Our post from last July dedicated to brand managers, struck a chord and went viral. It demonstrated that shopper marketing is still one of the most misunderstood corporate functions. Today, we are continuing to evangelize and demystify shopper marketing by offering a perspective to another key matrix partner: Sales.
Shopper marketing sits in the middle of the cross-functional vortex. If you had to rank who has the power to shape the shopper marketing agenda in most companies, sales comes close second, after brands. Sales’ support and buy-in are a prerequisite for a successful shopper marketing deployment. To help shopper marketers and salespeople get along and create productive tension, a lot of things must be cleared out. Here are some of the important things shopper marketers think and really wish their sales partners knew, too:
1. Sales And Shopper Marketing Are Two Sides Of One Coin
Many people mistakenly think that sales and shopper marketing are two different disciplines, often at odds with each other. We sometimes get a feeling that shopper marketing is seen as sales teams’ assistants whose job is to create pretty slides and execute promotional tactics. This is no longer true, and a successful “future-proofed” sales person will have a lot of marketing skills and knowledge. And, on the other hand, a successful shopper marketer will know how to sell-in their ideas. Gone are the days of sales vs. shopper marketing — the future belongs to a hybrid persona who knows and skillfully does both. Strive to become that hybrid leader. Learn marketing skills from your shopper marketers and teach them sales skills in return.
2. If We Challenge You It’s Not Personal
Shopper marketing function is typically established in response to tough market conditions where a company realizes that in order to win, it has to become strategic and shopper-centric. The folks that are hired to do shopper marketing come from all walks of life, but one trait often is a common thread: they are the change agents who were brought in to shake things up, elevate the conversation, offer a different perspective. This will undoubtedly create tension and anxiety for your busy and hard-working sales team who is laser-focused on delivering quarterly sales goals.
Shopper marketers will irritate you when they ask you a ton of “why” and “how” questions. They will come up with seemingly ambiguous, impractical, unproven and far-fetched ideas. Hang with us, it’s not personal, and if you are patient, it will all be worth it. Teach us the basics of your business, what makes your buyers tick, what worked or failed in the past. Sales leaders who open up, get vulnerable, and entertain “crazy” ideas are the ones who win in the long run.
3. The Creative Process Is A Process
Shopper marketing creative process is involved and it takes time. We can’t just snap our fingers and instantly get you a key visual or a hi-res file you need. Since we are actually not the designers who manipulate creative elements, we need to reach out to our creative agencies or team who handles this. There is a large team of people who help bring ideas to life through creative execution. It takes time, so be patient with us.
While we are happy to help you build selling stories in PowerPoint, we cannot create full-scale creative ads, shipper designs and logos without help and a couple of days, if not weeks, of lead time.
We want to do our job well and provide solid creative recommendations grounded in data and insight. While we’re happy to brainstorm off-the-cuff with sales, we need time to fully develop and flesh-out real strategic initiatives. Being mindful of the creative process and the leg-work and lead time involved will help ensure that we meet all of your deadlines.
4. “My Buyer Said So” Is Not A Shopper Marketing Strategy
We get it, sometimes things just have to be done with minimal friction, because your buyer relationship is your lifeline. However, when you come to your shopper marketer with a customer-initiated request to run a program that makes zero sense from the brand strategy POV (like a shopper offer pairing premium organic hot dogs with the low-tier buns), please listen patiently and consider going back to the buyer with an alternative proposal. They may actually appreciate your constructive push-back. In fact, your ability to challenge customers is a sign of a mature, trustful relationship. By the way, you can always blame us, those “pesky marketers”, while pushing back.
5. Shopper Marketing Budget Is Not A Slush Fund For Trade Promotions
Trade budgets are a pain to manage, they are unpredictable and offer a lot of surprises. Cost-to-serve of your retail customers keep going up. It is very tempting to look at shopper marketing budgets as a way to balance out your spend when you get that massive surprise deduction bill. Please resist this temptation. This short-term action will harm you in two ways. First, it will frustrate your shopper marketers whose budget you are raiding. Their trust will be eroded, they will not be as willing to share their numbers with you in the future. Second, you will sacrifice opportunities to invest in shopper-centric, brand-building programs in order to fund short-term price discounts. This is a recipe for losing your shopper marketing capability altogether. When the organization realizes that shopper spend is no different from trade, they will most likely pull resources from your team.
6. We Want You To Bring Us To A Sales Call
There is nothing worse you can tell a shopper marketer than “Just give me a couple of slides, I will include them as agenda item #14 in my presentation”. Months of shopper research, weeks of creative briefing and concept development with the agency, late nights putting together a new program pitch deck... are now supposed to be distilled into two slides AND we don’t even get a chance to pitch it. Ughh!...
When a shopper marketer asks to come along to meet the buyer, please, always say yes. Even if you would rather limit the attendance and “keep it cozy”, even if you really need to stay focused on securing that next quarter merchandising event.
Having shopper marketers come along gives you multiple benefits:
- Builds trust inside the team
- Showcases your team’s capabilities skills, creates stronger, multidimensional customer relationship
- Serves as a learning opportunity for shopper marketers - helps them ‘get real’ and gives them commercial insight into how to sell their ideas.
- Lets you leverage shopper marketers’ time and ideas (and budgets!) when preparing for the call
Whether the marketer plays an active role in the conversation or just observes is up to you, we know, some less experienced shopper marketers must be coached before being able to pitch ideas to customers, and it’s okay to ease them into the process. Remember: we are here to help, not to dilute your customer’s attention. You still own the relationship and drive the conversation, but hiding your shopper marketing talent behind the curtain is doing yourself a disservice.
A True Partnership
The symbiotic relationship sales and shopper marketing teams share is powerful — but only if executed correctly. That takes time, courage to be vulnerable, desire to understand, clear communications, and flexibility. In other words, it’s a true partnership. A partnership that relies on one another to lift the brand, execute flawless promotions, and drive sales.
As a salesperson, you may have a different perspective and reasons for your strategy and actions, and shopper marketers have our reasons for our strategy and actions as well. But as long as we respect and appreciate each other’s contributions, we will not only help drive sales and achieve the organization’s overarching goals, but we can also ensure our budgets are not cut (or even increased) and that we receive recognition for our successful partnership. Isn’t it a win-win for all?