It is rare for fmcg companies not to have good ideas on how to sell more, based on consumer insight and category knowledge. But it is common for them to find it hard to get these ideas heard and supported by retailers.
The fundamental reason is that our huge supply-side industry is talking to relatively few buyers, in relatively few retailers of scale. Buyers are typically high-calibre, astute and energetic. But they are overloaded with ideas, proposals and requests. So how can you make yourself heard?
First, take the time to properly think through your category, product and brand strategy, and make it the foundation of all your thinking and retailer conversations. If you are selling Knorr Stock Pots, and you are clear about the strategy (premiumisation), conversations with retailers can be grounded in that. But be warned! Good strategy does not lend itself to being created on the hoof for an impending meeting. You need a clear, considered strategy.
Second, understand their world. This means understanding the retailer’s corporate strategy, guidelines and red lines. It means understanding the buyer’s objectives and interests. But it also means understanding the buyer’s power and influence. If you are helping them with next year’s plan, don’t spend time debating radical merchandising solutions. These will be very hard for them to deliver. Most buyers will prefer to hear about something clever they could do with promotions, wastage or range.
Third, address one thing at a time. If your buyer is hard to get time with, it can be tempting, once you do get in front of them, to air all your ideas at once. It is much braver and more effective to think long and hard about the key thing you most want to achieve, and focus on that. Remember your buyer may have 10 meetings today.
Finally, be repetitive. Don’t expect to always be heard first time. Saying the same thing several times shows you are talking about what is important, not what is novel. Sometimes, suppliers worry that being repetitive can make them seem boring. The reality is that the retailer typically gets bored much slower than the supplier. If you’re selling jam, for instance, then jam is all you think about, and, yes, you might soon feel bored of your key insight or idea. A buyer working across grocery will go weeks without thinking about jam - so they will get bored a lot slower.
The whole business of getting heard by other humans isn’t straightforward. And the frantic world of UK retail doesn’t make it any easier. But by thinking about these four principles, you can give yourself a fighting chance of getting heard and bringing your ideas to fruition.
Jeremy Garlick is a partner of Insight Traction