Salespeople, by nature, must be aggressively competitive. Once we secure a client, we hate sharing them with anyone else. Although it goes against our instincts, sometimes the right thing to do is to genuinely help the competition. Last season, I fielded a call from a long-time retail client who was having trouble communicating with caterers in markets outside of Chicago. She was frustrated they weren’t catering for her customers the way Finesse Cuisine does in Chicago. She asked if I would help.
This can be very sensitive territory. Creative people can be wildly defensive and no one likes to be told they aren’t satisfying their client. But it’s important to me that my client is happy – even when she’s not entertaining in my market. I agreed to help and she introduced me to the other caterers. I found them all to be exceptional catering companies who graciously welcomed our suggestions. They showed great flexibility and willingness to make minor adjustments to their menus, and to review with us the quantities, sizes, and presentation. They were even willing to bring in key staff before the event to be coached on the client’s preferred style of service. Please note that I was working with excellent caterers who hardly needed my input. Their only weakness was the breakdown in communication with the client. Once I translated from Client into Caterer, everything fell into place.
My involvement gave my client peace of mind and the successful events made her a hero in her boss’s eyes. Best of all, she made each of those caterers her official vendor in their market and she now relies on them with confidence. Helping the competition felt counter-intuitive to my sales instincts but it was a reminder about the true nature of our business: Ultimately, catering is not about serving delicious food and drinks with grace and charm. It’s about tending to our client’s needs.