The Magic of Buyer Empathy

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How does your product impact your buyer? Does it align with his or her goals and objectives? Does it help grow the category, or might it cannibalize the sales of other brands?

One of the least leveraged and most powerful tools of the trade is empathy. It’s especially powerful when applied to the buyer. Food founders are passionate about their brand, excited with how it will impact the lives of their consumers. But, what does it mean for the buyer?

Food founders are passionate about their brand, excited with how it will impact the lives of their consumers.

Understanding the buyer impact, making that a key part of a go-to-market strategy is vital to achieving the desired distribution gains. Yet, too often, it is overlooked. A brand will have attributes that are particularly attractive to a buyer and should be used as part of the business case presented. A brand may also have aspects that aren’t aligned with a buyer’s needs or wants. Recognizing those is the first step to overcoming objections.

For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on a conventional retail buyer. Just know that these same principles are applicable to a buyer in any channel.

Let’s start with what a buyer’s key motivators are likely to be. The first is category gross profit. A buyer is trying to create that perfect cocktail of products from commodity to premium. The perfect blend produces the ideal balance of velocity and margin that results in a total category gross profit that meets or exceeds her targets.

Closely related to the above is space. At the end of the day, retail grocery is a real estate business. There is a finite amount of linear feet in each category and the buyer’s responsibility is to maximize the production of that space in both revenue and profit. All of course, while meeting the consumers’ expectations and desires.

At the end of the day, retail grocery is a real estate business.

A growing focus that many buyers have is the need to create an experiential shopping trip for their customers. They are searching for an opportunity to create a treasure hunt, or for a novel item that supports shopper interruption and entertainment.

Although there are many other buyer motivators, in the interest of brevity, I end with promotions. A buyer is responsible for bringing in, managing, and maximizing the promotional dollars. Often the larger brands have firm promotional calendars and a buyer frequently is expected to fill certain promotional blocks in the weekly circular.

So, how does the magic of buyer empathy play in all the above? Let’s explore it in the same order.

An emerging brand must understand how their product fits into the pricing and gross margin architecture of a category. If the product is a premium product sold at a good margin, it could be attractive to a buyer from a penny profit standpoint. If conversely, it is a value price positioned item that cannibalizes from other premium offerings, it could be a threat. Unless, of course, the potential velocity is great enough to offset the penny profit loss of the premium. It’s so critical to understand this interplay. If you don’t, hire someone who does. Because, if you know it prior to meeting with a buyer and have a plan, it can be very beneficial. If you don’t know, it could derail your entire meeting.

It’s so critical to understand this interplay. If you don’t, hire someone who does.

The pack-out of a product, the facings per linear foot, and the flexibility of how it can be merchandised all impact buying decisions. If a brand offers an item that allows for more facings per foot, it could be exciting to a buyer. Similarly, if a brand offers its own merchandising solutions such as shippers, racks, etc., that too can be very appealing. It’s a must to understand how your brand at the shelf fits within in the total set and whether that fit is positive or negative. That information is critical prior to a presentation to a buyer.

If a product comes with its own buzz, a cool story, or even some store-level events beyond just demos, a buyer’s ears are likely to perk up. Consider this newly found need to create an experiential shopping trip and how your brand might support those efforts.

Lastly, every brand dreams to get the key promotional periods; holidays, the Super Bowl, and more. There are a lot of promotional periods in a year and a buyer must fill them all with something from their category. Offering a flexible promotional plan and giving a buyer some discretion on when to promote, could earn you hero status. Yes, you might miss the dream periods, but building a relationship with a buyer is usually a great trade-off.

The real lesson here is that before you approach a buyer, prior to any meeting, know, from behind the eyes of that buyer, their key motivators. That knowledge and understanding can do more for growing your brand than most realize. Buyer empathy is magical.

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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.