CPG manufacturers must improve sales forces to meet retailer needs

Posted by James Ferre on 7th May 2009

The relationship between retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies has significantly changed and CPG companies need to broaden the skills of their sales forces to meet retailer expectations, according to a new study released overnight in the US by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and A.T. Kearney.

Titled Talent Triage: Raising the Bar on CPG Sales Force Talent Management, the study reports that CPG sales and human resource executives rated their talent management activities as “highly effective” only 9 per cent of the time, but 68 per cent of these executives plan to increase investment in their sales force talent management programs.

“This study reveals that many CPG sales executives see a significant opportunity to improve upon the effectiveness of their own talent management programs,” noted Brian Lynch, Director of Sales and Sales Promotion at the GMA – the leading industry body for the CPG industry in the US. “New opportunities exist in a low growth economy and those companies who are willing to invest in the best and brightest sales force will be well positioned when recovery commences.”

The executives surveyed for the report also identified aligning talent with customer needs and effectively evaluating performance as primary talent management concerns within the CPG industry. Workforce diversity is also a priority for CPG sales teams.

“This study confirms what NEW (Network of Executive Women) has always believed – that a diverse workforce delivers better business results,” NEW Executive Director Joan Toth said. “The study finds that many companies are gaining access to new talent pools, improving customer relationships and even increasing productivity by embedding diversity into their corporate DNA.”

In addition to supporting diversity, Talent Triage notes that successful companies are fostering sales talent by balancing formal, standardised talent management programs with less formal, individualised employee attention and support. It also asserts that the role of the CPG sales person has evolved from a product sales representative to a general manager able to interact with and make decisions across a range of retailer functions – from merchandising to supply chain to logistics and finance. Retail customers now expect CPG sales teams to bring strategic merchandising insights to the table in addition to traditional sales competencies (e.g., lead generation, forecasting, negotiation).

“The survey and interviews we conducted show that leading companies are creating holistic talent management programs that engage all players, and focus on retention and development as much as recruitment,” A.T. Kearney Partner Beth Bovis reported.

The study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and A.T. Kearney is available for download at: www.gmaonline.org/publications/sales_talent_mngt_Final.pdf.