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Supercharged Selling Skills: Q&A with Jerome Dees

Jerome Dees headshot

Listening carefully to the needs of customers is one of the keys to driving sales in the specialty food industry, said Jerome Dees Jr., managing partner at business consulting firm Dees Partners. Dees has spent more than two decades helping businesses in the food industry grow. 

He plans to share his actionable advice during a special Maker Prep Course session at the Summer Fancy Food Show. Maker Prep Course is a collaborative in-person and online program that will provide foundational knowledge and guidance to up-and-coming specialty food makers in set groups, limited to 100 participants.

The first Class session kicks off at the 2024 Summer Fancy Food Show and will culminate in a Class graduation at the 2025 Winter Fancy Food Show. The Maker Prep Course offers six months of comprehensive learning about running a specialty food business. Each Class participant will, by graduation, have a thorough understanding of how to launch, market, and distribute their products.  Interested companies can sign up here

SFA News Daily recently spoke to Dees.

What will be the focus of your presentation?

I find a lot of makers aren’t salespeople by trade, and that’s okay. They’re really good at making food. I have to remind people that you need to slow down and listen more than you talk. If you’re asking the right questions, and get good information, you can act on it. The heart of what we're going to do will be very interactive. You’re going to give your elevator pitch to someone, and then through the course of an hour, we’re going to slowly tweak and adjust it a little bit. I’m also going to give some insights from my almost 20 years of selling 4 million-plus bagels and hundreds of thousands of loaves of bread.

What do you see as some of the challenges in the food industry when it comes to growing sales, compared to other industries?

It varies depending on what you sell. A lot of what I’ve sold has been fresh, natural products. Some of those have a very short shelf life, and there are a lot of unique challenges when you're selling a product that has a three-to-four-day shelf life and a lot of retailers were looking for 10 to 14 days minimum. One thing I’m going to share at the workshop is that your products are not necessarily what you’re selling all the time. Sometimes there are a lot of things that go around that. I think the tradeoff for me was, “You’re not going to get the best shelf life, but you’re not going to find a fresher product, and you’re not going to have all these added ingredients that you can’t promote.” It really is about how you communicate and sell it. I also have found so much success by just getting people to try the product. I’m a pretty good salesperson, I think, but sometimes if you have the right product package, presented the right way, it will do a lot of heavy lifting for you.

How has technology impacted your selling process?

We went from this world where you had to meet in person, you had to shake a hand, and you had to look people in the eye. At Imperfect Produce, we did 150 pallets minimum, and it was all via Zoom calls and digital contacts. Not once did I meet someone in person. When it comes to the sales process, I use Zoho for a lot of what I do. It will remind you when it’s the next time to contact someone, and it can auto-send and sequence for you. It sometimes makes it more impersonal, but it also allows you to keep up with that numbers game because the more doors you can knock on, the higher your chance of success. I think it’s taken a little bit of the personal touch out of it, but that's why I love the trade shows and, and things like the Fancy Food Show where you can connect with people.

How can brands maintain customer loyalty in an environment like this where price is so important to a lot of people?

Brand reputation is huge. I think we don’t put enough emphasis on who we are, and why we are, and what we’re doing. I love the organizations that give a little bit back to the community and make that known. My wife and I have four boys, and although we make a lot of decisions based on price, there is an emotional component to some of the items we buy, especially at the farmers’ market. We love the local [vendors]. If you are a small, local, company, you can really play that up. I highly encourage customers I work with to be visible in the community, whether it’s having tables at events, or sponsorships. I think there are a lot of really good ways to keep your name in front of people, so that when they see you on the shelf, they’ll associate you with those positive thoughts.

What are you looking forward to at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show?

I think my first show was in San Francisco many, many moons ago, and I remember walking through and hearing some the educational components, and I thought, “Wow, it would be amazing one day to be able to come back and give back.” I really want someone to be able to take what I share with them, and then turn around and have an immediate impact on their business. Also, my wife loves cheese and she’s going along with me. She loves walking the floor and just meeting people. So, we’re both very excited.