(Reading time: approximately 3 minutes)


The first step of any vendor’s business is to get products listed and selling with a retailer. Once you’ve got sales coming in, you will quickly realize that selling is only one component to growing your business. In order to make sure that your product stays well positioned and continues to grow, you need to constantly provide insight to your retailer to make sure they are setting you up to win.


By providing these insights, you’ll also start to develop a relationship with your buyer and a reputation for being a trusted partner. When this happens you may find yourself in a trusted advisor role.


Some of the larger retailers like Walmart or Target will have something called a “Category Captain”.


[tweet_this] A category captain means you think beyond your product and make recommendations for the entire category.[/tweet_this]


While final decisions lay with the buyer, the retailer will look to you for insights on how to best help the category win and grow.


Whether you have recently won a new captaincy (congrats!), are taking over an existing captaincy from a colleague, or are providing captaincy services for a new breakthrough category, there are four key components that make the first meeting with the buyer truly productive and set you up for long term success as a Category Captain.


After you have done the basic introduction and meet and greet, dive into a discussion with the buyer about the following four things:


1. Make sure to define the goal(s)


Ask the buyer what his/her goals are for the category and don’t let the conversation stop if he or she simply states, “I want to sell more product than I sold last year.” Dig deeper by asking if the goal is to dominate in the category or simply have a basic presence. The answer to this question can have vastly different implications. For example, if the buyer wants to dominate in the category, a robust product assortment with a well thought out promotional plan will be required.


On the flip side, if the buyer just wants to have a basic presence in the category, then only the top 20-25% of items may be required and promotion may not be as frequent. The key is to truly understand the goal(s) the buyer is trying to achieve. Taking the time to do this at the beginning helps establish you as a true partner.


2. Gather as much information from the buyer as possible


Ask the buyer what breadth and depth of information he/she is able to share with you. For example, can historical planogram files be provided? Chances are if you’re taking over a captaincy from someone else, there will be some semblance of organized information for you to use as a starting point; however, it is smart to go through the type of information available and the way it is shared with the buyer directly.


There may be a more efficient way of sharing information that you can offer the buyer to take one thing off his/her very long to-do list. You don’t know unless you ask! Additionally, the information you have access to will enhance or detract from your ability to provide insights and recommendations in future meetings.


3. Be clear about defining metrics for success


Once you have established the information availability, ask the buyer which metrics are most important to his/her success. For example, is top or bottom line the priority? Is it both? Does the buyer understand the items in the assortment that truly drive profit or are they looking to you to glean this insight? Is there an item (or SKU) count goal for the year? Many retailers try to limit the number of items so as to reduce pressure on the supply chain. Are there inventory goals? Don’t be afraid to have a list of questions prepared to kick start the buyer’s response in case he/she isn’t offering the detail you’re after.


Remember – you’re in this together and you can’t be a great partner unless you have the right information.


4. Suss out the buyer’s communication frequency


Finally, ask your buyer what his/her preferred amount of communication is. Is a weekly status update of the previous week’s sales performance via e-mail required? How often should you meet in person? What are the timelines for major assortment reviews and planogram changes? Will meeting cadence change throughout the business cycle? Asking these questions up front can help you better plan your time and remind the buyer of key milestones in the year for your brand.


As you can see, the common theme in the four components is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You are a valuable partner to the buyer and are essentially his/her right hand man/woman.


Just like great personal relationships, a great category captain-buyer relationship is built on solid communication. Setting the groundwork for open communication at the first meeting is the best way to ensure you and your buyer not only meet, but exceed your goals.


Do you have any tips from your first buyer meeting that you would like to share? Leave them in the comments below!