from Andrew J Horder, Horder Associates

Sir; re: Hard Grind for Buyers (August 2, p34-35) Before moving into consultancy, I had over 10 years dealing with national accounts. I agree that the frequency of moving buyers has a detrimental effect on the retailer’s ability to maximise category performance.

A buyer who knows how a biscuit is made, and why biscuit A uses certain ingredients or processes different to biscuit B, is more likely to be able to negotiate on the basis of what will cost his supplier little to grant. A buyer who concentrates on “profit margins and doing deals” misses all that. A buyer who does not have in-depth understanding of his category and suppliers may find himself less able to correct “errors of representation” by an account manager (not of course that account managers ever tell less than the whole truth). 

The danger of account managers getting too great a personal understanding of the buyer works both ways - a buyer who fully understands his account manager can both counter any manipulative activity and indulge in a little manipulation of his own.

In my time as an account manager, I dealt with many buyers who were highly experienced in their particular
categories. I also dealt with a significant number of profit and deal-focused new boys. I know which ones I enjoyed dealing with most - the experienced players who didn’t let me get away with anything and could present strong justifications for anything they wanted. The ones who achieved a great deal in terms of increased profits and market share.

Having said all that, we should ask whether the two-year churn time for a buyer is really that much less than for the average account manager - I suspect not.