Consultant: Know your customers, but know yourself firstMcCALL, Idaho — As Ronnie De La Cruz wrapped up a presentation on the importance of changing business plans to attendees of the Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association’s annual conference, the consultant/strategist asked the grower-shippers a question.

Why would a Salinas, Calif.-based leafy greens company ask retail customers to avoid putting a bag of basic garden salad on sale when people typically receive their paychecks, such as the start or middle of the month?

Two reasons: Those value-priced salads will sell anyway, but more importantly, it could prevent consumers from upgrading to a higher-priced salad blend or kit when they have more money in hand and are more likely to try something different even though it is more expensive.

It’s these types of purchasing decisions that grower-shippers need to know about when working with retailers, said De La Cruz, who has worked with grower-shippers, retailers and wholesalers for more than two decades. De La Cruz Consulting and Training is based in Salinas.

His underlying message to the fruit and onion shippers at the June 8 session during the convention: instead of developing a customer list and then making the sales message fit what those customers want to hear, assess the company’s market segment strengths, based on the company’s products, size and other parameters, and then develop a customer list.

“You’ve got to figure out something that the retailer or the foodservice buyer or the industrial user needs to know about your product, but he doesn’t know it yet,” De La Cruz said. “A good salesperson knows his or her customers’ needs. A great salesperson knows their customers’ needs before the customers know about them.”

Most the the companies represented at the association’s annual meeting are onion shippers; three represent apples/cherries. Even sales in those established commodities need a tailored approach.

“I would challenge you to add (when talking to customers) things like what’s your companys’ distinctive story, the heritage behind your company, in a way that differentiates yourselves from the others sitting around your table (here) or other growing areas,” De La Cruz said. “What’s your flagship product? What’s that thing that when you put a stake in the ground, you say, ‘That’s us.’

“I don’t mean just onions or cherries or apples,” he said. “I mean that sub-variety, that specific pack, a flagship item that you have and build supplemental items around.”

Other keys to analyzing sales opportunities include anticipating changes in export markets.

“Theres a lot going on internationally, a lot of doors opening up, because of new technology, because of new seed varieties,” De La Cruz said. “There are a lot more potential competitors coming at us internationally, but a lot more opportunities to export.”

The annual convention was June 6-8.