(Editor’s note: The advisors at 8th & Walton have sat on both sides of Walmart Buyer/Supplier meeting tables. Contact us about helping you prep for that first meeting or next line review).
You’ve just finished the meeting with your Walmart Buyer. They walk you to the front lobby, shake hands, and you peel off your visitor’s sticker. As your team walks through the parking lot, how many times has one of you turned to the others and said:
“Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Is that new, or has it always been our responsibility?”
“When I asked that last question, did you guys see the buyers look at each other?”
It happens. We’ve all been in meetings where we wish we could turn back time ten seconds and remain silent. Unfortunately, there’s no supplier academy to tell you what not to ask in your buyer meeting! After talking with leaders who have participated in these meetings, here are their top picks for what your Walmart Buyer does not want to hear:
1. “So, how are my sales looking?”
When a supplier opens a meeting with this question, what the Walmart Buyer hears is, “Hey, I came here unprepared. How are you?”
Never ask this; Walmart holds suppliers responsible for knowing the numbers and reporting them accurately. Go into your meeting not only knowing your key metrics, but be prepared to offer ideas on how to improve them. Pulling, understanding, and analyzing your numbers are essential to your Walmart partnership.
If you don’t quite understand how Walmart wants the sales formatted or what analysis they need, don’t go into that meeting unprepared. Click here to ask our team about meeting prep and report formatting. We assist suppliers with this and explain how to improve on the metrics your reports show.
2. “What do you think I can do to increase sales?”
It’s always a positive that the supplier wants to grow the business. However, Walmart expects suppliers to bring ideas and innovation to the meeting.
Part of doing your homework is examining how Walmart is marketing nationally as well as promotions at the store level. Do a careful analysis of the return on investment for these marketing endeavors and, if they make sense for your business, present them to the buyer.
Make the question “Here’s how we can drive higher sales. What do you think?” Present to the buyer how your items are performing in the stores and what factors are causing spikes and dips. Show them your plan for growth, where you want to partner, and ask for their feedback. They’ll appreciate you taking the initiative instead of being dependent on them for every answer.
3. “Here’s your copy of the DECK for our meeting.”
Just the opposite of the first example. It’s one thing to go in unprepared, but walking in over-prepared can be a waste of time.
Talking with one Walmart merchant, I was told, “It’s amazing how many suppliers hand me a 100-page deck for a 30-minute meeting. I don’t need them to read me a story. We’re there to talk.”
He didn’t advise eliminating PowerPoint decks in your buyer meeting. What he suggested was making any supplemental material short, concise, and straight to the point.
4. “What does my Fill Rate have to do with OTIF?”
We’ve known there was still confusion about On Time In Full for a while. In fact, OTIF went through a major update at the last Walmart Supplier Forum (now measured as OT&IF). Buyers need their suppliers to fully understand OT&IF and what’s being measured. The issue is this: some suppliers are requesting Walmart to purchase more merchandise when the numbers show they can’t fill their current orders.
Most importantly, when trying to get those extra POs, your fill rate is center stage. The buyer won’t make concessions for things not working in your supply chain:
- Your number of trucks
- Issues getting appointment times
- Distance from your warehouse to the Walmart DC
- Weather (if the Walmart DC is open, the expectation is your truck is there)
Understand OT&IF, talk to improving your fill rate, and the extra POs will come as sales grow. To hear the new OT&IF measurement explained, check out this short 8th & Walton Conference Call podcast.
5. “No matter what you’ve got, we can make it!”
Private Label; it’s huge. Retailers love adding it to the assortment. More shoppers are leaving big-name brands and love the cost-savings. As much as Walmart seeks more Private Label opportunity, this is the wrong approach. Your buyer isn’t looking for a copy-cat.
Don’t tell the Walmart Buyer you can produce the same cookies they already have on the shelf. Where are the gaps in the current assortment? Where are you bringing something innovative to the Private Label mix?
Learn how to find those gaps in the assortment and how to fill a current Walmart need.
6. “How do I get my item placed near the bananas?”
It may surprise you how many suppliers actually ask this! First, it’s great that you understand the concept of market basket. Statistically, bananas are in most shoppers’ basket, so it’s highly-sought store placement. Your Walmart Buyer already knows the most popular items in the store. They’re looking for deeper market basket insights relative to your item.
When you’re going for that at-shelf decision or impulse buy, it has to make sense, whether in permanent placement or cross-merchandising. If you need a deeper look at your market basket for some fresh ideas, click here to ask one of our Walmart experts.
7. “But this is what my last buyer wanted.”
If you’re a seasoned Walmart Supplier, how many buyers have you been through? You already know a new buyer can bring new expectations and “the way we’ve always done it” won’t fly.
All buyers are looking to make their own mark on their category and not be a status quo buyer. When you get the opportunity to work with a new buyer, do your research. Find out as much as possible about what’s important to them. Above all, don’t assume your new buyer knows nothing! Nothing gets a new relationship off to a bad start like “schooling” or talking down to a new colleague.
However, what every buyer will acknowledge is they can’t know the supply chain end to end. Here’s your chance to shine: bring your new buyer solutions to drive down costs. This may be through a better consolidation strategy to support replenishment.
Position your conversation and presentation to enhance their goals. They’re looking for your solutions, not just challenges. Listening will always be more important than talking!
8. “Do you have kids? What kind of sports are they into?”
After asking several friends on the merchant team, this is an amalgam of what makes them uncomfortable. Family questions, compliments on appearance, greeting with a hug (people still do that?); it’s the supplier who wants to get too personable for a business meeting.
Most Walmart Buyers will advise suppliers to simply read the room. Is your buyer chatty? Great! They may like to break the ice before business, but let them lead. If your buyer is all business, keep it at the professional level. Both of you are there to make a profit together, so don’t take it personally if they can’t remember your last visit (or your kid’s soccer team).
9. “Hey, you’ll never guess who I saw at dinner last night!”
I can’t believe this one made the list: name-dropping.
I was having lunch with a friend on the Walmart buying team and mentioned writing this blog. When I asked what would be helpful to include, she practically screamed, “Name-dropping!” She then shared some awkward stories we won’t detail here.
It seems that more than a few supplier meetings at the Walmart Home Office have begun with, “Hey, you’ll never guess who I saw at dinner last night!” Let me guess. . .a Walmart executive?
Simply put, seeing Doug McMillon in Bentonville, AR, is like seeing Buzz Lightyear in Disneyland. People who work there experience it all the time, and it won’t help you get on the ride any faster. Instead of name-dropping, try news-dropping. If Walmart has announced a new program or strategy, bring ideas to the table of how you can support it through your business to grow sales.
Conclusion: Let the First Time be the Last Time
Whether it’s being too excited or being unprepared, it happens to everyone. The Walmart buying team is very forgiving when they hear something on this list; they just don’t want it happening in every meeting. The suppliers’ success contributes to Walmart’s success, so your buyer is there to support you through each step.
Want to go into that meeting exceeding your buyer’s expectations? It helps to chat with someone who’s been there! Click here to bounce a few ideas off the 8th & Walton team of experts. We’ve got some insight that will turn that meeting or line review into a better experience.