The best job that I had as a sales manager in Procter & Gamble was working with major retailers as a category management specialist. This work was great because you could make a big difference to the business of the retailer as well as your own company by using insights and practical strategies which could be implemented in hundreds of stores. I remember very well the launch of Pampers boy and girl nappies and how we develped a simple category plan to fit twice as many lines on the shelf at Sainsburys and justifying it with enhanced sales and profit figures from test market stores. This approach to building the overall (nappy) category cake made the difference between success or failure for the launch of a new product and the growth of the retailer’s business. This experience gave me the incentive to become a consultant focused on business development working with customers and suppliers. How can you grow your ‘category’ cake together?
What is the best way to prepare for and meet with an important customer, is it best to have the meeting all mapped out or to keep it open? My colleague Jane Fletcher has worked in retailing for over 25 years and before becoming a consultant was a buyer for Waitrose, responsible for major categories such as dairy and bakery products. Jane said that for regular meetings she expected suppliers to be well prepared with ‘all the answers’ but for meetings about innovation the most productive approach she found involved a blank sheet of paper, a flexible agenda and a supplier who was keen to listen to Jane’s views about her specific customers and market to help identify tailored opportunities for business development. These meetings typically generated new ideas that both parties had created together and specific actions which would help produce new products, promotions, packaging or merchandising to build the business. So for meetings to create new ideas remember to take a blank sheet of paper and an open mind!
Over the years I’ve worked with veterinary professionals and companies who sell their products and services into a very traditional market – agriculture. When meeting with both the vets and the people working for businesses selling in to this sector it was great to hear that they were all focused on building long term relationships with their customers but they were also open to help in changing a few of the old practices that they had in recommending current services, promotions or the biggest revenue earner to their customers. A similar approach to improve commercial practices emerged from our work with the vets and businesses which was for them to contact customers before the start of the next season in order to both anticipate their needs and get in before the competition by offering an added-value service or product package (service/product, delivery, price, timing). This approach can work in many other markets so take a look at your products and services and think how you could anticipate your customers’ needs by providing a product or service package that delivers added-value before they buy it from your competitor. Season’s greetings!