“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 Shoppers the Same as Consumers?

How well do you know your consumerr?Do you know who buys your products?  Not your customer – big box retailers, wholesalers, dealers or distributors – but the end-user of your products.

In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that your company talks a lot about the end-user.  Hopefully, you use a different term like home owner, home buyer, shopper or consumer to make them, well, a little more human.

But your sales team is focused on your customer base.  Sure, your channel partners are the critical filter to getting your product to market.  But at the other end of the chain is a consumer.

How well do you know your consumer?

Start with an understanding of what drives the consumer to purchase

By starting with an understanding of what drives the consumer to purchase, you are able to:

  • More clearly define where the opportunities lie; which markets, and identify the true size of the prize
  • Focus your communication strategy with relevant, actionable messaging
  • Develop new products that align with needs of your consumer
  • Create a marketing strategy that drives purchase behavior

Understanding your consumer will change how you sell – for the better

Know what drivve the consumerWhat are some of the ways you can define your consumer?  Among the most common are:

  • Age
  • Demographics
  • Mindset
  • Family size
  • Gender
  • Financial condition
  • Home ownership
  • Life-stage

Know your shopper

Once you know more about your consumer, you can begin talking to them in their terms, understand how they think about your products and begin to see a path to innovation that will support their point of view.  Imagine how powerful the conversation becomes with your channel partners when you are able to share with them how your consumers will respond to their selling your products.

Think about how that changes your channel conversations.  Now your focus is on the consumer and what they want.  How it led you to insights in product design and marketing that clearly speaks to them.  You are not only differentiating yourself from the competition, you have the keys to helping your channel partners sell more of your products – without making “what’s your price?” the first question asked.

A consumer isn’t the same as a shopper

A consuemr isn't the same as a shopperIf you are selling your product through big box retailers, understanding your consumer is important, but knowing how your consumer aligns with the big box shopper is critical.  In fact, those retailers are more interested in how well you know their shoppers than they are yours.  Don’t make them guess if there’s an overlap – lead them to the conclusion that your consumer is indeed there shopper – factually.

Once you make that case, think about how easily your consumer knowledge can translate into retail strategies that are going to improve their category sales and build your business.

Your marketing approach to those big box retailers can now be built around how you will:

  • Prompt purchase intent with emotional triggers
  • Organize the set into distinctive sub-sets
  • Leverage de-selection around your features / benefits
  • Promote trade-up strategy (such as a good-better-best approach)
  • Offer multiple product options to meet specific shopper needs

Knowing the consumer is the key to selling more

In summary, by keeping the consumer in mind at all times, you can:

  • Fully meet the needs of your consumers and in turn raise confidence with your channel partners on the relevance of your product offering
  • Help shoppers understand what’s on the shelf and find the product that meets their needs
  • Create excitement and the urgency to buy
  • Enable shoppers to purchase with confidence
  • Grow category revenue and profit