How To Contact Potential Suppliers – It’s Like Butter!

Shaking Hands

Perhaps the most terrifying prospect of setting up an online business - particularly one that uses the dropship model - is contacting potential suppliers. I'll admit that even though I spent my entire life in sales, I was pretty nervous about it, too. In the end, I just put it in the same perspective I had when I was selling things for companies I had worked for - you win some, you lose some but you never win without trying!

There is no secret to getting this done; emails don't cut it; you need to make some phone calls. Before you pick up the phone, though, you definitely should make sure you have your ducks in a row.

Please don't waste your time looking for the easy way out here. Do not sign up with one of the dropship directory services. I assure you that there will be no decent margins left for you if you plan on having competitive prices. Websites who do it the right way will always be able to blow away your prices. No, you are going to have to call the manufacturers directly and see if they'll dropship for you.

Don't just submit an application online and hope for the best. Nothing is easier to ignore than an Email. Definitely fill out an online application if you find one. Then, wait an hour after you submit it and make a phone call to follow up. Something like “I just submitted a dealer application online and just want to make sure it went through alright. Are you the person I would speak to?”

You'll get either a “yes" or a "no, that would be [insert person's name here].” If it's another person, ask if you can speak to them. Either way, make note of the name – you may need to know it for future followup calls. Now comes the part that freaks people out: once you know that you are speaking to the right person, what do you say to that person?

He didn't realize it at the time, but back in my fraternity days, one of the guys in the house gave me the secret to winning friends and influencing people. We were making grilled cheese sandwiches one day and he said “the secret to a perfect grilled cheese is lots of butter!” While that may not be the most sound advice for people watching their cholesterol, it is great advice about what tastes good. What tastes good, feels good.

If you want the person in charge of setting up dealer accounts to help you, you need to make them want to help you. That means lots of butter! If you make them feel good about the company they work for and their products, it makes them feel good about themselves. People want to help people who make them happy. You'll have to develop your own “script” that suits your own personality, but mine goes something like this …

“I'm in charge of setting up new wholesale accounts for [name of company]. We've been in the website design and marketing business for several years and have numerous successful websites. We're always looking for another golden opportunity, and based upon our research, the [left handed widgets] market is a perfect fit for our company. We know we will be able to generate a lot of traffic and orders and, after looking into it further, it seems your company makes the best [left handed widgets] out there. The reviews I read are all excellent - I don't think I've ever seen a product where every single review on the internet was positive before. We'd really like to feature your [left handed widgets] as our showcase brand. How do I go about getting a dealer account set up with you?”

One thing that I should point out about my little script is that, although I am really the owner, I tell them that I am simply in charge of setting up new wholesale accounts. This serves two purposes. First, it makes my little one man show seem bigger than it is. Second, it gives me some wiggle room, just in case a question comes up that I am unprepared for. I can always say to the person on the other end of the phone,"I'm sorry; nobody has ever asked me that before and honestly, I don't know the answer. I'll be meeting with the owner later on and can ask him. Can I get back to you on that?" Then, see what other questions they have before "meeting with yourself" to come up with an answer. Most of the time, a little time (and less pressure) will allow you to come up with an answer. You can also sometimes find answers online. There are plenty of eCommerce related forums.

I know lots of people are nervous about this. They've never done it before and don't want to screw up their chances of getting a supplier. I promise you, you will not be perfect the first time and you'll get better at it as time goes on. You need to remember two things, though. The absolute worst thing that can happen is they say no. If that's the case, you aren't any worse off than you were before you made the phone call. Don't take it personally; it's way better hearing "no" from a manufacturer than hearing it when you ask someone out on a date (ouch!). The other thing you need to remember is that part of the person's job on the other end of the phone is to increase sales for his company. You are only helping them do that!

Now, if this is your first website, you may have to alter things a bit. Maybe you can do what I did for my very first website and tell them that you spent years marketing a website for a major company and you were very successful. You're branching out on your own this time and have no doubt you'll be even more successful with this website – “the marketing research numbers are very good!” (the great thing about this approach is that you can pick pretty much any company out there and they'll never know what, if any, role you played in their website). You might also decide to pick a site or two in completely different niches and tell them that you helped launch it/them (again, how will they ever know?). If you go the second route, it's important that it is in a different niche because they might know the people in their own market. For sure, both methods are not exactly truthful, but no harm is being done to anyone (that makes me feel better about my use of "poetic license", at least). Do whatever makes you feel comfortable.

It really helps if you have a shell of a website up already. I like to slap up a few dozen products on it that I just copy and paste from other people's websites. You won't be ranking for anything with a brand new site, so there is little chance somebody will get mad at you for stealing their content. If you are calling a supplier or brand that carries some of the products on your "dummy" site, be sure to hide those products before the call so that it looks like you only carry their competitors' products. That's usually a very good incentive for them to give you an account! If they say "yes", you just have to unhide their products and re-write the descriptions you copied. If they say "no" you can turn their products back on and then call the next supplier/brand and do the same thing.

While they are looking at your site, ask if they can suggest the perfect product image to use in a banner for the home page; ask them if they have any product videos; ask if there are any products in particular that they would like to feature; ask if there is anything you can do on your end to make it easier for them to process the orders you send to them. In the “sales world,” we call this getting “minor agreement.” Once they start suggesting things like images, best products or the way that orders are placed with them, they've already essentially said “yes.”

If they ask you about what your sales figures are on the site, it's time for a little creativity. Figure out what two average sales are per day, multiply that by 30 and tell them "we are doing about $xx,xxx per month in sales right now, which is pretty good for a relatively new website, but we'd probably be doing at least twice that much if we had your products!" Again, there is no way for them to know how much money your fake site is making!

If they ask how you market your site, tell them that you do pay per click advertising, banner ads, social marketing and SEO.

Of course, at some point in time you are going to need to ask them about dropshipping. Pretty much every manufacturer has no problems at all selling their products in bulk but a number of them might claim that they are not set up for selling things onesy, twosey. (If they have a department that handles returns and exchanges, of course they are used to shipping things onesy, twosey, incidentally.) I simply tell them that we never start out ordering in bulk because we simply do not know what the best selling products will be. "All of our suppliers always start by dropshipping products for us until we can figure out what the best sellers are and how much of it we will sell each month." I have never had a supplier call me one day and ask when I will start buying in bulk. Once they start dropshipping for you, they'll always dropship for you!

In the best-case scenario, they may say “alright; we'll send you over our price list and get you set up” right off the bat. A good percentage of the time, that's the case. You should thank them, say you look forward to working with them and ask if there is anything else you can provide to get the ball rolling. Let them do all the talking from there on out.

Then again, they might give you the polite blow-off line, “O.K. I'll look your application over and let you know.” If that happens, it's best to use what the Director of Operations of a place I was once working told me - “When you want something done that the other person might not want to do – even if they are your employee - don't ask them to do it – ask them if they can do you a favor, instead.” What sounds better? - “John, empty the garbage” or “John, can you do me a favor? I need the garbage emptied. Can you do that for me? I'd really appreciate it!”

People like to do favors for other people but they don't like being told what to do. If you get the stall tactic blow-off line, say “Great. Can you do me a favor? Please do whatever you can to get me approved. We already have other brands lined up, but we really want to have the best for this website. Is there anything else I can do to make your decision easier?”

That's about all you can do there. A “maybe” is better than a “no.” Even if they ultimately decide not to add you on as a dealer, there's a very good chance you can return in a few months when your website is selling things and ranking well and get a positive answer. “I did $10,000 in sales with [insert competitor's name here] last month and probably could have done twice that much with your products” is a good place to start! Once again, you can make up whatever sales figures you like. No harm, no foul!

Finally, we need to discuss the dreaded “no.” This comes in many forms ranging from “we don't dropship products” to “we only work with brick and mortar stores” to “ we aren't accepting any more websites at this time.” All you can do at that point is say you are very sorry to hear that and that you'd still like to feature their products. Ask them if they could do you a favor and recommend any of their larger customers who might be willing to dropship for you - a distributor or someone who buys in large quantities. Ask if they have any contact information for them – name; phone number; anything. Thank them for any information they provide and move on. Hopefully, you get some decent contact info and know a little more than you did before the call started. If nothing else, you know who wasn't receptive.

Where do you go from here? If you got the “maybe,” call back in a few days. If it's still “maybe,” call back in a week, then in two weeks, then in a month. Keep calling until you get a “yes” or a “no” (because at this point, at least a “no” means you can stop wasting your time). Keep a list of the names of the people you talked to.

At least every six months, you should be looking for new vendors, new manufacturers, new products. The best place to start is with the places that you already have names and numbers for. Who knows? Six months down the line the person who said “no” may not be there anymore and you can try again with the new person, telling them something like “John said they were in the process of approving my application but then I never heard back from him. I just figured he dropped the ball and we have been so busy with orders, I just haven't had an opportunity to follow up. I had no idea he wasn't there anymore. I guess that makes sense.” If “John” is still there, let him know how much money you sent to his competitor last month. So what if he says “no” again? That's where you started anyway! Maybe he'll now realize how idiotic it is to turn away free business.

Although eCommerce is a real business where you can definitely make real money, a lot of it is a game. Think of each step as a different part of a sports season where there will be games won and lost along the way – picking a niche, finding a supplier, building your website, marketing your website. The more wins you get - the further into the “season” you progress - the better your chances are of winning the championship (building a very successful website). The season has just barely started at the “finding a supplier” stage. If you aren't able to find a manufacturer or distributor to dropship for you, it's time for a trade. You can always start over with a new team (niche) and haven't lost much. It's much better than getting much further into the season and losing in the playoffs!

Wait, There's More!

Do you know what is even better than butter? Our webinar that discusses ALL of the ways to overcome objections with suppliers. It even has a mock phone call to a not-so-helpful potential supplier that really puts Coach Dave on his toes!

I should point out that I am part of the webinar and that it is the one and only webinar I have ever been a part of. The first 5 minutes are a little rough because there is no picture (totally my fault). What can I say? - "I ran outta gas. I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from outta town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake, a terrible flood, locust's. It wasn't my fault! I swear to God!!!" (Hey if it was good enough for "Jake Blues", it's good enough for me!)

Seriously, the Mock Phone Call with a Potential Supplier webinar is the best thing I have ever seen put together about getting new supplier accounts. All the credit goes to Coach Dave for the truly outstanding presentation!

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