Selling Strategies, Part 2 – A Q&A With Bob Tullio

Nov. 19, 2019

Industry consultant Bob Tullio ( is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up. As he is a recognized industry expert in business development and sales, NAMA has hired him to write and narrate its new online course, “Selling Convenience Services,” to be released in early 2020. At 2 p.m. EST Dec. 10, Tullio will host a NAMA Sponsored Webinar, “Selling Convenience Services – How Management Support Creates Elite Sales Reps.”

Automatic Merchandiser asked Tullio to share from his office coffee service (OCS) expertise regarding how operators can properly train and mobilize their sales team to cultivate relationships and increase sales. In the second of this two-part series, Tullio explains the importance of partnerships, communication and executive summaries.

Q: Is there a general metric that OCS operators can follow to know what a location's consumption numbers should be? Does that change across industries?

A: It's changed quite a bit because of a lot of different factors. You have to set up a formula that works in your company based on your own experience. If you look at a perfectly running, 100-person account that, in your opinion, has no extra causal factors such as a coffee shop in the building or a catering truck that is pulling up, I think you have to set your own barometer based on that location and go from there to determine those numbers. In the old days, it was a little easier because basically you were dealing with cases of coffee in portion packs. Now you're dealing with 1-pound bags, 2-pound bags, 5-pound bags, whole-bean, ground-coffee, grinders and single-cup brewers. There are just so many different variables that I don't think there's a set formula. 

Q: And will it continue to change as more operators continue to diversify their offerings with more cold or RTD options, and as the workforce changes? 

A: Absolutely. And one of the other things that I think is really important in convenience services as a whole is having a fundamental understanding of partnerships. There's a number of partnerships that the sales rep needs to work with.

There has to be a sales rep and management responsibility. Profitability has to be a primary consideration, and if the parameters are set, then they've got to operate within those parameters. They've also got to look at the operations team, and this creates a lot of problems in OCS operations. Is the sales rep selling what the company can actually deliver? When sales reps make commitments that operations teams can't complete, it creates a lot of difficulty within an organization, so there has to be a strong relationship between the operations side and the sales rep.

There's got to be a partnership between the sales rep and the client. The sales rep needs to remember that their company is in business to make money, and they need to make sure that the client understands that a successful business relationship is a partnership where each side performs according to what's been agreed upon. For example, buying convenience services products exclusively from the operator may be part of the arrangement. Having strong communication between all these partners is critical.

Q: What are the characteristics of a successful sales person? What personality traits or skills should OCS operators look for when hiring a sales person? 

A: One of the most important things is communication skills. One thing I talk about a lot is the executive summary. I think executive summaries are a follow-up skill that needs to occur throughout the entire sales process. An executive summary is an email that occurs at each step of the process; you either do it, or you don't. If you don't do it, you're really losing the ongoing connectivity that's needed between a sales rep and a prospect. But that requires writing skills and strong communication skills.

So, after an appointment is set, you might write in an executive summary to the client, "I'm looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday at 3 p.m."  and maybe add a couple of lines about what you are planning to do at that appointment. Especially if the prospect mentions something like, I really wish the service was better with my current company." you might mention in that executive summary, I've got a number of ideas to improve your service program.”

After that first meeting, if the deal isn't closed — and I think that another thing that we should work on more, is trying to close deals on the first meeting, and I do provide a lot of techniques for that approach — the most valuable technique is basically providing the client with solutions and answers to any questions they may have. Once you've provided those answers, ask, “Is there any reason we can't move forward? And that's where you can try to close the deal. It usually takes multiple visits, multiple emails and formal proposals.

But even after that first meeting, an executive summary should go out, detailing the following: what happened at the meeting, what the positives were, what you saw, what your objectives are, what your understanding was of their goals and what you are planning to do to accommodate them, and when you're going to do it by. This keeps the ideas that you put on the table in front of the prospect fresh.

As we tend to forget, the prospect has a million things going on. They've got air conditioning going out. They've got a holiday party to plan. There are so many things you have to deal with when you're running a facility. I hate to use the pun "put coffee on the back burner," but the prospect may find a delay to be necessary. Even so, it's important to keep the flow of communication going, to use it as a bridge that maintains connectivity.

I also think humor is very important; I think the sales rep has to have a good sense of humor and a natural charisma. When you can find somebody who has communication skills and humor, then all you can really hope for is that they also have organizational skills, because that's critically important as well. You're going to be juggling 10 or 15 deals at a time.

The funny thing about the executive summary is that, on the surface, it looks like something that you utilize as a sales tool. It is, but it's just as important as an organizational tool for yourself so you remember what happened at that meeting and what you promised. It has a dual benefit.

Q: Let's circle back to closing sales. Are you seeing that as OCS continues to grow and more businesses are trying to get in this space, it is becoming more difficult to close a sale, especially in that first meeting? Can the executive summary help you stand out from the competition? 

A: The executive summary is a tool that can help keep the client organized relative to what you offered and what you're all about, and it will probably make you look really good in comparison to the competition. You're communicating and they're not. Every step of the way you're showing your ability to communicate. What's challenging right now is how distracted the decision-makers may be. A good sales rep needs to be well-prepared. They have to be inquisitive by nature. They have to be an active listener. They have to have strong empathy skills; they have to understand where the client is coming from. And where the client is coming from — that coffee service is just one of many things on their plate.

What also seems to be a problem today is the decision process regarding coffee service. Is a decision on this made by an office manager solely? Even if you could write up a proposal on site and present it, the office manager rarely can dedicate enough time. Unfortunately, in many cases, they're moving on to the next thing, or they've got to get approval from somebody else. One thing we talk about in "Selling Convenience Services," the online course, is the importance of selling to the true decision-maker, which you can only do to some extent.

Q: How can OCS operators adapt the sales advice you're sharing to be the most helpful to their employees and their overall operation? 

A: Whoever is in charge of the salespeople needs to insist on their successful accomplishment of certain things, including the fundamentals. Accompany sales reps once in a while to appointments with prospects to see how they're performing in their pitches. You can also listen to them on the phone to ensure they're using the basic fundamentals and to make them report in. If you're not using sophisticated software, at the very least, they need to be reporting on a weekly basis as to where they stand on all of their deals. If you see a lot of deals that are pending, then perhaps you realize that they're not closing deals, and you need to figure out a way to help them close. If they're not getting in front of people, you need to figure out how to get them in front of people — they've got to improve their organic skills, and you as a company may have to look at some non-organic options to get them appointments, because appointments lead to sales. If you're going to invest in a sales team, you've got to invest in everything that it takes to get people in front of decision-makers.

Q: Can you explain the difference between an organic and a non-organic business development tactic? 

A: An organic tactic or strategy is something that a sales rep does on his or her own. One example is putting together a small networking group that meets every two weeks that includes people who are selling to the same decision-makers and sharing leads and information. It also includes what I think is one of the most effective things a sales rep could do: letting people in an organization or club you already participate in know what you do for a living. If you ensure that all the parents involved in the youth baseball team you're coaching know what you do for a living or that everybody at your country club knows what you do for a living, it doesn't mean that you're selling to them, but they are aware of your work. Your performance in those organizations tends to lead to sales opportunities. It certainly did for me, and I know many people who capitalized on that type of strategy. A perfect organic strategy.

One of the biggest mistakes I see out there is that people in sales will miss an opportunity by closing an email where you're setting up a golf tournament with 200 people with just their first name instead of their full name and the contact information that is key for their sales work. For example, by saying, "Best regards, Bob" instead of, "Best regards, Bob Tullio/Tullio B2B" with a LinkedIn profile and web address. When you have the opportunity to organically — without paying a dime — communicate what you do to a number of people without selling, that's an organic strategy. In a way, cold-calling is an organic strategy. It's not my favorite, but one of the things I do talk about in this course is how to make cold-calling more effective.

Another time, I got an appointment that I generated through the men's club at my country club because I play golf with the guy once a month there. He said, "I'd like for you to come in and see what you can do for my company." That's organic. A paid business development tool   like an ad that people see when they use a search engine to search for a coffee service, is non-organic. While the attention garnered by the search engine ad may be generated by need, organic tactics are generated by personal relationships and trust.

As a sales manager, operator or owner, I expect my sales rep to participate in organic activities because the close rate on organic activities is so much higher. Organic is far more successful.

All your activities on LinkedIn are organic as well, but people are going about it the entirely wrong way. They introduce themselves, they are connected, and they immediately start selling instead of producing content that's going to establish them as a thought leader and as someone who is going to be useful to their business in terms of helping them accomplish their objectives. Engagement is the key: Find a way to engage your audience by asking a question and encourage them to join a conversation.

This is the greatest time ever to be selling convenience services. People are very excited about what we do. We have an emotional product — coffee gets people very excited in office environments — and we have so many spectacular ways to deliver it. Micro markets are one of the most exciting things that have come along in a long time. They're transforming the way office refreshments are set up.

The important thing is to show people that your company has the solution they're looking for in terms of delivering all this excitement. Today's buyers — especially millennials — want to know where the coffee comes from. They want to know what your company is about and how you're involved in the community. That's the story they're really interested in. Are you a company that's connected to them? Do you share the same values that they share? Can you decrease their carbon footprint? These are things you need to integrate into your story.