Learning a Lesson in Transparency

I believe that the new currency is transparency built with authenticity.

Early on in my career, I was given a valuable lesson on this topic. In my very first buyer meeting as an Account Manager, the Merchant taught me something I have never forgotten. The value of transparency.

Entering the meeting, to say I was nervous would be an understatement. The company had put this brand on my shoulders to lead at the largest retailer. The Merchant was seasoned and known to be direct. Midway through an intense meeting, I found myself scrambling for the sell. As a preface for what I was hoping would be a bold and “authentic” closing statement, I uttered these words, “I am going to be honest with you…”

The Merchant interrupted me – “Time out. You’re going to be honest with me? Are you saying that everything you said before now was not honest?” To begin the sentence with “I am going to be honest with you” implied that I am about to reveal new information. It implied that I am going to stop selling and give you the real information. I am now going to be transparent with you.

Well played by the Merchant, misplayed by the rookie. That Buyer taught me a great point that is still ingrained in my mind 20 years later. The lesson was about the value of transparency and authenticity.

Evaluating the Authenticity of Your “Why”

Recently, I met with a company that had one of those mission statements that draws you in. Having read their website before the meeting, I was enamored with how they were helping the underprivileged in a unique way. I wasn’t sold on the company or the product, but I was sold on the mission, the good they were doing in the world.

During the meeting with the founder,  I told him how I loved their mission statement, and what they were about. He politely said, “thanks,” and immediately went back to talking about the products. The conversation suddenly felt inauthentic and shallow. I was enamored with his mission, but the founder had no passion behind it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently met with a founder that developed a product out of a personal need. There was a gap in the market, he couldn’t find a product to fill his own need, so he innovated. It changed his life, and he wanted to help others. That meeting was inspiring, moving, and authentic.

When one brings transparency and authenticity to the table, the audience can feel it. The receiver knows it and can’t help but become engaged. Even if the news feels less than great, being transparent builds credibility in a way that can often soften the blow.

What does this mean in your day-to-day?

So, how can transparency and authenticity play out in our everyday CPG dealings? Some thoughts below:

  • Use insights instead of flowery language. I can describe this luxurious, innovative item that will bring incremental sales to the category, or I can show data-driven insights and the detail behind the source of volume. I can tell you that an ingredient has great efficacy, or I can show the clinical studies that have exact numbers. Harvest Group delivers data-driven insights, making time and meetings count, and building equity for future conversations.
  • Don’t dance with data when you develop the story. It can be tempting to spin to tell a story. Be authentic with the numbers. Let the story come from the data. Developing a story prior to knowing the data can drive spinning or forcing numbers to say what you want them to say. Convince yourself that the idea is a winner before attempting to convince an audience.
  • Communicate the truth with your supply chain to your merchant. The tendency may be to deliver the best-case scenario and hope that the inventory arrives on time. If your best-case scenario doesn’t come to fruition, trust is eroded. Even if the information is bad news, transparency can help build a long-term relationship based on trust. Additionally, transparency will keep you from the stress of depending on those allocated quantities arriving at the port on time.
  • Be passionate about your mission and the product you are bringing to the table. The authenticity will naturally come across. If you are not passionate, find a new mission and product.

At Harvest, when I took on the new role of new business development, I was a bit concerned about potential perceptions. To me, the title implied a person in the job of forced selling, lacking authenticity. Said differently, spinning the story until you could close the agreement. My worst nightmare.

However, I have found that because of the work that we do at Harvest Group, I can, as we say, bring my whole self to work. I can talk about our mission, our values, and our servant mindset with pride. When I speak about Harvest, it is naturally transparent and authentic because I truly believe in what we do and the people who do it. This breeds passion and freedom.

Next time you prep for that pitch, try on the filters of transparency and authenticity. Make your time with the Merchants count, bring driven insights, transparent and authentic stories, and you may find it a bit easier to get on their calendar for the next meeting.

If you’re interested in talking authentically about your retail business, I’d be happy to chat. You can fill out our Contact Us form here and we’ll reach out.