“Congratulations! We Are Putting Your Category Up For A Product Line Review.”

4016829091_9228f9fc51The news came by email at 6 pm…our biggest account was putting our category into an unscheduled line review.

Now everything was uncertain…our forecasts, our budgets, our plans.

Suddenly, without warning, we were faced with fighting for our space on the shelf.

Was it really unexpected?

frustrated-with-salesNothing sends a bigger shock wave through an organization than the unexpected line review.

Rumors fly and productivity decreases. Suddenly everyone is focused on “how could we not see this coming.”

Start off by asking yourself what really prompted this line review:

  • Did the retailer’s goals change? Is profit now more important than sales or the opposite? Is the merchant merely driving the corporate message down to you?
  • Was it “time” for a review? Had years past since the last time a formal review was conducted?
  • Is the category drifting or POS comping negative? Does the merchant need to show there’s a plan to upper management?
  • Did the competition heat up? Is there a new player or compelling new product in the category?

Regardless of if the answer is the category is tanking and the competition is sensing blood or the merchant just needs to have a clear plan to take to management, the focus you apply to the line review should be the same.

Put yourself in the merchant’s shoes

brent_729-620x349The merchant has no loyalty to you. That said, if you have performed well as a vendor, there’s not a lot of reason to create confusion at the shelf. Strong partners support one another.

You bring focus and insight to the category (for both the retailer and your product line) through:

  • Market trends
  • New products
  • Assortment planning
  • Competitive insights
  • Promotional plans
  • Packaging and merchandising
  • Service and support performance

Done well, you will only reinforce your value to the merchant. They, in turn, can confidently support you to their management as the vendor of choice.  It’s truly a win-win.

Build a plan that solves a problem

be seen as the category expert and offering a logical and compelling case about why you should be on their shelfYour moment of truth is your pitch to the retailer.

Chances are, the team will include the merchant, their assistant, their boss, possibly a planner and many times an unrelated category’s merchant. That last one is where all the tough questions will come from.

Their job is to be the spoiler – without having to have your merchant be the “bad guy.”

Your job is to build a story that is compelling from start to finish.

Focus on answering questions that your customer is trying to solve:

  • What are the shopper insights?
  • What are the category insights?
  • What does the financial analysis suggest?
  • How can the assortment be optimized?
  • How can we drive conversion through merchandising and promotion?

Regardless of the reason for the line review in the first place if you answer these questions well, you’ll be seen as the category expert and offering a logical and compelling case about why you should be on their shelf.

The retailer is not the expert in your category – you are

If the retailer wins, you winBelieve it or not, the retailer is not the expert in your category – you are. But they do have perspective. Perspective from other categories they manage and from hearing what your competitors are saying.

But what they need to know is how they are going to improve sales and profitability. Maybe not overnight, but definitely within their fiscal year. It’s how they will earn promotions and make their bonus. Consequently, any recommendations you make should help them win. Because if they win, you win.

So pitch your presentation in a way that shows:

  • Clarity of the alignment between the retailer’s shopper and who buys your brand.
  • Insights on what’s happening in the category, why it’s happening, what it’s impacting and what – together – you’re going to do about it.
  • How your recommendation brings differentiation, innovation and excitement to the category and directly addresses market and shopper trends.
  • A clear picture of how you are bringing the best financial program, the best products and the marketing plan that delivers the most value to both the retailer and their shopper.

The merchant is evaluating your credibility as well as your recommendation

Think of it this way, the merchant is evaluating your credibility as well as your recommendation.

If you come in with clear plan – one that’s supported every step of the way with facts – you’ll be in a better shape because the merchant will be able to use your recommendation and data in supporting the decision to go with you and deliver the goals the merchant’s management team has for the category and department.

Good Selling!

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/4016829091/

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Are You a Product Marketing Hero?

Marketing HeroNot too long ago at a major mass retailer, we presented a new product that we thought would make a lot of sense to stock. Not so fast, said our buyer…prove to me this is the right product…and the right time…for it to be on the shelf.

Maybe you come into your new product presentations prepared. We certainly thought we were. We had consumer insights around the product, a price point that we knew was right in line and the opportunity for this retailer to be first in the market.

Your buyer expects you to know the market backwards and forwards

Prepping for a major meeting or line review goes without saying. But are you ready for the phone call from the buyer straight into marketing? The buyer expects you to know their business, their competitors and the market backwards and forwards all the time, especially when it’s a phone call on the fly. This goes for any touch point the buyer has with your company.

How can you control what happens outside of marketing? Maybe try a few of these approaches:

  • Brief executive team. Make sure they aware of who’s winning and losing in the market – and why.
  • Ensure that trends are collected and distributed to the sales and marketing team regularly. Create top line reports that ensure you can view key metrics by key channel or customers.
  • Take the time to bring the cross functional teams up to speed on market dynamics. Lots of contact happens between your customer with shipping, customer service and quality. Make sure they all know the big picture.

“What problem is this solving for my shopper?”

shopperOur buyer was all set to pounce. He thought we had a product that we couldn’t defend. And for a moment, he had us in his sights…except when we recommend a new item, we bring the consumer reasoning behind the recommendation.

To get and keep the attention of your buyer, bring along with you these facts for every new product you bring to the table:

  • What issue it solves – the need
  • Your recommendation on how it fits the customer’s assortment
  • Financial impact – size of the prize
  • Consumer insights – in-depth insights as to why this is the right item for their customers. Get this data even if you have to go and use a third-party. It’s the sale clincher.

The bottom-line? We made the sale and put a product on the shelf that exceeded everyone’s initial expectations. The buyer looked like a hero, we sounded credible and then proved that we were when the product started flying off the shelf.

For other Channel Instincts posts on product marketing, see What Drives Your Product Marketing? or Are You a Marketer Or Just a Product Expert?

Are You a Marketer or Just a Product Expert?

Product Marketer or Product ExpertYour success can be built around either, but as one Big Box buyer pointed out to me:

“Too many manufacturers think that their marketing managers are marketers and they are not – they are product experts and that’s not helping drive my business – or theirs.”

Because new product development is critical, it’s not surprising that many companies find people who are good at project management.

Many marketers are skilled at working within an organization cross-functionally and adept at Stage Gate or some other milestone process. After all, aren’t new products how you grow your category and improve your margins?

Are you thinking about marketing too narrowly?

IImagef you’ve found that sales are falling short despite a constant stream of new products, then your focus on marketing may be too narrow.

Ask yourself these questions to determine the breadth of your marketing focus:

  1. Do I understand the needs of the consumer, shopper or end-user?
  2. Am I creating products that solve a problem or are innovative enough to give my sales team “new news?”
  3. Do I understand the needs and priorities of my customer? Can I build a compelling story as to why our new product is right for them and will help build sales and profits?
  4. Do I have the capability to bring to life the new product’s packaging, merchandising and sales tools?
  5. Am I bringing new users to the company or helping my customers make the sale? Can I help build my customers’ business with strong promotional programs, social media or e-commerce tools?

Marketing is more than just products

How the pieces fit together in marketing

Marketing is a complex discipline. Although this is an oversimplification, we marketers tend to fall into one of these three broad categories:

  1. Product
  2. Channel
  3. Brand

Strength in one does not necessarily translate into strength in all three.

For example, you may be outstanding at moving a new product through your internal systems, but are you equally comfortable building the sales story for your customer or know how to create demand in the market?

How the pieces fit together

If you want to move from being just a product manager to a more senior marketer, here’s how the three parts of marketing fit together:

1. Product Marketers

  • Intimately understands the needs of the end-user.
  • Create products that solve a problem or help give the sales team “new news.”
  • Skillfully use cross-functional teams and internal systems and processes to move from the drawing board to the sales floor…without wasting the time and resources of the organization.

2. Channel Marketers

  • Intimately understands the distribution channel and knows the needs and priorities of their customers – and their customers’ customers.
  • Can build a compelling story as to why their new products and programs will help build their customer’s sales and profits.

3. Brand Marketers

  • Bring to life the new product’s packaging, merchandising and create compelling and convincing sales tools that give the brand or product a personality.
  • Build the customers’ business with a strong promotional programs, social media and e-commerce tools.

Like most things, balance is the key and you need all facets of marketing to be most successful.

For other Channel Instincts posts on product marketing, see “What Drives Your Product Marketing? or Are You a Product Marketing Hero?

Good Selling!

Active Search Results (ASR) is an independent Internet Search Engine using a proprietary page ranking technology with Millions of popular Web sites indexed.