one bar but then opened multiple venues. It was never a question if I was going to get their business once they opened another location. If you want to be seen as a key partner that plays a direct role in the success of your customer, you meet with them frequently to ensure your products and services are helping them reach their goals.
4. Be of the Industry
The person who has the highest chance of success selling to the hospitality industry is someone who has a hospitality background. This helps with understanding the value proposition of your product or service at its core and effectively communicating that value to the marketplace.
If you’re selling POS systems but have never worked in a restaurant and used a POS, you’ll never know the pain of having a POS system crash in the middle of a busy shift, right after you rang in a large order for a table of needy people who each required three mods per order. You won’t sell your POS system the way it needs to be sold because you won’t understand the value the same way a hospitality person does. Understanding your prospect’s pain is vital, and there’s no substitute for direct industry experience.
Industry involvement also helps with communication and community. There’s a language in the bar industry that everyone speaks. When you can communicate to a bar operator using that language, a rapport is instantly built to which non-industry people simply have no access. What most new sales people don’t realize is that most of building profitable relationships with other industry people is just sharing war stories, laughing, and being a memorable character. If you have no war stories, it will be difficult to truly become one of the gang.
Kevin is an operations consultant with over a decade of experience working directly with bar, restaurant and nightclub owners on all points of the spectrum: from family-owned single bar operations to large companies with locations on an international scale. Kevin works with them all and understands the unique challenges each kind of company faces.
He is the author of a book entitled Night Club Marketing Systems – How to Get Customers for Your Bar. He is also a regular writer for Nightclub & Bar, providing information high-level operators seek to get the extra edge in their marketing, sales and operations.
He continues to write today, providing specialized information directly to nightclub, bar and restaurant owners from his workshops, newsletters and magazine articles. He is also active in the field, operating an inventory auditing practice with Sculpture Hospitality.