As a CPG supplier, the value of a strong relationship with Walmart buyers can’t be overstated. These buyers are your entry point to getting your products stocked on Walmart’s shelves, and keeping them happy will support your retail brand’s goals of sticking around at Walmart, and even growing your retail presence.
But Walmart buyers are also under intense pressure to optimize retail performance across whatever product departments they serve. They don’t have time to waste on suppliers who can’t meet the company’s expectations for performance and efficiency, and they aren’t interested in taking time out of their schedules to teach you the ins and outs of surviving in Walmart’s unique retail environment.
Winning at Walmart means doing your homework, and knowing what you can do to get yourself into the good graces of its buyers. Here are five ways to win them over.
1. Follow through on your commitments.
Buyers want to work with suppliers who consistently execute the strategies they lay out. If you tell the buyer you want to enter 2,000 stores with a new product, you need to have the infrastructure in place to fulfill this expectation. Can you fulfill effectively and produce accordingly?
Buyers don’t want to waste time worrying about their suppliers’ ability to follow through. The less they have to think about your brand, the better. Operational excellence is key!
2. Be mindful of the sundown rule.
Buyers expect suppliers to communicate in a timely fashion. In general, if a buyer sends you a question during the day, the expectation is that you will give them an answer by sundown. Same-day responses to questions have traditionally been an expectation when working with Walmart, and for the most part this still holds true.
Some buyers may not be as rigid about this expectation, but others will hold it against you if you take too long to respond to their questions. It’s better to be safe than sorry—every buyer will appreciate quick communication.
3. Simplify your communication with the buyer.
Buyers don’t have time to sift through reams of performance data for your products. That job falls on the shoulders of suppliers.
Rather than overwhelm them with tedious documents that delineate product performance, category trends, and sales projections, make life easier on the buyer and distill this information to the key takeaways that are the easiest to digest and offer the deepest level of insight.
Set yourself apart in the way you deliver information—make it clear, easy to understand, and actionable.
4. Present a fail-proof sales strategy.
Buyers are always looking for the cracks in a strategy that point to possible problems. When you’re launching a new product, your goal is to convince buyers that your strategy can’t fail. Buyers don’t want to hear about all the moving parts and conditional strategy elements that are contingent upon ad approvals, developing influencer relationships, and other aspects that aren’t guaranteed to pan out.
A better bet is to present them with a single strategy element that they know they can count on. For example, tell the buyer about the budget you’ve set aside for a national campaign across premier podcasts. If they can’t find the chink in your brand’s armor, they’ll feel better about doing business with your company.
5. Immerse yourself into the Walmart company culture.
Walmart has a strong company culture that is also radically different from what you’ll find at other retail corporations. They use different terminology than other retailers do, such as “customers” instead of “consumers” or “shoppers.” They organize their product offerings by department numbers, and everybody knows them.
They have a corporate calendar that starts in February, most of the people in the company have read founder Sam Walton’s biography, and there’s a company cheer that you might be asked to participate in if you ever attend a big meeting at headquarters. Knowing the cheer is an easy way to earn brownie points with buyers, and show your level of commitment to working with Walmart.
When you communicate with buyers, you’re competing with the attention and demands of many other suppliers—including your direct competition. The best way to stand out is by proving to the buyer that you know what you’re doing, and that your business has the skills, knowledge, and resources it needs to quickly find success on Walmart store shelves.