I this article you will watch the relationship between your food safety team and your company salespeople.
Ten years ago, we made sure the food was safe, that it met all the relevant regulations, and our salespeople sold it. It was usually that simple. There was rarely a need for ongoing communication between the sales team and the food safety team. Maybe once a year they would ask you for “some sort of letter” and you would have to figure out what they were talking about, but that was usually the extent of the relationship.
In today’s food safety environment, the relationship between the sales team and the food safety team has to be a marriage, not just a one-night stand. There are multiple facets of information that they need from you and you need from them. If there is not an ongoing and open line of communication between you and the sales team, it can lead to large problems not only with your customers but with regulatory bodies as well.
Three Items for Communication
There are three major items that need to be communicated between you and your salespeople:
- What will the product be used for?
- What are the customer requirements, expectations, and/or specifications?
- Where is the product going, and how can the customer be contacted (traceability)?
Obviously, there are other issues that factor into this relationship, but for this column, we will deal with these main three items.
1. What will the product be used for?
I cannot stress how important it is for you to know what your product is being used for. With meat, for example, if you make an untested product and the customer decides to grind it up…big problem. Never assume the customer knows the regulations. It is important for you to meet with your sales team and explain this. Tell them what is tested and what is not. Explain to them the difference between intact product and non-intact product. Go over “intended use” and show them your policy. Explain FSIS Notice 05-09 and 81-13. Review this statement (which should be part of your customer communication):
“Our Company expects any customers who purchase vacuum-packaged subprimals and utilizes these products for non-intact processes, to address their specific usage within their HACCP plan.”
It’s easy to blame the salespeople when they sell a non-tested intact product to a customer and the customer makes hamburger out of it, but if you haven’t explained to them why this is wrong, it’s your fault. Develop this relationship and it will make your job a lot easier.
2. What are the customer requirements/expectations/specifications?
With each customer, and especially when your business gets a new customer, you need to work with the sales team to determine what the customer requirements are. What type of audits do they require? Do you need to be GFSI certified? Do they only accept certain pallet types? If they are buying tested product, what type of tests do they require? What does the COA have to include? Some customers even want to know about your environmental programs.
The earlier you work together with the sales team and get the customer the information they require, the less likely it is that you will get a call from your sales team about product rejected or put on hold. Again, develop a relationship with your sales team, and it will make your job a lot easier.
3. Where is the product going and how can the customer be contacted (traceability)?
Finally, and probably the most important communication item with your sales team, is to know where the product is going and how to reach the customer. If you use a broker, you may be surprised to find that the products change hands multiple times before it reaches the end user.
Assuming that “once your product is gone it is not your responsibility” is an old, and frankly stupid, way to think. It doesn’t matter how many times the product changes hands, if someone gets sick, trust me, it will get traced back to you. Try to work with the sales team to get a good understanding of how the product moves through the chain. In the event of a recall, knowing this can save you time and money.
Finally, push your sales team hard to make sure they can always get hold of every one of their customers. If you haven’t done so, develop a 24-hour contact list of all the customers and keep it updated. It’s not so difficult if a recall were to happen on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., but what if it happens Friday night at 6:00 p.m.? Can you reach the customer?
I hope that you will take this information, apply it to your business, and take some time in the coming days and weeks to meet with and go over the three major items with your sales team. Remember, it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure your sales team knows what they need to know.
Stay a step ahead or you’re a step behind!