Just Say No

Salesmen. There a good ones, bad ones, pushy ones, annoying ones. But they have one thing in common – their job is to make you say “Yes!”

Being a buyer means that I have to deal, on a daily, if not hourly, basis, with numerous cold calls, presentations, pitches, endless samples and, what I can only describe on occasion, as persistent stalking. To be honest, it’s got to the point now, that if I don’t recognise the number that has illuminated itself on my phone, I won’t answer it. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

In the past I’ve even had cold callers come to my office in person and stand by my desk – having bypassed the receptionist’s lame security screening along with their 3 brain cells – grinning inanely because they are still trying to pass off the facade that they know me.

Yes, you may be standing next to me in person, but I’m still going to have you removed from the building unless you impress me very quickly.

And if you could leave your tasty cake samples on the way out, that would be great. 

My boss, Mr. Price, has equally no time for pushy salesmen. And he in turn learnt from his boss in the supermarket industry. He, legend had it, kept a pair of large dress making scissors on his desk, and if he got annoyed / bored with the salesman, he would reach over, grab the poor peddler’s tie, and cut it off at the knot. 

An urban myth? Maybe – but apparently, there was always tension in the air when meetings were chaired by “the Tailor”

I have thought about 5 pieces of advice to give b2b salesmen. Retail sales is different, the people you are selling to in retail are making emotional decisions – I am not. I am making professional decisions. So….

  1. Do your research. There is no point trying to flog me something I don’t need. For instance, the business I work for doesn’t buy or sell cheese. So the call I had the other day from Dick the Cheese of Cheeses ‘R’ Us wasted my time. And yours.
  2. No does mean no. If it changes to “yes”, then I will let you know. But don’t stalk me afterwards. Because if you do, it means when it changes to “yes”, I will go elsewhere. Why? Because if you’re a pushy annoying salesman, you’ll be a pushy annoying account manager too.
  3. Get to the point. I haven’t got time to listen to all the flowery shit – just tell me the important stuff. I sit through countless presentations and all I’m interested in are 3 things. The product, the price and the service. Talk mainly about the product. Tell me the price. And show me you will give good service. 
  4. Be professional. Turn up on time. Don’t call me mate. Dress smart, but not overly so – I don’t mind smart casual. Don’t tell me about your private life on our first meeting and talk properly in business language. People forget how much of a difference this makes, and forms my impression of the level of service you will provide.
  5. Be prepared. Sounds obvious, but please, come with the correct facts and figures and if you don’t know the answer, don’t try and blag it like you’re in Grange Hill. I will see through it.

So there you go. Maybe I should be a sales trainer?



A Good Deal?


Marketing departments – You’ve got to love them. They’re all full of ideas. Pretty adverts. Sultry, stirring campaigns. Trend followers and setters. Responsible for the annual Christmas, heart string pulling, vomit inducing, festive talking point in any office (I love Mog the Cat. Just saying)

But! Great internal communicators and aware of the workings of a large scale business whereby they aren’t the only human beings on a salary… they ain’t. They work in blinkered ignorance and oblivious of the demands they put on their colleagues when they suddenly come up with ‘special offers’ and ‘product campaigns’.

And of course, they always take the credit when it comes up trumps!

If someone want’s to tell me otherwise (and they don’t work in the marketing department), then please introduce them to me.. I would love to work with them!

Just this Friday gone, I had a luncheon appointment with an experienced ex-supermarket buyer,  Mr. Ball, who consults for us on a regular basis. Mr. Ball is very old school – Literally. I am 20 years his junior. But having worked with him on and off over the last couple of years, I have learnt a lot from him, despite him doing what I do now in the 1980s, whilst I was still understanding Button Moon.

He told me the remarkable story of when he was given VERY short notice, that the major supermarket chain that he was working for at the time, decided to have a ‘special deal’ on cos lettuce, over Christmas. After being told to “make it happen”, he spent day and night trying to source cos lettuce from around the world, ending up doing a deal with some growers in California to provide the necessary volume.

But the product was on the west coast of the USA, and the anxious shoppers were in the festive frenzied shores of Britain! What did he do? Of course, he chartered a Boeing 747 cargo plane to carry the product 5,000 miles to London.

The consumers got their cos lettuce, at the expense of both the supermarket, and considering the carbon footprint, at least one polar bear. And his boss got to report some seriously good numbers for the ‘lettuce campaign’

There’s a little bit in all of us that always wonders, after we have made a purchase, if we have got ourselves a good deal.

We usually fall into two thought processes – especially after making a major purchase. Yes, I reckon I got a deal. And.. I wonder if I got a good deal. These feeling are usually reserved for larger purchases, such as cars, holidays, property etc..

But how do you know if you got a good deal if you are, say, doing your weekly food shop? I realise there are supermarket comparison sites, but the whole business of retail is built around getting you into their shop. Full stop. And when you’ve filled your basket, they make a profit.

Well, generally speaking, retailers work on a set percentage margin in order to make ends meet. Having worked in both sectors, retailers will generally seek a 25 – 35% gross profit margin, and hospitality (casual dining restaurants for instance) will work on around an 80% margin.

“That’s a lot of profit!!” I hear you cry – well, yes. But from that profit you have to pay your rent, pay your staff, turn on the lights, gas and electric and still keep shareholders happy. When it all comes out in the wash, there’s actually not a lot left. Which is why, with such paper thin margins, great businesses like Woolworths, BHS and Ed’s Easy Diner, have folded so quickly, when things start to take a small downturn.

I’m guessing here, but I suspect their marketing team and their purchasing team weren’t working as a team.

Despite our differences, we are all supposed to be pushing in the same direction.

I love the marketing team! And I hope they love me, because they create dreams, which we make a reality.



I’m a buyer. Not a magician

The featureless stare of my manager. It conveys a mixture of disappointment, unhappiness and it’s my cue to prepare for an interrogation.

What do you mean there’s a cost increase? Have they taken into account our growth?”  “Yes”

Have you told them to view their efficiencies?”  “Yes”

I’m not taking currency collapse as an excuse”  “I know”

Have they reviewed every aspect of their own supply chain”  “Yes”

Well, tell them we aren’t accepting the increase”  “I already have”

Generally speaking, these are fair questions, and are in every good buyer’s repertoire. And believe it or not, whenever faced with the prospect of a cost increase, the account manager is feeling just as bad at having to deliver the news, as you are having to accept it. Probably.

But, there does come a point when the ammunition is exhausted and all you’re left with is begging for a better cost.

My manager, Mr. Price, is a director of the business and an ex-supermarket buyer. Hard nosed, straight talking, never afraid of having a fight with a supplier. Cost is paramount, and any hint of a better deal elsewhere is sniffed out like a rabid bloodhound.

Expensive shirts, expensive watch, expensive car, the outer image conveys someone who values the finer things, and is, partly, a bit of an act to show suppliers who’s in charge. In meeting mode, he is exactly how you would imagine a buyer to behave – blunt, scathing and unsympathetic.

I recall a time recently when faced with a price hike from a long term supplier, Mr. Price simply ended the meeting by bluntly telling them to “put someone else’s price up to offset the increase; I don’t care how you do it, I am not taking it”

One downside to this style is, unfortunately, when you have to tell him bad news – You then play the part of the supplier and bear a full onslaught of inquisition. On occasion, the ‘shit sandwich’ approach to unpalatable bulletins has to be deployed.

Good news (the bread)! Bad news (the shit). Good news(bread)! I think I read somewhere that Gordon Brown’s staff used to use this technique with regularity.

My approach is slightly more empathetic. I come from a different background, starting my career with wholesale purchasing and then project procurement, where building relationships with suppliers is very important.

When involved in large scale construction projects, one is always pulling in favours, changing delivery dates, changing product specifications and battling with architects and designers. Price starts to lose its relevance (although still important of course) and simply completing projects on time becomes the focus.

Although slowly, especially with the current economic challenges, my attitude is becoming more and more convergent with Mr. Price. I simply don’t have the time or budget to have conversations which start with “Well, we all know it’s tough trading out there…”

Having said that, the reality is that sometimes there really is nothing to be had, and little choice but to accept higher costs.

I guess the overall point of today’s musings is that no matter what approach a buying team has, mine, or Mr. Price’s, the current economic climate, one of the effects of Brexit, is unfortunately going to mean higher prices for everybody.

Our currency is shockingly weak and eventually leaving the single market will mean higher importation costs. Thats without even pondering the effects that staff at the lower, but important, end of the salary spectrum are going to have to be paid higher to ensure supermarket shelves are stacked, restaurant tables are cleared and hotel rooms are cleaned. The European free movers, starting their UK careers aren’t going to be here to take up those roles.

So, who’s going to pay for all this? All of us.

So when you’re wondering why you’re paying what you’re paying for your ready meals at home, your pizzas on date night out and your dirty weekend away, just think of the efforts the procurement teams across the country are still making to let you pay as little as possible…

And I always try and let our suppliers provide this with, at least, a half smile on their face.


Buy. Buy. Sell. Buy.

Buyer. Purchasing executive. Supply chain manager. Procurement officer. Direct. In-Direct. FMCG. Wholesale. Retail.

The list of words, and their associated adjectives, is endless to describe a profession, which myself and many others share. But, in short, I am paid to spend the company’s money on stuff.  Lots of stuff. And lots of money as well. Last year my department spent, give or take a mill, about £60 million. That, in the words of Danny Dyer, is severe readies.

Yet, to those not in the game, I sometimes struggle to describe what I do and justify why I do it. Why would you need a procurement team?  Surely you don’t need a dedicated department just to choose the supplier with the cheapest cost?  Isn’t your job just a  networking circus of being entertained and buying things from your favourite people?  Life must be one big shopping trip – I love shopping, you have my dream job!

Well, no.. well, sometimes yes.. but mainly no.

I recall my first trip abroad as a junior buyer. I had recently been promoted from purchasing administrator to trainee buyer after somehow convincing the owner of the business (whom I shall refer to as Mr. Cheese) that I was worth a shot. Despite the fact that he decimated a once thriving wholesale business through petulance, micro-management, terrible people skills and wasting money on frivolous court cases and pathetic pet projects with no hope of making money, he DID give me the chance to learn a skill that I now use to earn the family’s bread.

Mr. Cheese was notorious for doing things on the cheap and of course my first away trip was no exception. Germany was the destination, and naturally my expectations were of being wined and dined by high flying salesmen whilst bagging numerous 6 figure deals and then returning to the office to rapturous applause from my stay at home colleagues, welcoming back the buying team from their dangerous mission abroad.

We stayed in a hotel that looked like a glass Egyptian pyramid – a pretty stupid design in my opinion, because you just end up with fewer and fewer rooms per floor the further up the lift you go. And, due to the sloping shape, there were no curtains.. just electronic blinds that were activated by pressing an annoyingly hard to find switch. In the morning, a young blonde girl, part of our sales team, was telling us that she liked the ‘oneway glass’ because she could get undressed whilst looking out at the view. Nope – no oneway glass – she just didn’t find the blind switch.

The fair that we were attending was where all the big cheeses came from all over the world to showcase their products with meetings and deals happening in the little backrooms behind the glitzy facades.

On the first day, I was told to attend my first meeting, basically as ‘purchasing bitch’. My colleague, Mr. Drip, would be leading the meeting. He had been there 20 years, and had basically spent his entire adult life doing the same thing day after day, buying the same products, talking to the same people, and had pretty much all available life sucked out of him by the vast sinking ship of a business that was collapsing around him. If something bad was going to going to happen, it would always happen to Mr. Drip.  Late trains, medical ailments, work place disasters (and later) redundancy – it always seemed to involve Mr. Drip.

Anyway, I entered the meeting room, and I use the word room in the loosest possible sense. It was separated from the main thoroughfare by a curtain, and consisted of three wooden chairs and a small round table with little room for anything else. In the middle of the table was an ashtray, which was full, and sat on the other side of the table was a man who looked like he’d had a harder life than Keith Richards. He was smoking and continued to smoke throughout the duration of the meeting.

I sat in this hotbox and I listened and I said absolutely nothing as this German mafia-esque caricature spelt out his demands on which to do business. In fact Mr. Drip said very little as well. A bit of nodding and a few words of acknowledgement and finally simple acceptance of the deal on the table! No negotiation, no offer to use his family yacht and certainly no glitz, glamour or any satisfaction of doing some shopping! The only excitement of note during that trip was that we caught our sales director coming out of a knocking shop in the red light district

So, why would you read a blog on someones profession I hear you ask yourself? Well, have you always wondered where your things come from? Why you pay what you pay for things? Or maybe its just interesting to hear a few stories from a job that isn’t your own.