INSIGHTS AND PERSPECTIVES

Building elite partnerships

BY DSN STAFF

Moderating the “Ideas that Matter” panel at the DSN Industry Issues Summit, Mack Elevation founder Dan Mack highlighted the fact that not all partnerships between retailers and suppliers are created equal.

“Only 5%-to-10% of customer relationships with sales organizations are defined as elite,” he said. “The elite partners do things very differently — they act differently and they show up differently because they ask different questions, are more open and they think longer term.” Panelists shared what defines an elite partner for their businesses.

For Walgreens’ Robert Tompkins, group vice president and general merchandise manager of health and wellness, elite companies are not only focused on the “what” — their next item launch or selling a product — but on the “how,” meaning how they will build brand equity and understand their shoppers. “The ‘how’ companies can explain to me not only what they’re trying to sell me, but how they want to do it, how they’re going to create brand equity and category equity, and how they’re going to build loyalty with my shopper,” he said. “If you can’t explain your how, you’re not going to be an elite partner with us.”

H-E-B’s Paul Gerner, vice president of drug store/baby/beauty/financial and nutritional services, said that a focus on fundamentals — preventing out of stocks and other blocking and tackling elements — could form the basis of an elite partnership. Like Tompkins, Gerner said elite partnerships have long-term growth in mind — something that many lack.

“I think there are too many CPG companies that are looking quarter to quarter as opposed to actually having a vision and a strategy, and the ability to cogently articulate it,” Gerner said.

When selling into independent pharmacies, AmerisourceBergen vice president of consumer products and strategic global sourcing Doug Trueman said that culture alignment can presage a good partner.

“We’ve found that the best relationships start by having a common purpose, and for us, that purpose is always grounded in providing exceptional patient care. Once you’re locked in on that patient focus, you have a clear path forward,” Trueman said. “In addition, you can have productive conversations about the right channels and avenues for a product. We’ve found that starting with this alignment also allows you to think creatively and find unobvious opportunities.”

Walmart’s vice president of OTC merchandising, Annie Walker, said that the basis for being an elite partner begins before a manufacturer even approaches a merchant, particularly for big brands looking to mimic growth that smaller brands are seeing.

“If you want big to grow faster than small, you have to change your corporate thinking,” Walker said. “As much as we say ‘disrupt yourself before somebody else does,’ we don’t see the movement. I would challenge you to think about how you are going to change your internal organization to move faster and enable thinking differently to move forward. Being able to actually execute what you say you’re going to do is so critical and really important for the buyers.”

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