Anil Alim has just been appointed Supply Chain Director of Westbury Street Holdings, overseeing a purchasing budget in excess of £123m. Alim may be at the top of the list for sales professionals that have a proposition for Westbury Street Holdings’ brands BaxterStorey, Caterlink, Holroyd Howe, benugo and Portico, but with 20 years buying experience, and a portfolio of 1600 suppliers, the proposition and approach has to match.
Understanding Business Challenges
Over the last 20 years Alim has held purchasing roles across a number of verticals including Retail, Hospitality and Wholesale. Having worked under major brands such as Littlewoods and Compass before moving on to Woolworths when they were top of their game, Alim has had to negotiate and work with some of the biggest brands on the planet.
In his time at Woolworths they had 800 shops, where Alim managed deals with companies such as Mars, Nestle, Walkers and Coca-Cola where relationships were more than just transactions, but strategic partnerships that could provide both parties with fantastic revenue opportunities.
So dealing with sales professionals is an area that Alim knows more than his fair share about, but does working with the best brands mean working with the best sales professionals? ‘Unfortunately not’ states Alim, ‘...the mistakes that many sales professionals make occur no matter what size of business the individual works for’.
“The biggest challenge that I have always faced is to make sure our supply partners understood the business challenges that our business faces, it was a struggle when at Woolworths and the same challenge exists today” remarks Alim. “sales professionals have historically been focussed on explaining the values and benefits of their products before understanding the challenges and needs of our business.”
“This can sometimes happen more in the larger brands who can often pigeon hole the business, comparing it to similar businesses or making sweeping generalisations about what the business is trying to do before fully investigating”
So although the top brands and businesses have been able to train sales professionals to explain and promote the benefits of their products, this is not necessarily the most productive way of doing business. Buyers needs, and more importantly, understanding buyers needs have never been so important; all organisations are different, with different business goals, goals that need to be understood before explaining benefits.
So why do the top companies still struggle with this as much as those with smaller training and recruitment budgets? “...although companies are investing in people, there is still a general difficulty in finding good sales people. Training often seems to be about generic selling skills and product knowledge rather than key skills of relationship building, finding personable and experienced people who are good listeners”.
Alim explains how he looks for sales professionals and businesses to fully understand his business, but is there a responsibility from the buyer’s side of the table to aid this process? Absolutely, according to Alim “...we look to help our suppliers understand our business, we assist them to make unit visits and moving forward with Westbury will be holding a buyers conference”
So for sales professionals with a fantastic proposition for Westbury Street Holdings, how should they approach Alim and has team, “...approaches should be with an understanding of the business and should be aimed at specific rather than generic opportunities. Sales professionals should look to learn and present opportunities with some genuine reasons to buy – not the usual 16 page brochure on our company which will certainly stop them from standing out”.
If he was to promote a key message for approaching businesses there seems to be a telling mantra that Alim uses – “...they need to understand our consumer, the final customer, and how their business can help improve their experience and relationship with our business”.
Alim promotes the ideals that all sales professionals and modern businesses are looking for, a win-win relationship rather than a ‘trading environment’, and highlights the company’s relationship with supplier United Coffee as an example of excellent supplier best practice.
“United Coffee have worked with the Westbury Street Holdings business for some time, they work closely with us to really understand our coffee offering and how it sits within the business. They have become strong partners rather than just a strong supplier, they spend time at units and operations, and with the supply chain network across the organisation.”
Westbury Street Holdings Challenge
Westbury Street Holdings present a new challenge for Anil Alim, there are some key business challenges ahead that need to be addressed and taken on. “Westbury Street Holdings is a unique business with five different parts, so there is a massive challenge in maintaining the values of all parts of the business”
“There is a major challenge of dealing with 1600 suppliers and a need to maintain the standards that have already been achieved; we need to manage the desires of the local stores to do business with who they want to deal with”.
“We also need to rationalise purchases without taking anything away locally – there will be a lot of networking and understanding of the business, communication of policies will be a major part of the strategy as well as keeping on top of food inflation”.
Inflation is a word that may often bring a chill to the most experienced of purchasing professionals, but this does not mean that costs have to go up through the business, “...a good example of managing food inflation will be in working locally and seasonally, buying food in the right season and sourcing locally rather than bringing in suppliers off season from outside the UK or the EU”
The messages that Anil Alim suggests should not be unfamiliar with the sales profession, the skills and techniques should be at the forefront with any pitch. Listen to the buyer, understand their business and their challenges, don’t just take the role of presenting your own business.
Alim has been working in sales for 20 years and still finds the quality of sales professionals questionable, no matter what size of business he is dealing with, but are these expectations unachievable for genuine sales professionals?