Sainsburys aisle

Over my 25 years in retail, including a role as Sainsbury’s commercial director, I’ve experienced more sales pitches than most. They ranged from the inspirational to the downright ugly and everything in between. Now, as chairman of the new retail division at global brand experience agency Sense, I’m trying to help brands understand how to inspire retailers, so that together they can win the consumer over. These are my top tips.

You’ve got to be in it to win it

The first step, of course, will often be getting listed. That means converting the retailer’s buyers to your cause. And they are only really interested in a few things: passion and commitment, a strong category story based on incrementality, the mix effect on their profit and whether or not it’s going to help commitments already made, such as plastic reduction. 

Buyers see hundreds of products and brands a year, so being authentically committed is key. But don’t over-promise. There is nothing worse than being listed and then exited quickly because consumers don’t agree the product is worth buying. It’s very hard to get a relist, so sometimes that can spell the end of the road for the brand.

Read more: How to get an fmcg brand listed by a supermarket buyer 

Data can help ground a discussion in reality and reinforce your brand story with key proof points. If you’re already running DTC operations, then you should know your repeat rate and the profile of your most and least loyal customers. If you can access market data, then know your category and respect your existing competitors for what they are doing well. If you can’t afford it, then at least make sure you’ve read the category guides from The Grocer.

Focus on full-format activation

When presenting, don’t forget that all grocery shopping is not equal. Convenience shops enjoy very different shopping patterns to supermarkets. Geography can also radically change consumption.

And don’t forget about online, a bigger and less frequent shop. What’s the right pack size and how will that brilliant in-store activation actually work online? Something as simple as photography can radically change a brand’s appeal.

Plans therefore should include smaller convenience formats and, so as to not miss out on every opportunity available.

Clear in-store communication

Shoppers are faced with endless choice, so retailers want to see clear communication. The simpler the better. The more distinctive the better. And remember communication means all forms of visual prompts, not just clever words.

Successful brands are the ones that recognise the consumer is both time-poor and overloaded with visual ‘clutter’. Customers ‘see’ everything, but their unconscious brain decides what’s useful to ‘recollect’. Make sure you tap into those existing memory structures, as unless you have a very large budget, you’re not going to change them soon.

Buyers know all of this, so your brand story shouldn’t need a 10-page PowerPoint deck. One page is all that should be needed. It’s then carried into the brand packaging, SRP, and around store communication and activation.

Finally, when you’re planning your pitch, always leave time to have a conversation. Ultimately, the best pitch is where you’re co-creating solutions with your retail partner to serve the consumer. No one likes being told what the answer is.