Knowledge is power -- but only if you have the right information. If your daily headaches come from managing relationships with retailers, staying in touch with representatives in the field, or negotiating for displays and promotions, then this is the information you need to improve your sales and performance!
We found some of the most successful and experienced CPG company founders, field team managers, and merchandisers from across the country. Below, they share their trade secrets on retail merchandising and field team management. These six pros have fought through all the challenges the industry has to offer, and come out victorious with strong brand identities and effective field teams. Read on for knowledge!
1. “What is the perfect approach to retail merchandising?”
Mat Brogie, CEO, Repsly
An organization needs to be sure that it is positioned well to measure and report on its merchandisers’ activities, in order to create opportunities for self-assessment and improvement. Well formulated retail audits go a long way in making sure that reps can efficiently collect the right data.
Marko Kovac, Founder, Repsly
I like to break the perfect retail execution strategy into a five step cycle: 1. What do we want to achieve? 2. Design an ‘experiment.’ 3. Define your metrics for measuring the success of an experiment. 4. Do the experiment. 5. Analyze the results, react, and redirect your efforts. This process is iterative -- you try something, test it out, learn from it, and quickly develop an improved idea.
John Ellsessar, Sales Manager, Narragansett Brewing
When I was an area manager it was my responsibility to train merchandisers, and I taught every single one the stoplight rule. It works on the green - yellow - red concept: a red light makes a customer stop and look at the product, a yellow light just causes a customer to pause and look, and a green light is entirely ignored by the customer as they walk by. All of your merchandising techniques should be aimed at creating a red light at your product. You want your displays, packaging, and promotions to catch the attention of consumers.
2. “What are the keys to developing a strong brand identity?”
Eddie Andre, Co-Founder, Sr. Sales Manager Grillo’s Pickles
As we connect with retailers, we stick to our identity as a company: we are fun, we are young, and we’re selling pickles. We want our interactions to feel like more than just talking pickles. Keeping our interactions open-ended and light hearted is so important.
Tom First, Co-Founder, Nantucket Nectars; Operating Partner, Castanea Partners
A company takes a lot of time to understand their brand and develop a language around their brand to differentiate them from their competition. When you figure that out, and you have really focused who you are and how you’re going to market, you need your field team to speak the right language and have it resonate. I think training is critical, and we have to spend the time to put tools in the hands of our sales people.
When we were building Nantucket Nectars, we had a very detailed training and selling process: We had manuals and our people fully understood how the brand should look in different environments. We wanted our people to properly represent who we were and what we stood for. They needed to know the key selling points of the brand, its positioning relative to competition. The story needed to be consistent - whether we were in California or Massachusetts, we needed our people speaking the same language.
3. “How do you assemble and manage a first-rate field team?”
Tom First, Co-Founder, Nantucket Nectars Operating Partner, Castanea Partners
I like to find members of my team who expect a lot, who have high standards, and who don’t settle for things being half done or finishing a task just for the sake of finishing a task. It’s obviously great to have people who are smart or work hard or have experience, but if they don’t expect a lot then none of those other traits mean a lot. Day to day contact is really important. Tommy [Scott] (fellow co-founder of Nantucket Nectars) and I used to say “distance equals evil.” The further away you are from someone, the more people distrust each other. Any way there is to close that gap and make the distance not feel so far makes it less evil and helps you build a culture. “Field work is all but defined by its complications.”
Kelly Wigland, Regional Sales Manager, Krave Jerky
You definitely have to have a go-getter attitude. You have to be self-motivated and be able to put 110% out every single day. You have to be outgoing too and have thick skin because you definitely get told no a lot. But if you don’t take it personally, and you are persistent and go back the next week and ask in a different way or offer some other thing that would benefit [the retailers] and show them that you’re there for them, that definitely helps a lot too.
Marko Kovac, Founder, Repsly
Field work is inherently different from work in the office. While office processes do have complexities, field work is all but defined by its complications. To a field rep, traffic, weather, and vehicle maintenance are major sources of friction. Managing this friction is the key to a high performing field team. Field team managers need to know enough about realities of life in the field to give feedback that will optimize rep performance. In most companies, the extent of a manager’s awareness of the field is going for a ride-along once every three months. Getting a clear firsthand understanding of what reps are facing in the field is important for successfully managing remote employees.
Eddie Andre, Co-Founder, Sr. Sales Manager Grillo’s PicklesMy ideal field rep is self driven and wakes up knowing exactly what they’re going to do that day. They like to build relationships with retailers that are more personal than just business and pickles. They are proactive and look at a shelf and think “How can I make this better? How can I improve sales?”
Equipped with the advice from these CPG geniuses, your company should be ready to power through the industry. Regardless of the obstacles you face, you have the information you need to develop a motivated field team you can rely on. Designing retail execution plans for displays, promotions, and retailer relationships will ensure your product is in the perfect environment for dizzying sales.
Melissa is a recent graduate of Northeastern University and a content marketing specialist at Repsly, Inc. She is committed to applying her skills in order to bring value to Repsly readers and customers. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, making music, and anything dog-related.