"People want to buy from people in their neighborhood”: Ian Markowitz (The Grommet)

Building a two-sided marketplace is one of the toughest jobs out there. Ian Markowitz and the rest of the sales team at The Grommet has managed to pull it off by building deep relationships with both the buyer and seller sides of the aisle. On this episode, we talk about compensating sales people based on long-term customer success, and how the discovery team at The Grommet reliably finds cool and unique products to bring to the market.

Episode notes: you don't always know how to help someone, at first

On the latest Design The Sale show, Ian Markowitz from The Grommet joined me to talk about how their sales team builds customer relationships for the long haul.

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At The Grommet, the Wholesale sales team helps independent makers and entrepreneurs promote and sell their products by connecting them with brick-and-mortar retail stores. Their relationships with both entrepreneurs and retailers are built to last, because they have to be.

As Ian points out:
…It’s not just the one-off sales process that most B2B sales traditionally is. It’s a much longer and continuous and evolutionary sales process, where even if you lose the opportunity on one product, we’ve got a catalog of hundreds of different product lines that we can continue to be selling into. 

And oftentimes part of it is just surfacing the right product to the right retailer at the right time… it’s a little bit art and it’s a little bit science, and it’s also a little bit of knowing the accounts that you have, and working with them closely to drive that sales process even further.

The cliché is that it’s easier to sell to the customers you already have than it is to sell to a new one. After talking with Ian, I wonder if that’s less about the customer knowing you, and more about you knowing the customer. Knowing when to show up, what to bring to the table, and how to drive the conversation is not something that you can do easily in a brand new relationship. It takes time, and maybe even a few calls and meetings that don’t go anywhere.

In the early stages of designing a product, you “optimize for learning.” You don’t get (too) sad or frustrated when your initial concepts get negative feedback from users, because the feedback itself is the point. As you learn more about what your users want, you’re able to refine your offering and come back with a different design approach.

Similarly, in a long-term customer relationship, there are two things that you’re trying to build over time: 1) Your customer’s knowledge of you, and 2) your knowledge of the customer. 

Sending “just checking in” emails (guilty!) does neither of these things. Sending over white papers, blog articles, and other content marketing helps with the first. But giving your customer time to talk to you about the challenges they’re facing, in a non-sales, zero-pressure context, might be the gold standard to achieve both at the same time — and bonus points if you can add value to the conversation through your expertise, without always pushing your product or service as a solution.

Individual relationships don’t scale. But knowing your customer does. If you bring what you learn back to your sales team and feed it into your shared brain, you’ll make them better at helping to identify common customer problems. If you bring it to your marketing team, they’ll get smarter about how to find customers, and about what messaging will resonate. If you bring it to your product or services team, they’ll create solutions that address customer needs more effectively.

Of course, that assumes that you can get anyone to listen. But that’s probably a topic for another day.


Design the Sale is a show about selling smarter using lessons from the worlds of design and technology.

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© 2019 Geordie Kaytes