Are you inclusive in your selling?
As an immigrant from Haiti growing up in Manchester in the 1970s, Manny Content was used to being discriminated against.
Still, when he began driving a delivery truck for Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE) a decade later, he didn’t expect to find that same kind of overt discrimination. But at one of his first customer stops, he did.
“When I pulled up with my supervisor,” Content recalls, the store owner came out, “looked at me, and said, ‘I don’t want him in my store.’” Quietly, he unloaded the product and brought it to the door. His supervisor brought it inside.
“If that’s going to be my driver,” the store owner told the supervisor, “then I’m not going to do business with you.”
When Content’s boss heard this story, he headed straight to the store. “This is your driver,” he told the owner. “If you have a problem with it, then you’re just not going to sell our product.”
The first few months Content delivered there, he dealt exclusively with the owner’s wife. After a few months, “I started dealing with [the owner]. Then he started saying ‘Hi’ to me … before you know it, he was having lunch with me, we were talking and we were friends. We remained friends until he sold the store.”
While that relationship is important to Content, more important is how his employer responded.
“The company could have said, ‘OK, we’ll pull you out,’ but that cycle [of racism] wouldn’t have stopped. By the company taking a stand, by both he and I making an effort, that cycle ended right with him.”
As Content has learned over a three-decade career with CCNNE, that commitment to him was not an isolated incident — it was a reflection of an institutional commitment to inclusiveness.
Today, Content carries on that commitment in both his informal mentoring of young employees and his formal role in multicultural marketing.
Within the company, Content is an advocate for employees he calls “multicultural kids.” Core to CCNNE’s culture is starting most workers at entry-level positions, identifying their unique skills and strengths, and finding new roles that tap into those.
In recent years, this has meant matching young Spanish-speaking employees with sales and marketing roles that leverage their multilingual abilities and cultural knowledge. Content believes this strategy of “putting the right pieces in the right places” improves trust and communication, creating wins for employees, the company and for customers.
That win-win thinking drives CCNNE’s inclusive approach. Content shares a story about a Sudanese family that bought a store in Manchester. “Back home they had a store,” Content says, “but you can’t use your marketing strategy from back home here.”
In selling to the store owner, “We befriended him, got to know him, and he gave us a little bit of trust,” Content says. With that trust, he and his team “helped him develop his own marketing plan here, and now he’s thriving. We don’t charge for that. He could have hired a marketing firm that would have charged him 1,100 bucks a month, but we went in and we did it. So it’s a win-win: We get something out of it, but so does he.”
In his role as multicultural segment manager, Content uses ZIP-code level demographic data and Coca-Cola’s own sales data to help target sales and marketing efforts. For instance, Fanta pineapple soda is a big seller today. “Three years ago we didn’t sell Fanta pineapple at all,” Content says. But “the demographics have changed, and now there’s a shift.” Thanks to Content’s efforts, CCNNE has been able to capitalize on it.
As the U.S. population grows ever more diverse, Content believes it’s critical to understand how markets differ, and to communicate in a way that respects those differences.
“If you can’t communicate with your customer, how are you going to sell to your customer?” he asks. “There’s a lot of companies out there that are still in denial. ‘Oh, you want to do business, you better learn English.’ Dude, you’re not in Kansas anymore. If you want my business you better know how to talk to me.”
He understands the resistance. “There are people who’ve done it one way for 25, 30 years,” he says. “You’ve got to convince them that the demographics are changing, the climate is changing … the whole strategy’s got to be tweaked.”
The man who started out as a delivery truck driver for CCNNE is driving much more than a truck now — he’s driving a multicultural sales effort that’s proving the business case for inclusion.
Loretta L.C. Brady, a professor of psychology at Saint Anselm College and principal of BDS Insight, can be reached at email@example.com. Eric Ratinoff, principal of The Mouse and the Elephant, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about diversity and inclusion by connecting with A Seat at the Table on Facebook and Twitter.