The art of retail war: How to beat your competitors and dominate your category
Frank Brogie, who leads the content development team at Repsly, explains how food manufacturers can get their products on retail shelves and entice consumers to buy them.
Frank Brogie leads the content development team at Repsly. A researcher with experience blogging about technology and field sales, he works to help his readers grow their businesses.
“I’d love to help you out, but I’m not sure how you’re different from what I’ve already got in the snack aisle.”
Hearing the word “no” is never easy (especially in sales), but it’s even worse when you know you only lost because one of your competitors beat you to the punch.
If you’re feeling the heat from your competitors (or even just hearing “no” more often than usual — sometimes an early sign one of your competitors is on the rise), here’s how you can stay a step ahead and keep winning for your brand.
Know Thine Enemy
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Sure, fighting for space on the shelf might not be as dramatic as the war Sun Tzu had in mind, but still understanding who it is your sales team is fighting against is critical if they’re going to start (or keep!) winning their pitches.
When digging up information on the brands that have their eyes on the same shelf space as you, think about more than just who’s on the rise in your segment. Dive into the weeds. Look for brands that just raised funding or landed big distribution partnerships. Try to find out who’s especially active in your most important territories, or in the chain or store segment your team is targeting.
While that’s a lot of data to hunt down, the good news is that you can do a lot of it right from your computer. Sites like Crunchbase report recent fundraises and allow you to filter results by industry or location. You can do basic searches for free, or you can upgrade to add multiple filters and advanced sorting and export options.
When setting your sights on a specific retailer, you can sometimes find a list of all of the brands and products they carry — by individual store location — online. For example, Whole Foods links to these lists from each store’s page on its website.
From the Whole Foods Store Locator, simply enter your target zip code or choose a store location from the map. Then, click the “Store Info” link below the hours of operation. From there, you’ll see a section on the right ride of the page titled “Unique to This Store,” where you can find lists to every product on the shelf under that Whole Foods’ roof, organized alphabetically and by category.
Source: Whole Foods
Lists like these make it easy to predict which companies already have a foothold in the stores you’re targeting, so you can create a plan for your team to sell against them.
Pulling lists online is great, but it ignores one massive resource sales managers have at their disposal — the team of sales reps that are visiting stores and seeing competitors every day. It’s one thing for your reps to see competitors on the shelf every time they visit a store, but it’s another challenge altogether to get that insight from them and analyze it in a meaningful way.
What sounds like a tough problem actually has a pretty simple solution: having your sales staff run competitive audits during store visits. With a relatively quick setup and an easy-to-use tracking tool like Repsly, a good competitive audit process gets you accurate information about which competitors are on the shelf in which stores, as well as what kind of pricing and promotions they use in the store to get off the shelf — everything you need to create a competitive selling strategy.
Pump Up Your Shelf Velocity
“Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I kind of like where this Art of War analogy is taking us, so let’s keep it up. According to our friend Sun Tzu, going up against your opponents is as much about skill as it is about force, and sales managers should have a number of tools ready to call on when competing with other brands.
Successful sales managers don’t just focus on winning competitive sales to retailers, but also on helping move their products off the shelf faster than their competitors. Not only does focusing on shelf velocity put sales teams in position to place more replenishment orders, but it can be a huge component of future competitive pitches, and can also win you additional placements throughout the store.
With that in mind, sales managers who are constantly on top of their category are thinking both about winning pitches and winning on the shelf.
Here are a few tools you can add to your arsenal to get your product off the shelf faster and sell more:
Win The Price Tag Battle
If you have the flexibility to negotiate your products’ retail price with buyers, you can take advantage of creative pricing strategies to make your brand more desirable than its neighbors on the shelf. This goes far beyond just being cheaper than your closest competitor, though. In fact, it’s equally as important to realize when you might be able to charge more for your products without seeing sales suffer.
Did you know that shoppers are more likely to add something to their cart if their options are all listed at different prices? Even a difference of just 3% can double the chances a shopper takes something off the shelf.
For more examples of food & beverage pricing strategies guided by science like this, check out the slideshare.
Own The Store
A more aggressive approach is to go out and grab as much real estate as you can in the store. Encourage your sales team to not just sell deals, but to seek out placements that will make your brand jump out to shoppers when they enter the store.
If the retailer isn’t ready to bring in more of your product to fill a secondary placement, try asking for permission to put up promotional signs or posters in the store. Whether you opt for window banners, floor stickers, or attention-grabbers on the end of your aisle, anything you can do to remind shoppers your brand exists (and perhaps is even available at a great deal), can improve your sales over your competitors.
Work With Your Competitors to Elevate Your Category
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The last lesson we can learn from Sun Tzu is that there’s actually a way to win in a competitive category without actually going to battle against your competitors. In fact, a successful competitor can actually be good for your business and make it easier to sell.
In fact, as many as 74% of brands said they occasionally partner up with their competitors to build their brands together.
Why bother working with a brand that might be making it tougher to find space on the shelf for your product? The fact of the matter is that as bitter as these rivalries might feel, when one company takes off, it usually brings more awareness (and sales) to the entire category. Or, one brand’s success can legitimize a new segment to skeptical retail buyers.
Take this quote from Jamie Danek, CEO of Humm Kombucha: “We're building a category that is so new, many people don't even know what kombucha is. Collaborating and working together positively impacts the entire industry, and each individual business benefits far more than it ever would if we were working alone. Plus, it's way more fun!”
The way Danek sees it, the more people who know about and come to love kombucha, the better for everyone — no matter who’s bringing those shoppers to the cooler looking for their sparkling, probiotic teas.
To hear from even more brands about how and why they work with their competition (and even why one refuses to) check out this blog post with quotes from 14 fast-growing brands.
Prepare to Win
“Every battle is won before it's ever fought.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
No matter how you plan to take over your category, it’s important you do just that — plan. Even if you’re not quite sure which tactics will be most effective for your brand (price cuts, new displays, cooperation, etc.), you can still draw up a plan to experiment.
At the end of the day, experimentation is likely the only thing you can count on, since every store, demographic, category, and competitor might require a different plan of attack.
Have any of these strategies proved successful for your brand? Let us know your go-to competition-buster in the comments below.