The story of Uganda’s large juicy pineapples is commonly used in export training circles to illustrate the importance of clearly understanding what customers want. We view our pineapples as the gold standard – large, reddish-orange skinned, juicy, and sweet-tasting.
The same pineapples do not meet the requirements of the European Union (EU).
The EU prefers the much smaller, less juicy MD2 variety, with what we consider a raw-looking skin. No matter how much you love your products, you will only be able to sell them if your customers share your opinion.
Find out what they want
Rather than lament that large companies do not offer you contracts, if you are interested in supplying goods or services to a large company, pay the company a visit. Large companies will not come looking for you.
Large oil companies in the Albertine Graben, for example, will not go from door to door, looking for suppliers. Suppliers must proactively go to the large companies, find out what the companies want and determine whether or not they can meet the requirements.
Find strength in numbers
No company is interested in speaking to several hundred farmers or several hundred small business owners one after the other. There is strength in numbers. If you are not already part of an association that can approach a large company on behalf of its members, consider forming one. You stand a better chance of attracting a large company’s attention as an association than you will as a single small holding farmer or small business owner.
Prepare an action plan
Once you know what your target companies are interested in, if you are still keen on pursuing them, prepare a plan of action. If you never bothered to inspect the fruit you harvest yet, Total E&P states that it wants unblemished fruit, how will you ensure that you deliver damage-free fruit? How will you obtain the quantities they want?
Determine what activities you need to perform, how much they will cost, when will you perform them and the person who will perform them for you. Once your plan is ready, go back to your target companies to see if they are open to negotiation.
Learn to negotiate
If you cannot immediately meet the requirements of the companies you are targeting, are your target companies willing to help you or members of your association become local suppliers? Could they give you a trial period or sponsor training to equip your association members to meet their standards? If your member farmers need to be trained on better post-harvest handling practices, could your target companies consider sponsoring their training as a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative?
No matter how much you believe in your products or services, business is not about forcing customers to take what you have. Find out what your
want and find ways to give it to them.