CAMDEN, N.J. -- Campbell Soup Co. has taken a major step toward turning its salespeople into business managers.
With the unification of the company's soup business and what was formerly known as its Meal Enhancement Group, the company has created a new go-to-market system for its heat-processed products, said Daniel O'Neill, president of U.S. soup for the company here.
"In conversations with our customers, they made it very clear to us that there is a need for what they would say is one voice," he said in an interview with Brand Marketing.
Establishing common business policies across Campbell's soups, Prego pasta sauces and Pace Mexican foods lines will provide synergies and help the company better meet those customer expectations, said O'Neill, whose appointment to his present post took effect March 1. It also will simplify annual planning, joint promotions and continuous replenishment programs with retailers.
At the same time, he said, Campbell's salespeople are forging closer working relationships with the company's marketing people and taking broader responsibility for brand equity, not just sales volume.
"We are turning our salespeople from shelf builders to brand builders," he said, adding that under their new role, Campbell's salespeople were expected to act as
general managers of their own businesses.
O'Neill said Campbell's recent transformation is the result of a communications process that began a year ago.
"We met with 35 to 45 priority customers in the last 12 months. A lot of this thinking came from those conversations. Also, we shared information about deliverables -- we asked them how their buyers were being evaluated," he said.
"In conversations with our customers, they made it very clear to us that there is a need for what they would say is one voice." He described the prior system in which one person was selling soups, one Prego and another Pace. Each brought with him a separate set of promotions, policies and procedures.
"We really wanted to evaluate how to bundle the offerings to our customers to result in better consumer value. That does not necessarily mean price point -- it could be on fresher, better quality product, the right mix or added resources."
He added, "There are great synergies possible between our numerous powerful brands, but we weren't taking advantage of these with our customers."
O'Neill described as an example the soup division's March-April promotional program, called Souper Toppers. "Now we can include several other items apart from soups and expand it to include some of our meal items, like Pace, for example."
Under the new combined organization, the concept of one voice to the customer is also mirrored internally, O'Neill added. The role of Campbell's salespeople has changed from one in which it used to focus on executing promotional programs that were laid out by the marketing department.
One of Campbell's goals was to make the sales company into a valued business partner with the marketing group. This requires significant improvement in fact-based analysis. O'Neill said the company has hired more than 50 category management people and spent heavily to train its field people to make use of category management results.
He added that the sales organization is now being evaluated on Information Resources Inc. consumption trend data, not just sales volume. "They are very aware of the profitability of their promotions and activities," he said.
At the same time the company has reduced the number of retail store calls. One year ago the combined sales forces made calls on 19,000 stores, he said. "We have taken that down by half."
But in-store coverage remains a management-level responsibility for Campbell's salespeople. "We wanted our people focused on higher value work," O'Neill said.
The solution is to do more outsourcing of store tasks, using more economical third-party merchandising services. "We still maintain the same quality standards," he said. Cost savings from this change are being reinvested into brand-building activities, including sales training, he said.
Increased training was strongly requested by the Campbell's sales force, and the company chose to make a 30% to 35% increase in its annual training budget, he said. O'Neill said one of the best choices Campbell made in the reorganization process was to ask the people in the organization to participate in it and define it. "Our customers and our 40 top executives also worked together. That is why I can be confident about selling organizational participation."