Earlier this year, my sales director and I embarked on a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, for a pivotal pitch to Sam’s Club. We had been invited to participate in Sam’s Club’s “30 Minutes to Win It” event, an opportunity for small vendors to showcase their products to some of the most influential buyers globally. This chance arose when buyers expressed interest in our offerings during our presence at CES.
To better understand the world of this retail giant, I decided to immerse myself in their culture. During our visit, I bought and read Sam Walton’s paperback autobiography. Our trip also included a visit to the Walmart museum in downtown Bentonville. These experiences provided valuable insights into why Walmart stands as the world’s largest retailer, shedding light on their perspective, from inventory management to optimizing logistics.
Before the event, we began the routine paperwork required for all Walmart and Sam’s Club products, as they share some of the back-end logistics, such as vendor numbers and setup forms. This groundwork set the stage for our presentation.
The first night in Bentonville, Sam’s Club hosted a gathering in a sizable auditorium. Here, they introduced us to the Sam’s Club philosophy and gave us an overview of what to expect the next day. They also initiated us into the “Sam’s Club cheer.” Following this, a networking event allowed us to engage further with buyers in our product category. This time was invaluable for establishing meaningful connections between both buyers and vendors.
The next morning, we were scheduled for an 11 a.m. pitch presentation. The room was occupied by eight individuals, including some higher-ups from Sam’s Club. While the atmosphere was relatively relaxed, the questions were hard-hitting, covering topics like competition, pricing, and how we could deliver value to their customers. The buyers were well-prepared, showing an in-depth understanding of the category, product specifics, and potential in-store placements. They were keen to see our products in person and took a keen interest in the faces behind the brand. Importantly, they retained all the samples we brought.
Sam’s Club had organized this event as a streamlined method for evaluating, educating, and onboarding new vendors, irrespective of their size. They committed to making swift decisions during the presentations, and they delivered. By the end of the half-hour session, they had accepted our product.
Our success in this endeavor can be attributed to four key strategies:
- Emphasize Product Quality: The primary factor that impresses buyers is the quality of your product. Even if your brand isn’t widely recognized, a distinctive, high-quality product with competitive pricing and effective packaging can take you far. Our meticulous approach in manufacturing and product design was evident and well-received by the buyers.
- Distinguish Your Offering: It’s vital to be prepared to defend your product against competitors. This goes beyond showcasing the product’s features and benefits. You should be ready to highlight additional advantages, such as a manufacturer’s warranty, a responsive customer service department, domestic fulfillment, and a marketing team that can collaborate with the buyer to optimize in-store presentation. Your commitment to addressing any issues also plays a significant role in building trust.
- Personal Presence Matters: As the CEO, I typically don’t engage in many sales calls due to other responsibilities. However, my physical presence during the presentation conveyed our organization’s commitment to working closely with Sam’s Club. This was the most substantial sale we had made thus far, and attending the pitch was unquestionably worth my time.
- Articulate the Value Proposition: An essential aspect of your pitch is presenting a clear value proposition to the buying team. This proposition primarily caters to the consumer’s needs, rather than Sam’s Club’s directly. However, retailers prioritize their customers, so understanding their perspective is key. By demonstrating my personal Sam’s Club membership card, I illustrated that I understand their customers, as I am one myself. Sam’s Club was looking to enhance the value proposition for their customers, which was at the core of their negotiations. By recognizing this, you can be prepared to communicate effectively in their language during your pitch, even if it requires some price concessions.
Securing approval at the Sam’s Club’s “30 Minutes to Win It” event marked merely the initial phase of an extensive process. Subsequent steps involved the completion of paperwork, overcoming technological obstacles, navigating design modifications, repackaging efforts, and a range of other investments needed to prepare our product for in-store placement.
The entire organization accorded Sam’s Club the utmost priority, propelling us to expedite these tasks across every department. Even our vendors displayed remarkable enthusiasm, actively supporting our project due to their shared excitement.
Through these concerted efforts, our products are slated to be available in stores later this year, a mere five months after receiving that pivotal “yes.”