Ep. 29 An Interview with Jake Huber – Negotiating with Buyers Part One

SEP 01, 2020

Dr. James: 00:19 Welcome to Episode 29, an interview in two parts with Jake Huber on the art of sales negotiation with retail buyers. So, let’s do this.

Dr. James: 00:33 Welcome everybody. I’ve got Jake Huber with me, one of my rare industry expert guests because as you know, I generally don’t have a lot of guests. He’s currently the SVP of Business Development for the Better Food Group, which is a newer value added investment group building out its current portfolio of brands.

Dr. James: 00:53 Jake has spent his career in sales and sales leadership and that has included some of the hottest startup brands in CPG, Tiny Hero, Right Rise, heard of those? His experience in the industry has taken him from sales, business development and fundraising all the way to advanced customer behavior analytics at My Nemesis 8450… Sorry, 8451. And he’s also had the distinctly interesting experience, I think, of managing one of the leading brokerages in the U.S. Just to get things going provocatively, what is the most common mistake that founders make when they approach buyers? I need one, just one.

Jake Huber: 01:34 Just one. So if I was to give one and encapsulate, it would probably be thinking that you’re more important than you are.

Dr. James: 01:41 Ouch!

Jake Huber: 01:42 Really that comes from-

Dr. James: 01:45 That’s the history of my whole personal life, Jake.

Jake Huber: 01:48 Mine, too. And personal, professional, it’s a center of one. It’s an American affliction. It comes down from really not doing your homework and homework can be on them. So the retailer, you should understand the category at that retailer. You should understand the buyer, who they are, what she’s like. And then of course, the other side, which is you actually need to do your homework on you and your own business and exactly what you’re trying to do. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be based in empathy and understand what their desk is and what they’re trying to do. And then you need to be an honest assessment of, is that the right fit for you?

Jake Huber: 02:32 Some people will hold a certain customer in super high regard, even though they’ve never done the actual due diligence to find out, do they actually outperform in your category? Are they really where consumers are going for your particular innovation? And we just get caught up in the surface level. So I do think the approaches are similar in the sense that you position yourself the same and do the homework and follow up and keep them informed of your business moving forward.

Dr. James: 02:59 Now, is there a personal component though, to buyer assessment? With investors, I know because of my private equity friends, it’s almost the number one thing they evaluate first is would I trust this guy and his team?

Jake Huber: 03:10 A hundred percent. So I-

Dr. James: 03:12 [crosstalk 00:03:12]. Okay.

Jake Huber: 03:13 To add on, buyers are going to either, usually subconsciously be in that frame of mind, because as a startup they have to place a bet on you. Literally place a bet and they have risk to placing a bet on you. And so, yeah, there is a personal component that says, “Hey, does this person, one, have a demonstrated track record of being successful? Are they the type of person that I can rely on to deliver?” Now they’re going to look under the hood and see what your supply chain is like, and maybe ask some probing questions. But at the end of the day, they’re investing in you as a person and your integrity and all those things matter.

Jake Huber: 03:51 You can insert language into your pitch that demonstrates that you understand their category or their customer, or their main rival, or what the challenges are on their desk. I think that just will give you far and away a good leg up in that sense. They’re also going to be looking at… And these are things you need to offer up sometimes, which is who are you surrounded by? You may be a team of one and you are getting it done, scratching your nails to the bone trying to get things done, juggling plates as a founder.

Jake Huber: 04:22 However, there’s always people in your corner and you want to look credible and you want to look like you know what you’re doing. So anytime you have investors, make sure you mention that support, mention advisors that you work with, even informally, that you can bounce ideas off of. These are things that mitigate risk for them. Are you connected enough to where if a problem comes up are you resourceful enough to solve it? Do you have the people around you to help you turn that into a success. So I think that side of credibility is really important.

Dr. James: 04:51 What can a founder with no prior track record of pulling what you just described off do to impress buyers?

Jake Huber: 04:59 Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s very subjective depending on the buyer, which is why I say you should do your homework on your buyer. But I think there’s some general rules that I’ve always used that have given me some success, which is, the first one is just have humility. People like to help others. It’s innate, nobody likes an arrogant, self-centered founder or salesperson. But this kind of tactic only works if you come prepared.

Jake Huber: 05:25 You’ve got to speak in their terms, not yours. Have some insights on their category, even if it’s maybe a throw away statement. It just shows that you’ve taken some time to think about their desk. And honestly, even if you give them some insight as it relates and ties back to your brand, it opens up a meaningful conversation. Their eyes will light up. Their body language will change. And they’ll start engaging with you on conversations that are incredibly valuable. Like, what’s your strategy? I’ve always used the phrase of, you should be the light saber and not Luke. You are a tool in their heroic journey. You are not the hero. And don’t get it twisted, ever.

Dr. James: 06:09 But when it comes down to the literally networking my way in next to the buyer, what are your tips for how to do what we want? Instinctually you and I would recommend, which is we’ve got to figure out how this guy thinks except you haven’t talked to him yet, or her?

Jake Huber: 06:23 Yes.

Dr. James: 06:24 Is this something more than social networking one-on-one or is there some tricks that people should use?

Jake Huber: 06:29 I will use my network if anyone has ever sold to them in this category or in a previous category because these buyers can switch desks. I will ask them how they are, who they are, what makes them motivated? What makes them happy? What makes them angry? How do they do their business and how do they manage their desk?

Jake Huber: 06:46 You’ve got to have some salesmanship in you. You have to understand that nobody’s going to do this for you. You’ve got to go out there. And look, that type of creative way of getting in touch with somebody stands out. I’m telling you, there’s not a lot of people that dig deep to try to go to that extra level to make that contact without being completely annoying.

Jake Huber: 07:07 Get comfortable with digging ditches, because that’s what this is about. And if you don’t want to get your hands dirty or if you don’t like doing that, then you need to hire somebody who can and who will. Because at the end of the day, this is a, I like to still call it a hundred percent commission sales business.

Jake Huber: 07:23 You don’t get in until you start getting accounts to say yes or you start selling to consumers. And that’s just not going to magically appear. You have to put in some work there and you’ll get frustrated. You’ll be doing it for months and not get anything. And then all of a sudden that pipeline just starts pouring out the other end. It may be a trickle at first. But man, I can’t tell you how excited I get even to this day when I’m trying to hustle up new business and I get a reply back from my buyer that’s like, “Hey, got your message.” It could even be a no. I’m not reviewing this for five more months. And I’m like, yes, that just gave me the fuel for another three months worth of this stuff.

Dr. James: 08:02 It’s either maturity or zen or you’re just a fucking masochist. But yeah, if you’re getting jazzed about no I think you definitely are going to turn the [inaudible 00:08:10]. To be really honest, when we look at the landscape of founders out there, a lot of these guys and girls are very introverted. That’s what I’ve noticed. They’re a lot like me. How the hell does an introvert pull this off without falling into the trap which I see again and again? I call them remote control founders, which is that… Well, because I think they’re caving to a weakness.

Dr. James: 08:33 You’re talking to a recovered introvert who has sold multimillion dollar deals to C-level people and never thought he could. So what would you say to them when the instinct is well, hire a broker. But actually what’s driving that is they don’t want to go through that growth curve. Should they invest in going through that growth curve or should they just fucking hire a master broker and be done with it?

Jake Huber: 08:54 There’s two minds of this. Either you lean into your weaknesses and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, or you ignore your weaknesses and double down on your strengths. I do say it’s a little dangerous for founders to not get too involved in their business, especially on the front lines. The engine of the car is sales and you’ve got to there, man. You’ve got to see, you’ve got to be punched in the mouth. You’ve got to realize where the pain points are, how things actually work, because if you don’t you end up wasting a lot of money and time.

Dr. James: 09:23 Yours truly, I kid you not. 15 years ago when I led my first half day clients session, they had to fucking carry me to the airport. I was practically comatose after four hours. That’s how introverted I am. I’m embarrassing myself for a reason, which is that last week I did a webinar, a podcast interview right after that. And then I did six and a half hours of a virtual client session all in one day. And my wife, when she woke up said, “Wait, you’re doing all that in one fucking day? You’re going to be a basket case.”

Jake Huber: 09:50 Do you still get drained by it or is it energizing now-

Dr. James: 09:53 I do.

Jake Huber: 09:54 … or is it different?

Dr. James: 09:54 No, it’s never energizing. That’s the problem with introverts. That’s why I feel for these guys because they sometimes have really great product ideas, but this is the absolute most alien thing they’ll ever do is a buyer meeting or chasing the buyer to get the buyer meeting.

Dr. James: 10:11 And that, folks, is the abrupt in to part one of my interview with Jake Huber. In two weeks we’ll have part two. As always, be safe out there.