How to get traction with Retailers post Covid

The biggest frustration we hear from Commercial, Sales and Category Directors is the difficulty of getting traction with Retailers. Getting attention and getting heard.  Even when they have great products and great ideas, FMCG companies often struggle to get them away in stores.  

If anything, the frustration is growing.  There are fewer Buyers and Buying Directors, covering bigger categories.  Retailers, under huge pressure from Discounters, are more tightly lined up behind central strategies, meaning Buyers can feel less empowered to divine their own way forward.  And now we have Covid 19, minimising Buyer headspace, and ruling out face-to-face meetings. 

Yet we see sales and category managers who are still successful – absolute magicians of influence.  We see companies who get traction much more often.  And we see three key differences between those who succeed and those who fail to get heard by Retailers.

First, Retailer Insight.  Those who succeed have real insight into their Retailer, at individual, department and company level.  They understand their customer’s motivations, objectives and ways of working.  They know what the individual, department and Retailer is trying to achieve.  They know how they like to listen, to talk and how they make decisions.  Those who fail often have a very shallow understanding of these things. 

Second, a “pull” not “push” mentality.  Those who succeed think about what the Retailer will want to buy and make proposals accordingly – this is “pull”.  Those who fail think about what they want to sell and then try to build a story to convince the Retailer to buy – “push”.  The problem is, good Buyers have a great nose for “push” even if the Seller thinks it is hidden.

Third, those who succeed are good at telling stories.  They hook the Buyer with a narrative, beyond just a load of facts.  Those who fail do not.  They might have all the data, all the rationale, and a massive PowerPoint deck.  But they don’t tell a story, so they don’t get heard. 

Buyers and Buying Directors are typically very able people but under huge time and cognitive pressure.  They arrive for your Zoom call in a rush, and underprepared.  You’ve been thinking about it for four weeks.  They haven’t thought about it at all.  You probably overload them with information.  They have to fall back on simple questions.  Do these people understand us and what we’re trying to do?  Are they starting with our needs, not their needs?   Is there a clear story here that I find convincing? 

You don’t get many bites at the cherry.  And if you can’t get heard, it just won’t happen for you in store. 

Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies.  He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.

© 2020 by Insight Traction