How Not to Sell

Gregory Bloom, The Protein Pro, talks with Editor Sam Gazdziak, about innovative sales approaches for protein producers.

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For those in the meat industry, a beef carcass represents countless opportunities. Whether it be ground beef, a juicy ribeye or an economical Flat Iron, that carcass can be cut up in countless ways and provide value to a retailer, chef or any other customer.

Imagine how that same carcass looks to a salesman for a broadline distributor who sells everything, from entrée ingredients to restroom supplies. Without a background in meat cutting, it becomes an intimidating mass of confusing muscle names and cuts. They don’t have time to learn the chuck from the round and what products can be made from those muscles. They don’t know where value cuts can be found or how they can be prepared. Pasta, by comparison, is a much easier product to sell. One end of a noodle is exactly the same as the other end.

This lack of basic education makes for an ineffective salesperson, and Gregory Bloom has made it his mission to provide some education — in a fun and easy way. As The Protein Pro, Bloom gives presentations that can turn a sales staff into protein professionals.

Bloom brings more than 20 years of meat industry experience with him, having worked for several processors and as an independent broker. He found himself in the consulting world when a foodservice distributor asked him to evaluate its protein program.  He was able to help the distributor establish a comprehensive protein plan, and soon he was marketing his third-party services to other companies.

In doing so, he recognized a common problem in the meat and distributor industries. Many companies have young sales professionals with no formal meat science training, yet they are being asked to sell meat.

“Proteins intimidate people,” he says. “Especially beef, because it’s the most complex cut out. It scares them, and what they’ll do is they’ll just avoid it. They won’t carry the Meat Buyer’s Guide around because they’re afraid that if they’re at a sales call, a chef will ask them, ‘Well, what is the spinalis muscle?’ and they won’t know and might look stupid.”

Bloom speaks to sales teams all over the country, presenting the basics of proteins in a fun and informative atmosphere. One of the keys to education is to avoid getting too technical. He says that he has been to many training sessions in his career where the presenters are almost too technically accurate.

“They know all the Latin names for the muscles, and they’re brilliant with research, but they’re terrible at explaining to a salesperson, with 20,000 items in their laptop and a lot going on already, how to in four or five easy steps understand this beef carcass,” Bloom explains.

One of the problems Bloom has seen in his consulting career is too many salespeople are more interested in selling what they have than finding out what their customers need. It is understandable, to a degree; after all, they have quotas to meet and a warehouse full of inventory to move. However, trying to move a surplus of hams or pointing out the advantages of a company’s brand over a competitor’s doesn’t dig down to finding solutions to a customer’s biggest problems. Bloom compares it to having a basic “Level 1” conversation with a customer rather than an in-depth “Level 8” conversation.

Bloom says that he asks customers questions like, “When you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, what do you think about?” “What are your top 3 concerns right now for your next quarter?” “What is a bad day for you?”

“The answers to those questions will help me pinpoint what their needs are,” he says.

Getting to the heart of a customer’s needs may take more than a phone conversation. It may require spending a day with a customer at his or her place of operations to get a real feel for the business. Every customer will be different. An owner of a restaurant chain may be struggling with keeping steak on the menu in spite of the rising costs of beef. An independent operator may be able to set the price for the steak to stay profitable, but the constant turnover in the kitchen is killing the business.

“Your company can bring someone in to help them with that,” Bloom advises. “It’s not a meat problem, but it’s still their problem.”

Small processors have a unique strength in their sales pitch, as they can provide a story and a sense of integrity that the large processors, as capable as they are, can’t achieve.

“Everyone is always suspect when a big company has a locally sourced program,” Bloom points out. “But the little or mid-sized guy can have that program, and it’s a lot more credible in the eyes of the consumer.”

Small and medium processors also can adapt quicker to market conditions and unique needs. For example, they can cut the Denver Cut steak out of the chuck roll.

“This cut is listed in a recent NRA survey as a hot trend, but it’s very hard to find in the marketplace, as the big packers have yet to offer it out,” Bloom says. “One reason is that the other cuts from the chuck roll are not selling as easily, but a smaller processors can work with their retailer and foodservice accounts to find homes for these unique cuts.

“For that reason, they need to be going out there, and be educated, and be a consultant, and put in face time and keep that relationship up, because the big companies are not going to do that,” he adds. “That high-touch personal relationship is the biggest thing that small and medium-sized processors have going for them.”