Cold-calling is one of most reviled aspects of sales, bemoaned and besmirched by countless would-be sales people subjected to the rigors of trying convince someone who doesn’t want your product that they actually do.
I’ll be honest: if I had to cold-call new accounts all day, everyday, and my paycheck was dependent upon the commissions from my sales, I would probably hate it, too. That being said, because I so rarely get to cold-call anyone about anything anymore, let alone fantastic brands like Springbank and Dolin vermouth, I very much enjoy it. I like to meet a variety of people in charge of retail programs and get an insight into their thinking, especially when it’s completely different from mine.
After a few days making the rounds in Los Angeles, I’ll tell you one response I hear repeatedly during my cold-calling that doesn’t really surprise me, yet confuses me to no end:
“No one is asking for that.”
Would you like to consider bringing in Springbank? No one is asking for that.
How about Noah’s Mill? No one is asking for that.
Leopold Brothers Maryland Rye? No one is asking for that.
Well…yeah…that’s sort of the point. When I started out in retail we still sold 1.75L handles of blended scotch and the number one product I sold by volume was a Mexican brandy for Redwood City locals. After I finished transforming that department, we were selling entire casks of whiskies no one had ever heard of and absolutely no one was asking for. That’s the only way to grow your business: by advocating for products you believe in. If you want to sell popular bulk commercial brands, you have one way to compete: price and volume. However, unless you’re a retail giant with an internet presence, there’s no way to turn enough bulk spirits to make any real money. You need to sell niche products with better margins to have any chance at growth, but that takes work. It also takes desire.
You’d be surprised (or maybe not) by how many liquor stores with huge selections of booze don’t know about, care about, or have one bit of interest in the products they’re selling. Thus, the criteria for selling any product is that it must already have built-in demand. The problem with built-in demand, however, is that it gives all the control and power to the seller. You’re forced to operate on their terms and there’s often little wiggle room for any sort of partnership. As I waited in one liquor store for the owner to finish his appointment, I watched the man from a large food distribution company completely dictate where, when, and how the store would need to sell his products in order to continue doing business.
“Can you believe that guy?” the store owner said to me in frustration after the distributor had left. “He thinks he can come in here and tell me how to run my business.”
That’s because everyone’s asking for his stuff.