Thursday, July 30, 2015

Communication is the key

No business is an island.

One of the main goals of the Market Ready Program is to teach producers how to operate in a business environment. A key component of that which must be accepted and mastered is communication. This skill is critical to the success of the producer, and is an absolute requirement on the part of the buyer. In this post we are going to talk about some of the key points of communication between producer and buyer, as well as some ways to make mastering this skill easier.

Business relationships, just like all relationships, are based on trust. In an environment, such as the food industry that hinges on deadlines, quotas, and dependability, the producer (you) is judged on their ability to meet the needs of the buyer on a consistent basis. The best way to pass that test and instill a sense of trust from the buyer in you as the producer is building an open line of communication.  

OK, so we have said that word a lot so far, communication; but, what does it actually mean. Communication in a business sense is not simply what you physically say to a buyer (although that is part of it). In much more broad terms it can include emails, phone calls, a producer’s reach-ability and even your timing. All of these aspects send signals to buyers, and tell them different things about you, the producer. Trust is either built up, or degraded, depending on how the producer is viewed. Buyers then make decisions based on that information, and the level of trust they feel you deserve, which can determine either the success or failure of the producers business.

So how do you build trust by effectively communicating with your buyers? In the Market Ready Training Manual there are lots of quotes from business owners who volunteered their time to help give insight into business communication methods. Here are some of them:  “Call me…!”, “Keep me posted as to what’s happening. I need two weeks’ notice of any changes.” “Communicate 2 -3 times per week during produce season.” “I need four days’ notice to re-supply elsewhere if farmers won’t have the product.” As you can see they have laid out their needs very clearly.

The one common thread in almost all of those quotes is advanced notice. This is part of the producers’ responsibility to the buyer. You have to let them know what you will have, and when you will have it. Equally important is letting the buyer know when you don’t/won’t have something, and doing it with as much advance notice as is possible. If you can do that for a buyer, you will build trust.

Your method of communicating this information is equally important. In choosing a method for a particular buyer, it is vital to remember that not all buyers will be the same. The best way to know which method of communication is best for a buyer is simply to ask them. They will be more than happy to let you know the best way to communicate with them. This will also show them that, as a producer, you can be sensitive to their needs, thus building trust.

Some of the possible methods buyers will present the producer with are:
  • Phone calls        
  • Online Storefronts
  • Email 
  • In person visits
  • Mailings.

These are all valid forms of communication, even though some will be more utilized than others. Phone calls and emails are the top methods most buyers prefer; but, be careful to use them at the proper times. It will not go over well if, as a producer, you are trying to call a chef during the busiest time of the day for the restaurant. Luckily buyers will let you know when the best time to reach them is as well. 

Whichever way you and the buyer work out to communicate: Be Consistent! Remember that your ultimate goal is to build trust.

An aspect of communication that is often overlooked by producers is the ability to be reached by the buyer. Chefs, grocers, value – added processors, and all other types of buyers expect to be able to reach producers for their product needs. It does neither party much good if only one side is able to communicate with the other. A clear, two way line of communication only enhances the farmer – chef relationship, which is critical to developing the restaurant market, as well as possibly affecting positive change to a farm’s products. Not to mention the amount of trust that will be built between producer and buyer if both parties feel their needs are consistently being heard and met during the entirety of the business process.

  • Do a self-check on the aspects we have discussed here. 
  • Have you spoken with your potential buyer about the best way/time to contact them?
  •  Do you have access to email, websites, social networking sites, and other communication channels to discuss product orders and quality?
  •  Are you making the effort to connect personally with your customers to improve the conversation and the business relationship?
  •  Are you consistent and effective as a business communicator?

If you can master the skill of communication and utilize it effectively in your business you will be well on your way to successfully navigating the business community.

Here are some web resources you can use to get you started:

There are many, many more resources online, as well as in print. I wish you the best of luck on your journey to effective business communications!

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Thank you for joining us as we endeavor to extend knowledge and change lives! See you next time.

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