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Tricks of the trade

Craig Noble shares his sales strategies

May 10, 2013
By Stefanie Croley


Success in sales is all about building relationships with clients, but a
good salesperson knows that the relationship doesn’t end once the sale
has been made.

Success in sales is all about building relationships with clients, but a good salesperson knows that the relationship doesn’t end once the sale has been made. Craig Noble has had this principle ingrained in his mind for many years, most recently while working as a sales representative with Café Vittoria. Noble has been involved in the vending and office coffee industries since the age of six, when he would help his father Ernest on the weekend. He was named CAMA’s best salesperson of 2012 at the CAMA Expo in September. Canadian Vending caught up with Noble to chat about cultivating client relationships.

Marie Saint-Ivany presents Craig Noble of Café Vittoria with CAMA’s Best Salesperson award at the 2012 CAMA Expo in September.


How did you get into coffee?
My first trade was in forestry and at 20, when I finished school, I was looking for a summer job while waiting for my “real” job . . . and I never left! But I’m not disappointed. I love my career. I worked for my father Ernest for three years, until he sold the business. I stayed on and had more opportunities to move up in the business. I started on the vending route then worked as a technician, and from there I moved on to a supervisor role, but still acted as a technician.


I touched on every aspect I could on the operator side, and I wanted to see the other side of the business – the distributor, the roaster. Twenty years after Ernest hired me the first time, I rejoined him at Café Vittoria with Yves Landry and Daniel Blais. The coffee side of the business was something I always liked.

Customer service, taking care of the clients and coffee was a great combination for me. There is so much to learn. Everybody drinks coffee and there’s a new wave of people drinking coffee. They want to know what they’re drinking. That’s what’s fun about it.

What do you think makes a very good salesperson?
The number 1 rule of being a sales representative is listening. You can’t decide what the client is going to buy – the client has to tell you what they, and from there, you can build a relationship with your client. It’s easy to sell, but it’s after the sale that matters. If you want to keep a client for a long time, you have to know your client and the client has to know you, too. Even when you search for new clients, you have to be patient and understand that you won’t always get the client right away. A good salesperson doesn’t rush. Build a relationship so that when the client needs you, he’ll call you. And you need passion for what you’re doing. If you don’t have passion, you’re not in the right job.

How do you build relationships with your clients?
I start with a phone call, and then meet with them and find out what exactly they want. I explain to them what I do at Café Vittoria and the company’s processes. Then I ask the client what he’s looking for and tell him what I can give him as a service. Following up is very important. You have to take care of new clients. You can’t just sign one contract and then move to the next one. Over the first few months, I like to visit new clients on a regular basis. After that, once they’re used to the product, I can move on. I don’t rush and I don’t push. I take care of one before moving to the second.

And how do you maintain relationships?
There’s a new wave of sales reps who are sticking to just phone calls, but you need a good balance. People want to see their reps. If you only call them, it’s not as efficient as visiting them. They realize that you’re taking the time to see them . . . sometimes you might be there for five minutes, sometimes it could take an hour, but they’re seeing you, which is very important. E-mails and phone calls are OK, but I try to make a schedule where I visit my clients as often as possible. Every client is important and they deserve to see their reps.

What changes have you noticed in the coffee industry over the years?
If you go back 20 years ago, a cup of coffee was a cup of coffee. Today, people want a Sumatra, or an Ethiopian. Clients know the difference and they want choices; they don’t want just one cup of coffee. People are more selective in their products, and it’s not always because of price. They want the service, too.

What’s been the biggest challenge to the OCS industry?
Pods and single-cup products have hurt the roasters. Is it a phase? I don’t think it’s going to leave tomorrow . . . but there’s always going to be a market for roasters. Pods have their spot in the industry and the technology is getting better. People buy what they see; they buy with their eyes. When it comes to equipment, they look at the machines first and taste the coffee second.

But there is a lot of competition, and it always hurts when we lose a client because we always want to know why. It’s a learning process. A sales rep cannot say he knows everything; we learn every day. Everything changes from year to year, the machines are changing, and we have to know about that. We have to stay on top and stay motivated with new projects. Knowing that my clients are satisfied is what keeps me going.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My father always taught me that the client is always number 1. You can work with the client. He told me that I got a paycheque at the end of the week because there were clients. If there are no clients, there’s no paycheque. Treat clients like they’re all important and equal – small or big. If you treat them well, they’ll treat you well.

And what’s the best piece of advice you can offer?
Listen. You can’t tell a client what he needs. He’s going to tell you. Listen to the client, he’ll tell you what’s going on, and from there you can build a plan for him.