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Retailers are from Mars, Suppliers are from Venus

How a common “language” of comprehensive industry data could unlock collaborative working between retail clients and suppliers.

Its one of the most intense relationships in the business world. CPG suppliers working with major retailers. Billions of dollars being invested. Billions of purchases being influenced. A complex, intertwined world where both parties rely on each other to succeed but all too often differences in perspective can stretch both the emotions and the commercials to breaking point.

As every CPG sales or category executive knows, finding the win-win sweet spot is everything. Identifying how your proposals drive share, category and/or profit growth have to be the platform for winning approval. Objectivity, solid shopper research and respected, fact-based opinion are the necessary fuels.

But there is a problem at the heart of the “partnership”. A problem that is driven by differences in perspective.

A supplier enters the arena with a shopper point of view limited to just the category they are focussed on, often with research that has been scoped to optimize use of funds and is often as narrow as they felt they absolutely needed. The retailers, on the other hand, care mostly about the entire store, not just a single component. One category is simply a tiny piece of a bigger jigsaw puzzle. The supplier doesn’t usually have the perspective to give the best neutral and objective advice that the retailer might ideally want. The retailer all too often ends up with piecemeal insights. Perhaps with more gaps than coverage.

To us, the best possible sales proposal takes the form of “Retailer A overall has XYZ problem and should seek to resolve this with strategies B, C or D. Category Z is well placed to deliver on strategy B which is why we propose the following tactical plan:” This is known as selling from the client problem backwards, which in everyone in sales knows is the better route to success. But it’s not easy to achieve in packaged goods. Perhaps because not many salespeople are equipped with many insights about the shopper that are bigger than just their own category.

The Insights Industry has exacerbated the problem. The main data sources charge huge incremental costs for “seeing” more data. Custom research is expensive and the bill for greater coverage can be potentially huge.

That’s why we felt that a shared, Industry approach to shopper insights would make sense. If we can measure the entire marketplace, retailer by retailer, category by category, creating a huge but cost-efficient subscription database, then every player could build their plans with “outside in, top-down” thinking. There could be a common language. Joint plans would start in a better place. And the relationship could flourish.

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4 responses to “Retailers are from Mars, Suppliers are from Venus

  1. I’m assuming that Roger wrote this in the early 1980s, before Brian Harris began publishing on Category Management and before Nielsen ever wrote their book on the subject. Yes, win-wins are hard because there’s a natural conflict between the two camps – their goals are not aligned and never will be aligned ( I outlined this at ESOMAR in 2007). Yes, you can find win-wins but you have to start by wanting to do that.
    Mike Anthony and Toby Desforges have also written about this topic in very clear and practical terms.
    Roger has been around long enough to know that the language for interaction and successful implementation already exists.

    1. Thanks Steve. No, I wrote it this month. My point is there isn’t a common “shopper behavioural” language. If there is, then please do feel free to point it out. Data on what’s been sold isn’t the same as metrics about the shopper themselves. I invite you to take a closer look at what we are doing. Oh, and yes I have had the privilege of doing cat man training alongside Brian Harris – who specifically agreed about the absence of shared shopper metrics of this kind and endorsed our launch in 2007.

  2. Roger – I’m hard-pressed to see what kind of language one needs that goes beyond (a) did they shop the shelf and (b) what did they buy. Occasionally we find that picking up and looking closely but putting back instead of buying might be interesting, but that’s rare. Purchasing on promotion and co-purchasing, both behavioral descriptors, have been around forever, as has share of requirements.

  3. Awesome stuff, Roger. Thanks for sharing such a piece of wonderful information.
    As the name suggests Retailers are from Mars, Suppliers are from Venus definitely you have been inspired from the john gray’s book title. Likewise, the book guides how men and women are different and they should understand their differences for a happy relationship. I think Likewise Retailers and Suppliers can grow through being acceptable to each other
    it will help a lot to retailers and suppliers if there is a cost-efficient database, they should at least give this a read. Thanks for sharing such a piece of wonderful information.

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