Five Tips To Switch

Dec. 16, 2014
It’s not an easy job selling coffee service to a new location or getting a current location to switch to a new offering. Industry veterans Janet Conti and Fred Steiner, however, give five tips on how to stand out from the competition and make the sale.

In 1989, the average operator offered eight varieties of regular coffee to his/her customers, four varieties of decaffeinated fresh brew and three varieties of gourmet or specialty blends. Now, a quarter of a century later, those offerings have exploded to include dozens of varieties of private label, local brands, national brands, single-cup and espresso. Fred Steiner, CEO and president of Imperial Coffee and Service, Inc., believes this increase in coffee offerings comes from the emersion of the coffee shop in the 1990s. “They [coffee shops] have been both a blessing and a curse,” he said. “A curse because they compete for the OCS dollar, but a blessing because they created an awareness of and demand for a better quality coffee.”

Since the beginning of the millennium, OCS industry revenues have been steadily increasing. In its 2014 State of the Coffee Industry report, Automatic Merchandiser reported that 2014 increased OCS sales were in part due to a more educated consumer. Although expanding in sales, OCS remains a hard industry to sell into, as companies compete for every location and dollar. To help operators stand out against the competition, two OCS industry veterans share five tips to get a location to switch.

Tip 1: Know what makes you better

OCS operators trying to get a location to switch must first identify the difference between their products and their competitions’ products. “Know why yours is better,” said Janet Conti of Conti Coffee. “You need to identify the reason for a location to switch.” To do that, Steiner recommends playing off of your own personal strengths. “Figure out who you are, what you offer and what you want to be,” he said. “One method isn’t a catch-all for operators.”

Tip 2: Target the decision maker, not just a company contact

This may seem like a no-brainer, however, it’s imperative to be in contact with the decision maker from the very beginning. “Don’t waste your time on a contact if they aren’t the decision maker,” said Conti. “Sales is a numbers game and for every 20 calls a sales representative makes, they will get only one demo,” Conti continued. Time is everything for OCS sales representatives, and if they are speaking with the wrong company contact, they are losing time and money.

Tip 3: Have a prepared sales presentation

When meeting with a location decision maker, OCS representatives should have a prepared sales presentation. “It makes it easier for a sales rep to ensure that they hit on all of your company’s sales points,” said Conti. And it will give the representative the opportunity to prepare answers to common location hesitations. “We have a unique problem in our industry trying to balance what our customers want and what the consumer wants,” said Steiner. “Our customer is not the consumer, it’s the decision maker.” Steiner explains that it is the job of the representative to sell the coffee experience to the boss, the customer. “Consumers want the best of everything, but we need to explain to the decision maker that quality coffee will keep their employees in the office, productive and happy,” he said.

Tip 4: Give a complimentary taste test

After meeting with the location, OCS operators and/or sales representatives should give the location a complimentary two or three day taste-test. Conti even suggests offering a “customer appreciation day” to existing locations wherein operators can bring in premium brands and do “blind” taste testing. “For those locations you already have, it’s vital to visit them once a month,” said Conti. “Even if they are happy with your service, it will give you the opportunity to introduce any new coffee service offerings.” She recommends having a sheet where employees can choose which coffee they like best. The sales representative can then bring that sheet to the decision maker as persuasion to switch to a more quality offering. Steiner agrees, “This way, you’re selling on quality, not price,” he said.

Tip 5: Sell on quality

This brings us to our last and overarching tip for selling to a location: sell on quality. “If you sell on price, you lose on price,” said Conti. Even if your product is cheaper, it’s best to reiterate to the location that they are switching because the coffee tastes better, not because it’s less expensive. “People will pay for quality,” said Steiner, who never quotes a price over the phone. “My customers need to taste the quality, not buy on price,” he said.

As Steiner notes, no single solution will work for all locations. It’s up to the OCS representative to determine what method will result in a sale, however, the five tips provided can be molded. And it’s always good to have a little patience. “When you’re on a route making sales calls, continue leaving your card with those companies who turn you down,” said Conti. “When their OCS provider messes up, they will call you.”