The Successful Big Box Line Review

The Successful Big Box Line ReviewMany manufacturers fear line reviews with big boxes like Home Depot and Lowe’s. They frequently see it as an event where they have more to lose than to gain.

My friend Mark Mitchell knows what they fear and has recommendations on how to approach the line review differently. He tells about his experiences in his blog and his book. Or click here to receive his monthly building materials sales and marketing newsletter.

If you’d like to learn more about successful big box line reviews. Read Mark’s original blog post here.

And it works. Here’s his follow up post A Line Review Success Story sharing the strategy and positive outcome of one of his clients.

What manufacturers fear going in to a line review

  1. Demands for even lower prices
  2. Fewer sku’s
  3. Having to fund promotional programs
  4. Worse placement
  5. A new competitor in the category

Most companies go into a line review with three simple goals

  1. Stay on shelf
  2. Defend their margin
  3. Grow their share of category sales

According to Mark Mitchell, here’s what you should do in a Home Depot or Lowe’s line review

  1. Grow a pair
  2. Think about the buyer and not just yourself
  3. Do your homework
  4. Paint them a picture

Don’t approach a line review as a chance to throw products at the buyer and see what sticks

Don't Get Told No With These PowerPoint Sales HacksI spoke to that point in my post 4 Essential Steps to Winning with Buyers in a Product Line Review.

You need to have a vision about how the big box will be more successful with you than without you. You need to bring that vision to life so the buyer can see it.

The goal is for the buyer to say, “That just makes sense.” Buyers are human beings and many times will make decisions based on their gut feeling. They will then use data to support their decision.

You want to show the buyer no one is more committed to their success than you as you continually bring them ideas to make them more successful.

The line review process is a validation step for the retailer

Is Your Sales Team Asking The Right Pricing QuestionsRemember they are ultimately confirming that they are offering “the right product, sold for the right price, at the right place and time.”

To be better prepared for a line review, check out my post Are You Ready For Your Product Line Review?

Good Selling!

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4 Essential Steps to Winning with Buyers in a Product Line Review

Do you approach a line review as a chance to throw products at the buyer and see what sticksDo you approach a line review as a chance to throw products at the buyer and see what sticks?

In his recent blog, The Successful Big Box Line Review, Whizard Strategy’s Mark Mitchell tells building product manufacturer’s that instead of fearing a product line review, they should see them “as an opportunity to set yourself apart from your competitors.” Great advice for manufacturers but it’s only half the story.

In a line review, understanding what the merchant needs to win is as critical as to why you think you’re the best solution.

Are you just another product pitch to the buyer?

Are you just another product pitch to the buyer?Sadly, too many buyers tell me that what they want is someone who understands their challenges. Not another product pitch.

Like you, they have goals to grow the business. To do more with less.

And, whatever their decisions, they have to successfully sell them to the leadership team. Which means not only do you have to deliver a compelling product proposition, you have to arm your merchant with the trends, data and research to show how and why what you believe possible, is possible.

Buyers want answers to these four questions in a product line review

Buyers want answers to these four questions in a product line reviewThese four points look easy and sound intuitive but they are tough to do. It takes time and preparation to answer each fully. And although they sound expensive – and can be – they really don’t need a lot of investment to do.

  1. Educate me on the market: who’s winning and who’s losing in the category – and why. Help me learn how to think about the category and my role in it.
  2. How do consumers shop the category? What’s important to them and why. Help me see product trends and show me how I can take advantage of them.
  3. What I need is newness and freshness. My shoppers are looking for me to offer innovative project solutions. They are coming to my store with a to-do list that I need to be able to completely satisfy. That means having innovation as well as basics. (It wouldn’t hurt if I could be exclusive or at least have a head start.)
  4. Help me be successful. Sure I have to increase comps but that may not be my biggest driver. It may be inventory or margin. How I get there is balancing many pieces across the entire department. Like you I don’t have unlimited resources.

Just because you educate your buyer doesn’t mean you are going to win

Buyers want answers to these four questions in a product line reviewLet’s be honest. If you come to me with research, insights and good analytics, you are arming me to be able to defend my decisions. It’s a good chance that you’ll see trends early and have products that reflect them. That helps me but it doesn’t guarantee placement. I often need to prove something works.

Your competitors all want the shelf space. They are telling me how you come up short and highlight where they are strong. Maybe they have a better brand name or maybe they’re willing to be own brand. Your approach isn’t always the best or only approach and selling harder isn’t the answer.

More importantly, I know that too much change is equally dangerous. I’m stuck with old inventory, my shoppers are confused and I don’t see growth. Testing is my way of building a fact-based case. So don’t push me constantly for more stores (or more test, for that matter).

Bottom line? Manufactures need to educate their buyers with facts – not offer phrases like “I think, I hope and I believe” – to demonstrate that they are the category innovator and partner the retailer needs to take sales and profitability to the next level.

Good Selling!

Are You Walking In Your Competition’s Shoes?

walk in competitors shoes

You and your team need to live in the competition’s head.  That way, you’ll have a good idea about how they will try to sell against you.  You’ll find the chinks in your armor more easily and you will ultimately be more successful in the market place.

To see if you really understand your competition, try this:

  1. Write a sales pitch to one of your customers as if you were them.
  2. Create a PowerPoint template and build the selling story.

Be aggressive and be the competition. It may surprise you. And it may scare you. But you’ll be better prepared for the future.

Know the competition better than they know theyselves: Take your top competitor and research everything you can

The goal of this process is to build a fact-based selling story, so start off by building your fact base.  Go to your key competitor’s:

  • Corporate website
  • Visit key retailers who stock their product
  • Go to etailers and retail .com sites that offer the product
  • Head over to all the social media sites
  • Gather literature, ads and catalogs

While in-store, take photos.  Note pricing.  Document plan-o-grams.  Evaluate packaging.    Is there any attempt at differentiation between retailers?  Scan QR codes and UPC codes.

While on .com sites, are you seeing A+ pages?  What graphics are being used?  What features and benefits are being highlighted?  Are videos posted?  Read reviews – good and bad.

Do you see evidence of a social media strategy?  Are they utilizing Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest effectively?  Note Likes and Followers, grab screenshots and document any promotions or special events like a Twitter party.

In general, what is being done to educate the consumer – online or off-line?  And don’t forget to simply Google your competitor.  You’ll be surprised at what you might find posted that will help build your knowledge base.

Put together a compelling pitch based entirely on facts

pitchmanCreate a PowerPoint template that looks as if it came from the competition.  Photoshop a template based on graphics you find online.  This is particularly effective at snaring senior management attention – it seems all the more real when it looks like the competition.

The presentation should have five major sections:

  1. Corporate overview
  2. Why us
  3. Product differentiation
  4. Marketing
  5. Retail landscape

Put all the facts together in a compelling way.  If your competitor is a multi-billion dollar corporation, brag about the scale.  If a small, privately held firm, talk up focus or nimbleness.

Approach the competition’s product line with the mindset of how might they position their brand and offering at this retailer?  What would be their sales pitch to upset your placement?  Dig deep into understanding their product offering.  What’s innovative in their mind?

What can you – as the competitor – bring to the party?  Differentiation?  Better value?  Even if you only use this thought process as a clean sheet of paper exercise, it will force you to think differently.

Remember you are trying to win the business as the competitor at one of your key accounts!  All the shackles of being the incumbent are removed.  One thing to keep in mind, you can’t know what cost or margin the competitor is likely to bring, so don’t tear out your hair trying to figure that out.

Wrap everything up with lessons learned

get results-keep score-winYou should put as much time and thought into this project as you would to build your own customer presentation.  Work hard to truly understand the key points your competitor will use against you to win the business.  And once you have the best possible pitch built, build out a page or two of lessons learned.

For example, was the story stronger than you expected?  Were you surprised by the strength of the product pitch?  Have you been discounting their innovation, materials or performance for so long you lost sight of what they were really communicating to customers?  Did you discover any new consumer marketing or brand strategies?

Done well, when you are finished with this exercise you will better understand how you can be challenged by the competition at a key retailer.  More importantly, you’ll have the insights you need to build a plan to reduce your risk of losing the business.