“Foodservice has changed dramatically over the last decade”. It seems like an obvious statement, but to put the shifts into perspective, let’s go back to 2009 and see how many menus call out “farm-to-table” ingredients. Or ask an operator how many e-newsletters they get on a weekly basis. Try to order cases of product directly online or anyone what a “meal kit” is. Today, we’re in a new digital era of away-from-home food, driven by wellness, convenience and personalization.

On the other hand, some things haven’t changed for 30 years; namely, the importance of the DSR-operator relationship. As marketers focus more on direct digital touchpoints—and rightly so—we also have to remain attentive to this longstanding personal purchase motivator. In other words, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time. That means constructing an operator-facing digital presence from the ground up, while maintaining focus on the still all-important DSR touchpoints. It’s a big ask, but those who do both will be rewarded.

DSRs and Operator Decision-Making

To understand the scope of Distributor Sales Representative influence, it helps to look at how operators today go about finding and purchasing products in today’s high-tech / high-touch environment. In conducting research for our 2019 Influencing the Operator Purchase white paper, we found that DSRs are still very influential throughout the process—from researching options to narrowing the decision to considering trial and repeating purchases. On top of that, most operators are highly pleased with their DSRs’ performance: 88% of respondents rate DSR satisfaction a 7 or higher.

Perhaps even more significantly, we found the #1 starting point that kicks off the entire journey for a large share of operators is a DSR phone call. This is important not only because the first step can determine the general direction of the journey, but it can also tell us a lot about how that operator in particular will behave as they refine their list and settle on a product. Though DSRs play a role in almost every modern operator’s business, operators who begin their product search in this way tend to rely more heavily on the relationship than others.

Download the 2019 Influencing the Operator Purchase white paper.

Based on our research, operators’ behavior tends to fit within two categories: DSR Callers or Online Searchers. As the name suggests, Online Searchers rely primarily on online search as their #1 decision influencer in the purchase journey. They use search engines as the starting point as they examine the challenge/opportunity they face and as they evaluate possible product and service solutions. This represents a large group of operators, but not the largest.

The group described above, DSR Callers, are the largest segment of foodservice operators (1/4 are DSR Callers while 1/5 are Online Searchers). These operators trust and depend on their DSRs to help keep up with the changing market and pool of product options. More than half rate them 10/10 on the satisfaction scale. Not only are they more likely to start info-gathering with a DSR conversation, those conversations are more likely to have an impact on their decisions. Keep in mind—while DSR Callers represent a quarter of all operators, 77% of operators say a DSR call is one of their top three steps when beginning their search for a new product. In other words, DSRs have significant influence within and beyond this massive group.

Support DSRs, Win Influence

So, if the DSR relationship remains critical for this huge group of operators, how can we make that relationship work in our favor? One way would be to start by giving DSRs all the tools they need to help solidify one’s brand or product as the top choice.

What DSR Callers want from DSRs:

  • 61% more likely to look to DSRs to research and narrow options
  • 41% are more likely to seek recipes from DSRs
  • 25% are more likely to seek menu advice
  • They sample more frequently and get their samples from...you can probably guess...DSRs
  • 48% are more likely to cite in-person meetings as a preferred interaction

Yes, DSR Callers want personal DSR interaction. But when they’re using a certain branded product, many want to hear from the manufacturer directly, too. Giving them (and their DSRs of course) the trend and recipe support they need will help keep them coming back. Making sure DSRs know (or can easily access) all the necessary details (pricing, packaging, availability), and arming them with samples, menu support and e-newsletter access, will simplify the process for them and the operator. Above all, it’s important to respect the operator relationship with DSRs and support this relationship in whatever way possible. It’s critical to long-term business success.

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