Getting past retail’s gatekeepers

Photo: Getty images
Jun 03, 2016
Carol Spieckerman

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Spieckerman Retail blog.

Thanks to advances in technology and data analytics, retailers no longer need layers of decision-making, and most are determined to speed up the process anyway. That means easier access to top decision-makers for those who work with retailers.

While cutting layers, retailers are also creating new positions right and left as organizational silos are broken down, content capabilities honed, and functional areas synergized. That means more people can influence or pull the trigger on what brand marketers and solution providers offer, and from multiple perspectives (content, data, marketing, products, solutions and more).

Further, the record number of hires retailers are making from outside traditional retail in order to accelerate the acquisition and integration of new technologies is bringing a fresh perspective and openness to innovation.

Despite these positive shifts, many brand marketers and retail solution providers are still lapsing into old-school communication habits. When they do, one of three communication breakdowns often follows.

  • Lost in Translation: As retail’s organizational sands shift, hoping that your tried-and-true retailer contacts will sell your concepts to actual decision-makers is a recipe for message dilution, misinterpretation and a muted, “meh” version of your value. Hold out for a face-to-face with real decision-makers.
  • Left Behind: I’m shocked by the number of companies that still automatically leave behind printouts of PowerPoints after meetings with retailers, even without request (gasp!). If you want to leave something behind, by all means take the time to create a differentiated, value-added piece that is intended for that purpose – one that supplements rather than repeats your presentation.
  • Caught in the Revolving Door: Retail’s revolving door started spinning at lower levels a few years ago; now it’s hitting the executive suite. As a result, many companies are finding themselves several degrees of separation away from their original advocates. When was the last time you presented your full value story (not just product or solution updates) to your make-or-break contacts? Do they know who you are and why they are even doing business with you? It’s time for a refresh.
  • Bottom line: The gatekeepers of retail past no longer stand in your way (or won’t for long). Step up. Go direct. Make it count.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you feel it’s become easier or harder for brand marketers and solution providers to articulate their value to retail decision-makers? What do you think about some of the changes and challenges brought up in the article?

"Spend just a bit more time on being memorable in your next face-to-face meeting. What would YOU find valuable as a retailer?"
"Yes, the days of one-size-fits-all presentations are pretty much over. "
"It’s imperative that vendors learn to be very, very crisp. People just have short attention spans."

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9 Comments on "Getting past retail’s gatekeepers"

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Ralph Jacobson
Great points to bring up, Carol! You can never be too certain of your true relationship strengths with the retailer. Regular communication on your differentiated value versus the wave of competitors is critical. You need to picture yourself from the retail executive’s perspective, regardless of their position in their organization. Imagine how many pitches they get on a regular basis. Can they even remember whose solutions do what? There are blips of highlights that they remember, and you hope at least one of those blips is from your pitch. Spend just a bit more time on being memorable in your… Read more »
Dave Wendland
I agree with Carol that too many brand marketers have not evolved to meet the demands of the new retail frontier. I’m not sure that many marketers would agree that the pathway to the retail decision makers has become easier. Ensuring that the brand message resonates with the direction the retailer is headed is critical (especially at a time when retailers are adjusting, tweaking and experimenting like no other). The playbook hasn’t changed significantly. The brand marketer has four primary goals when meeting with the retailer: 1. share real differences and category opportunities with the brand; 2. demonstrate the incrementality… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
I wouldn’t use Powerpoints being left behind as an indicator of anything. People like me hate paper. It goes on a shelf never to be looked at again, so now I don’t even take it with me. The real message here is that if you can’t articulate your value in five slides and 15 minutes, and get the business user interested in a deeper dive, then you probably either 1. haven’t articulated the problem you’re solving; 2. didn’t create a quick and compelling case for why you can solve it and/or; 3. did a poor job presenting overall. I always… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel

I’d agree with everything Carol said, except can we point to anyone who’s actually doing it really well (true omnichannel, really useful mobile app, empowering local teams, logistics are fine-tuned)? Maybe it’s a vendor/solution provider problem rather than a layers of gatekeepers issue?

Lee Kent
Yes, the days of one-size-fits-all presentations are pretty much over. With all the mash-ups and merges within retail in an effort to undo silos, it is more important than ever to know what the new structure looks like and their backgrounds. Service providers on the technology side are finding themselves more and more talking with marketing folk. Very different language requirements there. As I work with these companies on collateral and thought leadership, my directive is, speak to the retailers top-of-mind issues and not to the specific technology. We want them to ask the question, “I wonder if we’re doing… Read more »
Mark Heckman
Having the great pleasure of being on both sides of the retailer/supplier conversation, I do think that some of the decision making on the retailer side of things has been de-centralized to some extent. But much of the decision making ability still very much depends on budget limitations and the extent that the solution involves multiple departments or silos at the retailer. For example, if a solution presented to a category manager requires access to household-level results and reports that originate in the marketing department, a quick decision can be elusive. If the solution requires any involvement or blessing from… Read more »
Vahe Katros
Since you mention “retail solution providers” here’s a few basics: Know the budgeting timeline; Align your efforts around the “natural” deal flow; The best way to start is to have already started – if you are trying to get customer #1, it’s an entirely different process (and you may be customer #1 if you have no proof of concept inside their subvertical); If you have a proof point, then let that be how you sell. Scheduling a meeting where you tell the prospect that you are going to go over “real” examples and numbers is the way to go —… Read more »
David Slavick
Where there is demand, there is interest. Where demand does not exist, one needs to generate it through research on the client, networking with those who are at the client or former employees who can share and finding out what the key initiatives are under consideration for current and next fiscal. By doing your homework, customizing your presentation to demonstrate understanding and create trust, you then have a higher probability of achieving progressive success within today’s retail client environment. There are less layers of decision-makers. Clients are more likely to listen, learn and find a way to partner with you… Read more »
Mark Price
I would be thrilled by Carol’s vision of the new retail organization if I had run into any retail organizations that resembled it. Rather, retailers I speak to are often still locked in a battle between merchants, who are trying to optimize product margin and marketers who are trying to optimize customer value. In the middle between the two are the e-commerce team and store operations, who are pulled back and forth like they are sitting on a teeter totter. It is clearly harder for solution providers to articulate their value to retail decision-makers because the number of potential solutions… Read more »
"Spend just a bit more time on being memorable in your next face-to-face meeting. What would YOU find valuable as a retailer?"
"Yes, the days of one-size-fits-all presentations are pretty much over. "
"It’s imperative that vendors learn to be very, very crisp. People just have short attention spans."

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