Sam’s Club’s “30 Minutes to Win It” event is a way for small vendors to get in front of some of the most important buyers in the world. It started in 2014 and saw tremendous success. I attended the next year. Below is an account of our experience there, as well as how you should prepare to pitch to a group of buyers if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Do Your Research, No Matter Where You Are
My sales director and I traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas on March 16th to pitch to Sam’s Club. We were invited to the event when some buyers stopped by our booth just before CES began that January. I bought and read Sam’s paperback autobiography during the trip. Visiting the Walmart museum downtown and reading the book helped me get a glimpse of why they are the largest retailer worldwide. And it showed me the retailer’s point of view, from inventory turn to streamlining logistics. Prior to the event, we started to fill out some routine paperwork for all Walmart and Sam’s Club products. (The two stores share some of the back-end logistics like vendor numbers and set-up forms.)
The first night, Sam’s Club hosted everyone in a large auditorium to teach us the Sam’s Club philosophy, what to expect the next day and participate in the Sam’s Club cheer. We then attended an hour for networking and asking more questions. We were able to talk further to buyers in our category. It was a very valuable time to cement faces with names for both buyers and vendors.
Presentation Strategies That Work
The next morning, we were scheduled for an 11 a.m. presentation. Eight people were in the room, including some higher-ups. It was pretty low key, but they asked hard questions about competition, pricing and how we would bring value to their customers. They clearly did their homework. They knew the breadth of the category, the specifics of the products and how the items might fit into their stores. They just wanted to see the product in person and check out the people behind the brand. They kept all of the samples we brought. Sam’s Club implemented this event is to have a quick, systematic way of evaluating, educating and bringing on new vendors of all sizes. They promised to make a quick decision during the pitch, and they did. At the end of the half hour, they accepted our product.
These four strategies contributed greatly to our success:
- Focus on quality. Buyers are impressed primarily with the quality of your product. Even if you don’t have a nationally known brand name, a differentiated, quality product with a good price point and strong packaging can carry you a long way. We created our product using the best materials with strict manufacturing processes. We then designed high-end packaging to show it off. The care that we took in every step of the process showed, and the buyers could tell.
- Set yourself apart. Being prepared to defend our product against the competition was also crucial. This doesn’t mean simply addressing the superiority of the product features and benefits. You should be able to explain that you have a manufacturer’s warranty, a trained customer service department, fulfillment from the U.S. (rather than overseas) and a marketing staff that can work with the buyer to optimize in-store presentation. If there are any issues, you also need to take responsibility to help fix problems. You can’t just drop products into the store and walk away. It’s about teamwork.
- Show up when it counts. As the CEO, I don’t go out on a lot of sales calls. I have a lot of other responsibilities. But the fact that I showed up to make the presentation probably also reflected well upon our organization’s dedication to working closely with Sam’s Club. In fact, it’s the largest single sale we’ve made to date. So yes, it was worth my time to attend.
- Present the value proposition. Perhaps the most important point is being able to present the value proposition to the buying team. The value proposition is meant for the consumer, not necessarily for Sam’s Club. But any retailer’s customers are king — it’s who they answer to. I was able to present my well-worn Sam’s Club membership card to prove that I know their customer, because I am one. So while they negotiated hard with us on the numbers, they were just trying to increase value proposition for their customer. Understanding that, you can be prepared to speak their language when you present your pitch and your numbers. Since we aren’t a nationally recognized brand, we have limited clout. We added value, took a price cut and sealed the deal.
Getting a “yes” from the event was just a first step in a long series of steps. There are forms the fill out, computer hurdles, design processes, repackaging and numerous other investments before the product reaches the stores. Sam’s was a top priority throughout our organization, so we fast-tracked everything through every department. Even our vendors were eager to push our project forward, since they were excited for us. And with this work, our products will be in stores just five months after the initial “yes.”
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