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Author: Peter Chapman

How do you develop a Sales Strategy in a Pandemic?

We are living through the most turbulent events of a generation, and if there is consensus on anything then we all agree that it will never ‘return to normal’. Some of these changes will stick, some will drift and some are still to come, making it difficult for businesses who are used to stability and to having >80% of the data needed to make decisions. However, many can learn in this situation from the Military, who are trained to make strategic decisions in a fast-moving situation with <40% of the data by using structured scenario planning. The principles of this can be re-applied to your Sales Strategy to help you re-shape your plans while retaining some agility.

So how does it work? The change is from a lengthy, insight-rich process to set a year-long strategy to a series of shorter scenario-based strategies with regular validation of the insights used to inspire them. The greatest value is in developing various scenarios and then working through the implications of each – this throws up some of the greatest risks and opportunities in each scenario and also identifies the key ‘trigger indicators’. Care is taken to document the insight used to develop these scenarios carefully – and as this insight is improved and validated one way or another the strategies are later reinforced or adapted.

A practical example may help to explain this - consider the Route to Market for Food and Drink in the UK. Grocery sales are up +17% in May (1) however online sales have rocketed +75% in the same period, with 6% of UK HH completing their first grocery shop ever online in April (2). Convenience is also bursting at the seams, but larger supermarkets are still used by 9 ex 10 Households in any given month. This throws up some fundamental questions such as:

  • Where do you focus your resources for the 2H of this year?
  • Will the online channel hold on to all of this growth?
  • When do you need to re-work your channel promotion strategy?

The use of scenarios to develop an overall Sales strategy allows you to forecast various growths by channel, model the shape of your business against them, and then work through the implications before making any decisions. In the Checkstep phase (we suggest 3-6 months’ time) the growth forecasts can be updated, and as the ‘lead’ scenario becomes clearer the strategies in play are then either reinforced or adapted as needed.

If it was just a matter of channel churn then maybe this process would not be needed – but there is currently churn across the whole sales and marketing mix:

  • Product ranges have been simplified for most categories, with mix changes in most portfolios and a knock-on impact to NPD launches planned later this year
  • Promotions are back on but the objectives and ROI calculation of many have changed, especially as the visibility of displays are impacted heavily by the ‘one-way system’ active in many stores
  • Pricing and perceived value is a hot topic and will dominate in the coming months as the economy stumbles, redundancies increase and consumers actively look to change the physical cost of their regular purchases
  • Shopper behaviours have changed with a move to fewer, bigger shopping trips, and radically different behaviour instore with more use of lists (66% agree) (2), less browsing and a greater focus on availability

This churn is dynamic, ongoing and often hard to predict – which means that agility is a critical feature of any Strategy until the situation stabilises – possibly sometime next year.

We have a tried-and-tested Commercial Growth Strategy process that uses scenario planning to good effect, to enable teams to plan their business and organisation growth. This is based on a simple 4-step process:

  1. Where to Play – we use our market-modelling tool to analyse your historic growth on channel, retailer, category and sub-category, and then develop scenarios for future growth using a combination of the best insight, data and experience available. We also identify the trigger indicators for the different scenarios.
  2. How to Win – we identify clear value drivers for the lead scenario, and analyse the relative impact of these value drivers in different scenarios to identify the key risks and opportunities by scenario
  3. Enablers – the final step of the initial process is to develop the critical enablers for your business, and while these may vary by client, we typically look at customer relationships, customer investment, promotion strategy and pricing strategy as well as organisation design.
  4. Checkstep – this review is carried out 3-6 months after the initial process, and benchmarks the key assumptions made in the analysis phase against updated data, as well as providing a chance to review the actions taken to date. The benchmark highlights any major changes in the forecasts and the output is a validation or change to all the key decisions made in the first round.

We have had some great success with this process in the past, and our market-modelling tool can cope with all levels of data. We would welcome the opportunity to talk you through our approach in more detail, and to explain how we can implement this process quickly and cost-effectively to enable you with an agile Sales Strategy.

Please contact us and we will arrange a time for a chat.


Data references:
(1) Kantar WP – 4 w/e 17 May 2020, via Linkedin
(2) Greenshoots data – online shopper survey April 2020 n= 1,050 shoppers

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