Learn how to sell to dispensaries: find the ‘cannabis purchaser,’ write your proposal, and avoid critical mistakes that could cost you revenue.
In the early days of legalization, figuring out how to sell to dispensaries was a simple affair. Dispensaries bought cannabis from small producers, and purchasers welcomed new vendors, whether you were a craft grower or major cultivation facility. Unfortunately, things have changed.
Now, selling to dispensaries can be extremely difficult. Most dispensaries have existing relationships with suppliers, their cannabis purchasers are overwhelmed with inquiries, and price competition is fierce.
Yet it’s still possible to get your cannabis product on their shelves if you follow the best practices for how to sell to a cannabis dispensary. These best practices are relevant for any licensed dispensary, whether it’s in California, Illinois, or Michigan.
How to Sell to Dispensaries
The Triminator Team has assembled these tips from expert interviews, anecdotes, and personal experience. Without further ado, here are the 10 steps for how to sell cannabis to dispensaries:
Step 1: Create a List of Dispensaries that Buy Cannabis
Weedmaps has a thorough listing of dispensaries that may be interested in buying your product, but you can dig deeper with networking groups and trade associations. You may also find infused product brands that need suppliers.
Basically, you’ll be creating a customer relationship management (CRM) tool for yourself. You may choose a spreadsheet, a notebook, or a software system such as Hubspot or Copper.
Note: You’ll be following up with your prospects, so it’s best to organize an automated reminder system.
Your CRM will have all the details on each company, such as:
- Number of locations
- Medical marijuana/recreational marijuana orientation
- Brands and types of cannabis products sold
- Whether they cultivate their own marijuana
- Whether they have their own cannabinoid-infused product brand or partnering brands
Much of this info about their retail cannabis business will be available online, either through the prospect’s website or their company’s LinkedIn profile.
If you want to go one step further, you can also check out their brick-and-mortar presence by visiting in person. Ultimately, this intel will give you a better sense of your prospects and their likely sales volume.
Your CRM can also organize your outreach and follow-up, and give you a place to take more notes about the dispensary’s needs, when you last contacted them, and their point person for buying cannabis.
Step 2: Find the Dispensary’s Cannabis Purchaser
Dispensaries may call their cannabis purchaser a “purchaser,” “product manager,” or “cannabis buyer.” Either way, expect this individual to be busy — and a little jaded with inquiries from new suppliers, particuarly if the dispensary has a high sales volume.
At smaller dispensaries, the purchaser likely wears other hats as an operations manager or store director.
Salespeople do a lot of homework before meeting prospects for the first time. You can too. Look up the dispensary’s purchaser on LinkedIn. It’s an easy way to understand their needs and industry experience and get a sense of their personality.
Caution: Don’t walk into a dispensary and ask for the purchaser’s contact info. The budtender isn’t prepared to answer those questions. And if the purchasing agent happens to be on-site, that’s even worse. You’ve shown up unannounced and made a very unprofessional first impression.
Step 3: Double-Check Your Public Persona
Before making an outreach, check to see if you “look the part.” The first thing the buyer will do is Google search your business.
Even if you sell in bulk and have no direct-to-consumer sales, you still need a website. If nothing else, your social media profiles should put your best foot forward, because if your social media posts are unprofessional, too political, or too personal, that’s a red flag.
Instead, populate your page with images that show your process, your people, and your product. Close-ups of big colas are great, but make sure to tell your story in your feed and showcase your cultivation facility, knowledge, and the care you take with your harvest.
Step 4: Craft Your Story
It’s true: cannabis and hemp are commodity products.
Of course, there are differences in the quality and characteristics of cannabis (as is the case for soybeans and apples). And while cultivation is an artform, cannabis still meets the commodity definition: Purchasers are very cost-sensitive, and end consumers don’t buy products based on the wholesale supplier.
To get in the door, you need to overcome that commodity status with a great story. You need a “hook” to make your cannabis business and product stand out in the mind of the buyer.
Ask what’s interesting about your product. Do you have a medical backstory that brought you to cannabis? Are you preserving rare landrace cultivars? Are you a third-generation cannabis grower?
Crafting a story takes time, and this process starts months or years before you pick up the phone to call any given dispensary — so start soon! Weave your origin story into your social posts, website, and proposals from the start.
Step 5: Write a Proposal for Selling Cannabis to Dispensaries
You’ll adjust your proposal for every cannabis purchaser who requests one, but now is the time to get the details in order.
A proposal to sell cannabis to a dispensary should summarize your story and provide basic details like your company name, location, and license number. It’s also a place to showcase your advanced cultivation practices, so include details about your facility, cultivation techniques, and equipment systems.
Click the link above to discover more ways that Triminator can help you lower your costs, boost your quality, and sell more to dispensaries at a higher price point.
Your product description should express your expertise and love of cannabis. Display your potency and terpene numbers with charts and graphics. Then explain the medicinal outcomes those terpene profiles achieve for users.
Your proposal should also include the crucial details of how much, how often, and at what price. If a purchaser has requested a proposal, you’ll have this info.
If you’re drafting a general proposal as a template, make note of how much product you could provide, and at what frequency.
Don’t worry about composing an actual contract; most dispensaries will have you use theirs.
A Note About State-to-State Differences
Every state and province has its own regulations, so the logistics of how you sell to a California dispensary are very different than how you sell to a Michigan dispensary.
You’ll want to check your state website for details on the licenses you’ll need to sell wholesale and the rules you should follow to stay compliant. But, if you take only those two states as examples, you’ll see a wide variance in their regulatory structures.
In California, cultivators usually need multiple specific licenses. They need a cultivation license that’s specific to the size of their canopy and their lighting system. And to transport their product, they’ll need to apply for an additional, Type 13 Transport-Only Distributor license. Otherwise, they’re reliant on third-party firms to deliver to retailers.
In Michigan, a third-party “secure transporter” must move cannabis products between locations, and the transportation firm cannot have an ownership stake or share employees with the cultivators it serves.
Always contact your regulatory cannabis office to clarify confusion and make sure you have the certifications, licenses, and permits you need.
Step 6: Make the Call . . . or the Email
Calling a dispensary’s corporate office is an acceptable way to get the contact details of the purchaser once you have their name. But you may encounter a gatekeeper, such as a secretary or an office manager, who offers to take a message rather than forwarding your call.
While it’s alright to leave a message, it’s far better to make direct contact. Try an alternative contact within the company and see if they can forward you to the purchaser.
Ultimately, you’ll schedule a call with the purchaser at a time that works for them. They typically arrange buying conversations once per month or once per week.
Emailing your prospect can be a good alternative to calling if you’re having trouble getting through. Online email-finder services are easy to use and often free. If you do email the purchaser, the goal is to introduce yourself and schedule a call — not to submit a full proposal.Caution: No, you cannot sell across state lines. Don’t inquire at out-of-state retailers. And yes, you need a cultivation license to sell to a dispensary.
Step 7: Ask the Cannabis Buyer the Right Questions
When you get the purchaser on the phone, you only have a few seconds to make an authentic connection and express the benefits of working together.
Rather than starting off by hyping your product, try offering a mutually beneficial opportunity. If you have a large following, you could feature their dispensary on your social media. Or if you’re promoting your private brand, you could offer to do in-store educational events — that’s a win-win for deepening relationships with consumers.
Most of your questions will be profiling the sale — that is, asking questions to find out more about their product needs. While there’s no script, these questions may help guide your conversation:
- Do you ever have a shortage of any particular type of flower?
- What kind of cultivars are most popular with your customers?
- What type of cannabis flower are you looking to feature? (CBD-dominant, sativa/indica, high-THC, etc.)
Depending on their responses, you can pair your offerings to their requirements and explain why working together might be a good fit. (Based on what you learn, you may also want to make grow different cultivars to meet common demands.)
Pricing may be a deal-breaker. It is hard to anticipate the price a dispensary is willing to pay because, even if they sell to consumers at a premium, they may have high operating costs or debt payments that lower their margins. The best practice is to know the price per pound locally. A variety of websites track the wholesale price of cannabis on a state-by-state level, but talking to colleagues who are doing business with dispensaries in your area is best.
How Much Can you make Selling Cannabis to Dispensaries?
This common question is hard to answer; it’s based on how much you sell, at what price, and your cost-per-gram during cultivation and processing.
If you are a brand with retail packaging and good marketing, you’ll fetch a higher price but incur additional costs, such as advertising, packaging, and extra labor.
If you’re a small cultivator with limited funding and brand presence, profitably selling to dispensaries will be difficult because larger players can grow cannabis more cheaply and access better distribution.
Step 8: Provide Free Samples When Selling to a Dispensary
Some experts recommend giving away generous samples — but not always. Samples help establish credibility with good reason: most dispensaries won’t put products on their shelves without personally trying them first.
At small dispensaries, it can make sense to provide an ounce or two (regulations permitting, of course). A small business will pass the product around to budtenders, and your sample will get more mileage. At larger dispensaries, your sample is likely to get lost in the shuffle.
The brand story you created will help your samples circulate through the staff more productively. An interesting persona behind the product will prevent it from falling into the category of “some new grower’s product we might try.”
Step 9: Follow Up with the Cannabis Purchaser
Stay in occasional contact with the buyer — even if they didn’t have an urgent need. You can email them with updates on your selections and company news.
Most retailers who are actively purchasing from you like a weekly update of your product selection. But, if you email more frequently, you risk straining the relationship.
For prospects who politely declined, you can stay in touch every month with updates about your company, selection, or whatever might add value to their business. Put your follow-up dates in your CRM.
Step 10: Or… Find a Distribution Partner Who Sells to Dispensaries
An easier option — albeit one that will cost you a fee — is to outsource the distribution to a dedicated salesperson or distribution agent.
An outside agent may already have relationships with dispensary purchasers. For purchasers, buying from a trusted representative makes decision-making easy; they don’t need to worry as much about quality control or your ability to fulfill orders because the agent has effectively vetted you.
The alternative to a specialized, local agent is a salesperson. A skilled salesperson will have the people and organizational skills you need to approach dispensaries and follow up on schedule — for a fee.
Improve Your Product Quality and Win
We hope this information on how to sell to dispensaries helps you score some new contracts with dispensaries. Our trimmers are designed to do the same — by increasing your product’s quality the easy way and keeping valuable trichomes intact and flavorful. When you’re ready to upgrade your trimmers or add a rosin line to your product offerings, don’t hesitate to contact a Triminator representative.