Not having a marketing calendar dramatically hampers CPG sales efforts. I can tell you from my own experiences – in both the CPG and SaaS (Software as a Service) industries – that many CPG companies are missing a great sales opportunity.
What can a CPG brand learn from a SaaS company when it comes to marketing? Having started both, I can see that my CPG brand missed the mark by not having a comprehensive annual marketing calendar that explicitly targets my B2B customers the way that we do in SaaS.
I see the problem as a 3-layered one.
The first layer is that brands have 2 jobs to do: win customers (i.e., distributors and retailers), and win consumers (shoppers). At Promomash, we have seen brands on both ends of the spectrum, with some overspending on customer marketing, and others overspending on shopper marketing. Both are equally problematic long term.
The second layer is that brands have traditionally tended to focus most of their customer marketing budget and sales planning on trade shows. And as of 2020, even if it worked before (mostly it didn’t), that’s no longer a viable strategy at all. Now that trade-shows are a less reliable marketing play, it's time to consider borrowing from the effective marketing tactics tech companies use to gain distribution.
The third layer of the problem is that brands tend to throw up their hands when it comes to acquiring distribution and retail customers, relying on their brokers to bring those customers in and keep them. Whether such a brand realizes it or not, they are betting their success purely on the relationship(s) of their brokers. That is less than ideal for a whole host of reasons. Not that relationships are any less important than they've traditionally been; however, using only existing personal connections limits your success, because you are competing with rival reps who also have relationships with buyers, and who are vying for the same limited shelf space you are.
In order to take a step toward something better, look at the brand’s objective of winning the new account from the perspective of the gatekeeper of that account: the buyer.
A retail buyer's job is to bring in new SKUs that sell and maximize their shelf real estate sell-through. If a product that they have selected does not sell well, their job is in jeopardy. To increase your chances of getting on their shelf, you must convince the buyer that your product will sell. Since they are probably unsure of how your product will do on the shelf, they must go with their gut – unless you’ve provided social proof of your product's ability to fly off the shelf. If they don’t have that confidence, that’s why they ask for so much trade marketing support and free-fill when agreeing to bring in your products. It's their insurance policy.
Your sales efforts could dramatically benefit if you give the buyers greater confidence before the broker/rep ever begins their pitch. So, what options do brands have in their marketing toolbox to increase buyers' confidence? Social proof is key to your success, and a proper marketing calendar using SaaS success tactics is the way to achieve it.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Outbound Marketing efforts are the keys to your success. Creating an annual calendar with strategically placed weekly campaigns will allow your brand to penetrate the customer from the top-down and bottom-up to ensure that when your sales reps contact the buyers, they are already aware of your product and excited to speak with them.
In an ideal world, you would dedicate a multi-person strike team to get to know each of your prospective customers and direct a targeted message to each. But obviously you can't afford to do that with your entire prospect list. That means you need a tiered strategy for reaching the rest of the list in a way that makes economic sense.
Let's review the three strategies I recommend brands follow and how they can schedule them on their annual calendar.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM):
This marketing tactic offers a dynamic, adaptive system for delivering targeted marketing messages directly to your target customers. The foundation of ABM is data and insights about your customers. To be an effective ABM marketer, you should know as much as possible about your prospects. Who are the decision makers and influencers? Where are they hanging out? What are they saying, and what's important to them? And you should know all of this well ahead of the rep visit.
The long and short of it is that you need to listen to your customers, and when listening, it should be both as an active and as a passive listener.
Active listening is the old-fashioned kind, i.e., having a conversation and being “in the moment” to take in what your prospect is saying. Active listening happens at trade shows, sales meetings, phone calls, store visits, etc.
Passive listening pays attention to all the signals your prospects & customers send. These signals include pre and post-sale signals like online intent statements, account news, and tracking the decision makers’ and influencers/champions' social media activity.
But ABM is not scalable! You should direct these kinds of efforts to your dream ten (10) clients. LinkedIn is a great forum for you to connect with the decision-makers and make yourself known. When first connecting on LinkedIn, DO NOT sell to them! It’s far better to get to know them and add value first.
In my opinion, every one of your sales reps should have an active LinkedIn account that adds value and doesn’t just post sales messages about how great your product is. There’s nowhere near enough space in 1 blog to go into all the specifics of great LinkedIn practice. But I do strongly suggest your entire sales and executive team learn to utilize this platform to expand your reach and influence within your community.
Best case, your team interacts with the retailer's exec team, and those execs in turn ask their buyer to speak with you because they believe in your product. Worst case, you can reference your online relationship with the execs when communicating directly with the buyer.
Other retail staff members are probably also hanging out on Facebook and Instagram. Make sure that you are targeting those individuals too, so they see your message. Why is this important? If multiple staff members are familiar with your product and believe there is enough social proof to warrant placement on the shelf, you have a higher probability of them mentioning your brand to the buyers, or at least reacting positively if the buyer asks their opinion. It’s all about increasing your odds wherever you can.
Digitally listening to what your prospects are reading, posting on, discussing, and liking is ABM gold because they're breadcrumbs that lead you to what your customers care about in their daily lives. It's like a friend saying, "you read my mind," when you show up with their favorite snack when they are hungry. "I was just thinking of you" is what you want your buyer to think when your sales rep shows up in their office.
When we listen, we also learn. ABM is all about listening and learning about your prospects. The more relevant interactions you have with the entire prospect's team will make it faster and easier for buyers to make a decision in your favor.
SaaS sales teams typically have SDRs (Sales Development Reps) who call leads to qualify them and move them along the initial stages of the sales funnel. Most CPG brands would similarly benefit from having SDRs calling on prospective customers. For the most part, this is more effective for direct independent accounts, but in many cases will also work with key accounts and distributors.
Your marketing team arms the SDR with a marketing kit, samples, and a script. The SDRs call the prospect and ask for the buyer. They make the pitch and ask if it's OK to send them your marketing kit and samples. The conversion rate is very high because most buyers will not feel the usual sales pressure, and most are in fact interested in discovering new products for their retail outlets.
Follow-up is critical to get that initial purchase order. It might take multiple efforts to ensure that the buyer received your package, opened it, tried the product, etc. They might need additional information or perhaps a call with one of your sales reps.
Outbound sales is another essential tool in your marketing toolbox that you should not ignore. If possible, you should also your SDRs connect with the buyers on social media and share the same kind of information you're already posting in your ABM passive marketing strategy.
Remember, the more times the prospect sees your brand or hears about it from others (including shoppers, but that's a different blog post), the better chance you have for converting them to your latest customer.
The only thing I will say about trade shows is that your brand should utilize a coordinated ABM and outbound effort for your top prospects who will visit the show. There are usually thousands of booths and limited bandwidth for buyers to walk by your booth while being interested enough to speak with your team.
If they are aware of your brand ahead of time, they will try to stop by and spark a conversation. In the same light, I would suggest that you follow up in the same manner with everyone you meet at the show.
Once you have a strategic plan and direction of your ABM, outbound, and trade show plan, your marketing team can bring them together in a marketing calendar that they are responsible for developing and maintaining. The calendar is a unifying and coordinating productivity document. If you don't have a calendar and a clearly laid out plan, you don't really have a viable strategy. Everyone on your team will need to understand who you're targeting, when you're going to reach out with a specific campaign, and the types of campaigns you're promoting.
I suggest meeting with the entire executive, marketing, and sales team at year-end to plan out an annual calendar. Then schedule each quarter's campaigns at a high level. Once on paper, your marketing team can detail the specifics for the upcoming quarter and then review the results at the end of the quarter again with the entire team.
When it comes to a company-wide marketing calendar, you can’t just dabble. It’s not a one-off effort. It ideally reflects top management’s understanding that coordinated marketing and account acquisition strategy are a flowing, evolving, and continually improving activity. But with consistent and sustained effort throughout the year, it’s a virtual certainty that your brand will experience excellent results in growing distribution.