Selling Through Big Box Retail? Your Product Should Sell in Three Seconds, From Three Feet. Or You’re…

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"If you can’t get your message across in three seconds to someone standing three feet away in an aisle, your product is not going to work in a store like Walmart." -Tom Welch, Walmart

"What’s game changing about my product for it’s specific market?" – Chad Bell, Best Buy

The TiE event on Tuesday, What is the Right Channel to Take Consumer Products to Market, was full of thought-provoking questions and remarks like this that are highly relevant for any company or entrepreneur looking to get their consumer products into the right sales channels.  The speakers included:

-Marti Nyman (moderator), Director, Global Innovation Network, Best Buy

-Chad Bell, Merchant Leader for Digital Descriptions, Best Buy
-Tom Welch, Senior Business Manager, Music, Walmart.com
-Margita Labhard, Sr. Program Manager, Bestbuy.com
-Brent Dusing, Cofounder and CEO, Cellfire

I’ve put together a short summary, of what I think were the top remarks, concepts, and questions that came out of the hour and a half discussion led by the panel.  While these points should be taken into consideration no matter what channel, market, or product you’re working with, for those of you who are working in online and big box retail channels–this is coming straight from the source. 

What are the basic questions one should ask themselves about their product and getting into the right sales channel?

  • There are a lot of people out there with good ideas, but there are already things out there like it.  We look for products that are game changers; products that affect how a consumer in their target market goes about their daily life.  -Chad Bell
  • As a retailer, we need you to know exactly who you are going after.  This is not limited to the user, but also includes the person with the pocketbook.  What is their pain that you’re addressing?  Who is going to use it?  And, who is going to pay for it?  -Tom Welch

When is a good time to approach a retailer?

  • You want to start early, but your product is going to change over its lifecycle.  Your first sales will be the educational step for your customer.  If you’re product requires education, you’ll want to choose a channel that allows you the time and means to educate them and influence their buying decision.  Walmart is great at selling things that people understand.  If you can’t get your message across in three seconds to someone standing three feet away in a retail aisle, your product will probably not work in a store like Walmart.  -Tom Welch
  • Always think from the point-of-view of your customer and know that your channel marketing/sales will always continue to evolve throughout the lifecycle.  -Margita Labhard

What Types of Sales Channels are Available?

  • Traditional big box, higher touch…  Higher touch involves those products that require a longer sales cycle and more involvement with a sales person–high technology and high purchase price products like stereo systems, home theaters, etc.  -Chad Bell
  • Walmart will take a bet on a riskier product online to see how it does and test how it’s going to be communicated.  Everything will be planned out.  Ask "where am I in the process lifecycle and how will this step iterate to the next?  How does the internet channel translate to a phone call and then to the in-store channel?  -Tom Welch

What are typical new company mistakes?

  • I know of some horror stories.  I came across a company that was well financed, had what I thought was a cool product, and they spent all of their time on things that were "sexy", like in-store placement, cool inserts, etc.  When you have things like that, it feels like a win.  But, they spent no time educating sales reps.  So the people most critical to selling their product had little to go on, and it hurt.  The lesson?  You have to win over the hearts of the sales people and you need them to fall in love with your product.  Do you offer training programs?  Accommodation programs?   Driving more traffic to our stores is great, but you need to show us how conversion will take place.  -Chad Bell
  • Don’t miss out on how your customers experience the sales process?  Try to break down the complexities and work backwards to what is the right channel?  Online doesn’t provide for an incredibly complex transactional process.  -Margita Labhard
  • Trying to grow to quickly can be problematic because you miss out on the learning process and how that translates into future iterations in the cycle.  If you don’t learn anything and take the time to get that customer feedback, it can be a big problem that manifests itself later.  As you get farther through the product’s lifecycle, you are going to have less time to educate the customer, so you better understand them already. -Tom Welch

How do you choose the right sales channel?

  • First, know that this won’t be the only time you make this decision.  Ask yourself questions like "do I want visibility from retail shelves so I can gain legitimacy and sell online?  Do I want to get market feedback for future product iterations?  What do I want out of this channel?  How will it fit in with my entire strategy?"  And know that the answers to these questions will change through the cycle.  -Tom Welch