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How does retail solutions sale process work in brick-and-mortar businesses?

I am starting off on a in-store retail solution startup idea in the brick-and-mortar retail sector. After talking to a few people who have worked in data sciences teams in some of the target retail companies, I have received two kinds of opinions about how sales in the retail sector works:

1. Top Down Sales: Account executives talk to the decision makers (VP and above). They have a list of solutions they want to sell. Account Executives take a cut and make the pitch on your behalf. This typically works with established players who have big companies as their clients. Startups cannot get here since they are too small for big companies to care about them and the liability that comes with them. Also, it is harder to make Account Executives pitch your solution in the beginning.

2. Growth Story: Visit NRF and other such retail shows.Talk to some smaller stores/chains. Talk to their owners directly. They are more receptive to ideas from smaller players. Make the first few sales yourself. This is how startups grow typically.

This does make sense in the general. However, since most of my knowledge is from talking to people who have science background and no direct sales background, I wanted to throw this question out to Founder Dating experts. What have you seen working for small companies that are starting up?

2 Replies

Lawrence I Lerner
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Lawrence I Lerner Entrepreneur • Advisor
Digitalization and Transformation Coach
Brahm it might help to understand what part of the retail solution you are working on. "In-store" systems are generally known as Store Systems. That would include your point-of-sale (cash registers), store inventory, payment solutions, floor planning (planograms), loyalty solutions, kiosks and related facilities management systems.

Depending on the size of the retailer and the sub-industry (e.g., grocer vs. luxury brands) you might deal with different parts of IT or even the business. These systems are not changed often or without heavy scrutiny since there is usually a large investment and long history of data that goes with them. If your product compliments or enhances one of them, it may be an easier sell.

This is a good time for vendors looking to sell into Retail since many systems are in the process of being replaced, in the stores, with more modern technology. Small Retailers are easiest to convince but you'll need to make a lot more sales calls. Large Retailers will be most difficult but one of the majors could be a game changer for your company.

I've worked extensively with Retailers in North America, Europe and some in Asia. Feel free to ping me off list if there are specifics you'd like to discuss.
Brahm Kiran Singh
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Brahm Kiran Singh Entrepreneur • Advisor
Eng Head - Deep Search at Quixey
Thanks Lawrence! These are some very good points. Agreed that the cost of getting one big player is huge but so are the payoffs. I am looking at Store Systems domain, but the question thread might be applicable to other domains as well.

We are also looking at working with some of the accelerator programs that some big companies like Target/Coca Cola/Walmart and many other companies have. They claim to provide mentorship and $$. But we have heard that taking these big retailers as your investors can be troublesome later on since other companies may not partner with you. Does anyone have experience with those?
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