Switching Dog Food Customers
It was the end of my first month in sales, many years ago. I was all set up at the best spot in one of my dealer’s store locations with my card table of pet food samples of all kinds…large dog, small dog, overweight dogs and even a cat food sample. Literature was laid out that explained how well balanced and digestible this dog food was. I had free coupons, frequent buyer cards and $1 off coupons. A customer with a small dog could have actually fed their dog for 6 months on the free product we were offering that wonderful October Saturday afternoon. This store was the dealer’s best location for selling premium dog food and they gave me the best spot in the store to set up my dog food display table for their big annual Fall Harvest Open House.
We felt like we had the absolute best premium dog food product on the market….better digestibility, better packaging and better formulation than the top premium brands at that time. We had testimonials from customers and quotes from a top pet food nutritionist. Heck, even my own dogs were eating it and doing great! This was going to be a piece of cake to switch these customers over. How could they resist everything we were offering?
One by one the customers started pouring into the store and one by one they flat out refused to switch their dog to our products. Oh, they took the samples and occasionally listened to the description of how great the product would be for their dog. But in the end, we maybe sold 5 bags by the end of what seemed like a brutally long Saturday afternoon. Gritting my teeth, I watched as bag after bag of Pro Plan, Iams and Science Diet went streaming out the door. To add insult to injury, I would wander through the store and find a few of my free sample bags laying around. I think you get the picture. It was a bad day. As I packed up my portable pet food display and headed home, I plugged my bag phone into the cigarette lighter and made two phone calls. First, I called my wife to let her know that we might be making a slight modification in our life as this sales thing wasn’t really going to work out. My second call went to my sales manager with the same message. After he got done laughing, he told me to stop into the office on Monday and we’d talk about it. By laughing, I mean laughing with me (sort of). He had a great sense of humor and had a great way of sharing it.
We met Monday morning and as usual, he brought my morale back up after such a dismal event. As the months turned to years and years to decades, that event always stuck out in my mind for several reasons, good and bad. So, I thought I’d share it this week as it wasn’t the worst day of my selling career, but it ranks right up there. Below are a few of the things I took away from that day that you might find helpful.
- Don’t underestimate the power of habit/time: Many of the customer’s coming in were on a mission to get a discount on or buy their current brand of pet food. Many were husbands that were going in to get pet food they were told to get. Switching their pet’s diet was just not going to happen, even if I gave it to them. The other premium brands had been on the market for years and we were a newcomer. It takes time and repetition. Expecting a coupon to switch a customer wasn’t going to do it. For all the type A, high achiever, get-it-done-now folks out there, be aware of this. It can feel like it’s taking forever.
- Don’t underestimate the power of position in the customer’s mind: Premium brands were spending millions of dollars in advertising, promotions, sponsorships and trade show activities to get their brands positioned in the mind of the customer as a premium product. We weren’t bringing that level of marketing to the table and really shouldn’t have expected to get those results. Without it, we would need a lot of time as mentioned above.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of a pet: I am convinced that people will balance their pet’s diet better than their own. I didn’t really grow up in a household where we fed a premium dog food nor did we really look at the nutritional value of our dog’s food. Premium dog foods came along later and hit a niche in the market that really evaluates what they were feeding their dog. Right, wrong or indifferent, it showed me the importance of the emotional connection that goes into a sale. It served me well to learn that customer decisions are often an emotional one versus exact science. Sure, you can read it and understand it, but seeing someone chuck your dog food sample in the trash really brings the point home.
- Keep it in perspective – Don’t get too low or too high on one event or one day: Luckily, I had a great sales manager that was able to help coach me and put this event into perspective. We discussed the importance of this product in the scope of all the feed and pet products we had to offer. Once we did that, it didn’t seem so bad. As mentioned, we were able to put a humorous perspective on it, which always makes a person recover faster from a down day.
- You’re better than your worst day: or in this case my fourth worst day. It was great to have a support network in place that reminded me of that. Certainly my wife and manager reminded me that this wasn’t an indication of my ability to sell or my future ability to sell. It was my first month and they reminded me that success might take some time & refocusing. I also reached out to other sales people in the company to find out how they did with the product. Another lesson in how to recover from a down day. Reach out to your support network for help. This is the network that can discuss how it really is going. Not the network that you have to brag to that it’s always going super great.
Epilogue – We ended up launching a premium line of pet food several more times before finding our niche in the market. The product was a fit for the market we were in. I got a little better at working open houses and I gained a whole new respect for those folks handing out samples at the grocery store. And as I watch the folks stream past and eat several pieces of food that they have no idea what it is, I am thoroughly convinced people are still much more concerned about their pet’s diet than their own. Hope you enjoyed the story. I’ll share my other three days in future blogs.