Sales Insight: Procurement Perspective

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

It’s not uncommon for sales professionals to believe that they’ve got all the answers. The reality, however, can often be a very different story...

In the first installment of our procurement perspective series, we’re flipping the script and speaking to leading procurement professionals, starting with the goliath UK catering and support services industry.


The gatekeepers are finally lifting the lid on the do’s and don’ts of business development.


Sales leaders, listen up: class is in session…



Chris Stern, Managing Director, Stern Consultancy


First off, a big thank you for taking part, can you give us a brief insight into your background and what inspired you to focus your attention on the catering and support services industry?


I started my catering life working for contract caterers in London and was increasingly frustrated with how our clients often managed us.


I would ask why they had employed us and their explanation of what had gone wrong with their previous contract would often be a result of them simply failing to understand it.


It therefore seemed obvious to me that there was room in the market for someone independent to help them….30 years on it seems I was right!


I remain frustrated and irritated when caterers deliver a poor job for their clients, either financially or qualitatively. Of course, I ought to be delighted when they fail in these ways, as it’s one of the reasons we are needed, but probably my outrage and passion is one of the reasons we seem to do ok in this market.


As we’ve developed, I now really enjoy inspiring clients and caterers to come up with better service – I get exposed to some brilliant catering and foodservice initiatives. Sadly though, it’s rare for the sales person’s promise to be delivered in full, so some managing and cajoling is an essential part of the job.


Wonderful. Ok, Let’s Jump Straight In…


What are the most common mistakes suppliers make either inside/outside the tender process?

They don’t always read the client right is the first one.

Understanding what’s driving them and what makes them tick is the most important skill a sales person can have. Of course, they need access to the client company in the first place and I guess that’s partly the role of the procurement specialist driving the project.


I remain amazed when clients expect bidders to produce something meaningful when they only have very limited contact. Catering is an emotional as well as a factual purchase.


The second one is enthusiasm.


Suppliers sometimes fail to realise that clients notice how they behave. Positive engagement is always noticed.


Outside of the tender process – where do I start? Oddly, one of the most common issues is clients not feeling properly looked after. If they lack personal engagement with their supplier they are often unhappy.


Poor quality food and service is an obvious one. When caterers do great food, it never ceases to amaze me how they get away with messing up the finances!


On that point though, obviously financial failure is a key issue where sometimes caterers just get it wrong.


What are the most annoying/pointless trends that keeps finding their way into proposals?


I have to say that I can’t think of anything in particular that bidders consistently get wrong. But then, we control carefully what we ask for, so if something pointless or annoying is included, then that’s probably our own fault!


Worst sales habits: anything that really gets your back up?


Not answering the question, or doing so in the wrong place.

These days evaluating bids has to be very controlled and technical, so if caterers deviate in terms of what we’ve asked them, it is really annoying.


The other one is messing around with proforma spreadsheets.


We’re super clear about what we want and when we go to cut and paste financial bids, we need them to line up and be accurate/meaningful. When they change things they’ve been asked not to we find ourselves wasting time untangling their mess.

“Sellers: Stop doing this…”

Stop messing around with our proforma spreadsheets! In truth, it’s pretty rare and we don’t see consistent poor performance.


Site visits: what are the do’s and don’ts?


1. Make sure they’re completely relevant.

2. Explain why we are there and what we should look at.

3. DON’T show us empty meeting room after empty meeting room.

4. Don’t sit us down and chat for ages – we are there to look and experience, not just talk.

5. Introduce us to your clients and leave us on our own with them.

6. Organise every second of the visit to keep us engaged and ensure we get what we need out of it.

7. Don’t be scared of asking us to use public transport, but do host us.


What’s the no.1 way a supplier can positively set themselves aside from the crowd?


Listen to the client and align themselves with their requirements, then show them exactly how they can deliver to match them but adding innovation and flair at an affordable cost.


Which trends/innovations have got you the most excited?


Engagement with social enterprises has to be this year’s most interesting and exciting trend.


Not only is it great doing something good for society, what this also brings is often a great deal of real flair and something new. Organisations like Luminary Bakery, Fat Macy’s, Redemption Roasters and Change Please have really brought some life to our industry.


Slightly more distant initiatives such as Perkee Coffee are also fascinating and very worthy.


The ongoing street food trend is of course really exciting, especially as it’s now appearing commonly in the workplace. By this I don’t mean caterers interpreting street food for their staff canteen (which is largely a grim experience) but street food traders who specialise in the single product about which they are proud, bring it into the workplace .


What’s your top tip for producing the perfect, procurement-centric proposal?


Answer the questions we ask clearly and concisely; find a way not to make it too long; illustrate it with relevant and interesting images; cost it competitively and justify your income.

Note – this is what WE look for; many procurement specialist just want the cheapest.


What are the main changes, challenges or disruptions you expect to witness within your industry over the next 5 years?

  1. CSR by far. This year it has erupted and caterers are struggling to deliver. They are catching up fast and this wont go away.

  2. Involvement of social enterprises as part of the CSR programme.

  3. Speciality. Delivering authentic food and service from across the globe.

  4. Vegan, spilling over into vegetarian food.

  5. Wellbeing and how catering can contribute to organisations’ programme.

  6. Aiding organisations to help their staff collaborate as they increasingly work from home. Supporting them when they are in the workplace.

  7. Cost reduction; subsidies are disappearing fast. It’s great, as caterers are now having to compete with commercial world.


How do you see the buying process evolve over the next 5 years? What major changes do you expect to see?


I think we will continue to see internal procurement specialists trying to run catering tender processes and frankly, often messing it up as it seems to be one of those services that requires some very specific knowledge. It’s often the only service they procure that includes sales and that staff have to pay for out of their own pockets.


I think we will also continue to see attempts to bundle catering into other FM services as FM companies try to appear jack of all trades. We’ll then continue to see catering being unbundled as clients want something more specific to reflect wellness, CSR etc etc, much of which is often driven out by FM companies in favour of cost cutting.


So, not much new out there in this respect.


Thanks for taking the time to shed some invaluable insight! Where can we find out more about you and your business?


Mobile | 07802 863847

Office | 01403 273555

Web | www.sternconsultants.co.uk



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