With so much evolution in customer buying trends in the natural specialty segment, brand differentiation, education and product positioning have always been the focus in this channel.  Unfortunately, this often means innovations in sales and retail execution take a back seat. 

The “typical” sales and retail execution conversations have consistently revolved around the same set of topics and companies (e.g. UNFI and KeHE distribution, promotions and distribution at Wholefoods, NCG, Sprouts and independents, which brokers and merchandisers to use, etc).

For the most innovative sales leaders, these conversations are evolving.  As natural products become more and more mainstream and the opportunity for increased levels of shelf space expands at retailers, it’s critical to broaden their tactics beyond product differentiation and conventional sales management in the channel to win the battle at the shelf.

Here are five steps the best sales leaders are taking to gain an advantage:

    1. Measure promotional impact the “harder” way:
      Many leaders can get basic lift analysis looking at overall account sales.  However, next level leaders are also
      measuring in-store execution and mapping that to specific store level lift.   Not only does this hold your partners more accountable for execution, it also enables you to plan more effective promotions in future cycles.  This has been very difficult to map together historically, but fortunately technology has now almost fully automated this  process, making it much easier to manage.
    2. Put distributor data to work:
      Shipment data can be very valuable in measuring distribution voids and opportunity, and can be used to detect when in-store conditions may have changed and when potential re-orders may be needed.  Given the limited coverage and high cost of scan data, it’s a valuable data type that can also be used in overall performance assessment.  It is important not just to get data, but to ensure your team has the right suite of actionable reports and dashboards that properly leverage available data and make it easily usable.
    3. Take direct control of store level execution:
      Distributor, broker partners, and merchandisers do a better job than most get credit for.  However, their coverage and focus on your brand is highly constrained.  Most companies believe staffing up their own direct team is the only available alternative, but with new on-demand resources and technology, coverage with 100% focus on your brand can be quickly scaled up, deployed, and scaled down to fit the budget and distribution goals of brands of all sizes.
    4. Share and Educate with  In-Store Success:
      If you ask a sales leader about their brand, they are usually quick to give you the five minute run down on what makes it great, why consumers love it, as well as the unique qualities the company puts into making it.  However, if you ask them about what’s happening “in-store” in specific accounts and regions, their responses may be more anecdotal or unknown.  It is important that leaders have a detailed level of knowledge about location, in-store position against other brands, etc., along with the photos to paint the picture.  This not only helps them share in the true “experience” their consumer is having at the shelf, but also helps them get more nuanced in their persuasion so they can influence distributors and retailers to take action on behalf of their brand.
    5. Reward and celebrate retail execution metrics:
      In the prior tips we mentioned having and using store level data and pictures more regularly.  It is important that teams not only do this, but that they also develop a culture of fun around it and reward their team for exceptional attention to detail in retail execution.  Having the right leaderboards and scorecards that place value on in-store metrics not only motivates internal teams, but can be leveraged with brokers and partners to increase their focus and time spent on your brand.

These efforts should prove valuable to you as you take your brand to the next level moving into 2021. For  additional examples, best practices, and case studies showing  these approaches in action with specific retailers, please request a call with one of our industry experts.

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