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The Other Side of the Desk

For the first 20 plus years of my career, I sat on the “buy side” of the desk. This was where I was able to take the skills I had honed over the years to create or simply approve items that I believed would sell. Some of the proposals were slightly risky due to a unique aspect, like the product name or packaging — or perhaps an ingredient or two. But for the most part these were potential mainstream items that I believed had legs.

Products came to my attention in several ways. Perhaps I already had seen it under its brand name at the competition or at a food show; or maybe I knew the manufacturer and worked with him to create something unique and different… but often these items were presented to me by someone not that different from me, especially the “now” me — the person who cold-called to tell me about some wonderful new item that my customers simply could not live without!

Who knew that I was going to either make or break this person’s day? I should have had a Harry Truman-esque, “Don’t call my boss, the buck stops here” sign on my desk because that is the power that a buyer wields.

These days, I’m sitting on the other side of the desk. I hock my wares to all sorts of retailers. I still am not 100% comfortable with the cold call and am having to train myself to realize that the word “No” doesn’t always mean no, but can be a simple dialogue starter (talk about creative ways of psyching myself up!). Other times, you have to simply take the abuse or aggression to make the sale, which is never easy.

Recently, I presented a line of non-food items to a well-known, mid-size retailer and was treated more rudely than I ever have been before! It reminded me that my job these days is simply to deliver product information, to explain the ultimate value that my item could represent for the retailer — whatever the cost.

On this day, I didn’t react as I would if I owned the line I was presenting — by getting up and walking out. No, I held my ground, smile intact, nodding pleasantly to the stream of the verbal diatribe being directed at me.

This was a reminder to me to treat people the way you would expect to be treated if the tables were turned. In other words, no matter which side of the desk is yours, be courteous and human to anyone you are dealing with, whether in person, on the phone or via email. We are all simply trying to keep the roof overhead and sell or buy the best possible items for our customers. You never know when you’ll receive a call with a product offer that will delight your customers and make you a hero.

And don't forget that one day you might end up on the other side of that desk, too.