Iva Antolović Sošić heads the sales force teams at the METRO stores in Poreč and Pula in Croatia. With her staff of six, she sees to the needs of 3,000 customers. Her team in Pula covers the south of Istria, and the team in Poreč covers the north. The restaurateurs between the peninsula’s Adriatic coast and its mountainous hinterland live primarily from the seasonal tourism business. ‘We in the sales force teams recognise our customers’ challenges when we talk with them,’ says Iva. ‘And then it’s our job to sell them products that help with the solution.’ She explains how this works, taking grated cheese as an example:
Trading hand-grating for grating machines
Many of their customers run pizzerias. Recently, more and more of them have complained of a lack of kitchen staff. They previously bought the majority of their pizza cheese in blocks because they had someone there to grate it. ‘We recommended that we supply them with grated cheese,’ says Iva. Then demand increased because all the customers had the same problem. ‘We responded and began to offer alternative varieties,’ she continues.
When the delivery capacities nevertheless became scarce, the sales teams looked around for an unconventional new solution: ‘We found a machine that grated the cheese automatically – so we could offer the customers their usual cheese in 15-kilo blocks, along with the machines to process it.’ And this in turn brought an increase in METRO’s sales – ‘which is in our interest too,’ Iva says. She adds:
If we succeed in harmonising our sales interests with the customer’s desire to solve their problem, we’ve done a good job.Iva Antolović Sošić, sales force manager
This example illustrates one of the solution strategies that the sales force in Istria is using to meet its customers’ challenges:
1. Making clever use of METRO’s broad product portfolio
‘Thanks to the wide array of products at METRO, we’re always able to offer the customer alternatives that meet their needs in terms of quality, processing and pricing,’ says Iva. When it comes to new solutions, too, such as the grating machine in the example, METRO, as a wholesaler for both food and non-food products, offers the necessary variety as well as network connections to suppliers from all over the world.
2. Carrying solutions over to other products
‘When we’ve identified a challenge faced by the customer based on a certain product, it’s always worth considering how we can adapt our other product offerings in the same way,’ says Iva. A pizzeria that lacks staff to grate its cheese may logically also need pre-sliced sausage and peeled onions – or pre-baked cakes for dessert.
3. Analysing and planning ahead
The sales force draws on two important sources when planning what to offer – what the customers say and what the figures say. Experienced sales force managers can see the relationships between the two. ‘How were the previous day’s sales? What margins are achieved with which products? How are the customers doing with their payments?’ says Iva, the sales force manager, outlining the routine questions she starts her working day with. Her staff talk to one another continuously about customer wishes and product trends. And when summer is over in Istria, the preceding months are analysed as a basis for planning the next season.
4. Showing empathy and listening
‘Not everything can be solved from a purely professional angle,’ says Iva. ‘Our customers are people and we learn a lot about their lives.’ Listening with a sympathetic ear can help, as can ‘diverting the conversation to the weather or to football to take the customer’s mind off their stress for a while.’ When it comes to potentially delicate matters like finances and dates of payment, too, it’s about tactfully choosing the right time for a frank talk, she says.
Customer focus at METRO
An intensive customer relationship and active selling are the foundation of METRO’s growth strategy. In this context, the sales force has a special role to play as a personal point of contact. And the in-house staff are equally important, looking after existing customers and providing support in the background to fulfil the customers’ wishes and adhere to deadlines and processes. METRO sales force managers therefore work in tandem.