How Brokers Can Lead the Way in AI Adoption

Positioned between brands and retailers, brokers can leverage AI and precise data to find a common truth — and pave the way for CPGs to adopt AI 

Brokers play a crucial role in the CPG and retailer community. They possess extensive knowledge of the market and categories across every store, including consumer preferences, trends, and pricing dynamics. Brokers effectively represent brands and lead as strategic partners in navigating the retail industry. Leveraging their expertise, brokers help retailers streamline their supply chains, expand their product offerings, and ultimately enhance customer satisfaction. Their ability to effectively bridge the gap between suppliers and retailers as a total solution makes brokers essential in optimizing retail operations and driving business growth.

By sitting between the CPG and the retailer, brokers hold a unique position, with an opportunity, or even a responsibility, to become leaders in how CPGs of all sizes adopt AI. The technology is currently in its infancy for effective adoption, with limited clarity on exactly how CPGs will allow AI to change ways of working. However, brokers can shape the ways this technology creates efficiencies, reduces the digital overload, and pioneers its broad application to the industry overall. In doing so, they differentiate themselves and fulfill their promises to their CPG partners in helping them gain a competitive edge in this dynamic retail landscape. 

Through business intelligence and predictive analytics, brokers can ascend to new heights among CPG partners. They can also strengthen their standing among retailer partners. Moreover, brokers can be a bridge between both, using high-powered AI to uncover common data truths and drive growth across the store.

Here are top ways brokers can lead the way in AI:

1. Present Accurate Demand Planning and Predictive Market Analytics

In 2023, retail sales are expected to grow more than 4%, generating nearly $5.23 trillion, according to the National Retail Federation. NRF also said more than 70% of those sales will be inside physical stores.

How close to reality will that forecast of 4% growth turn out to be? Brokers can provide a precise view of what’s happening in the market and what is likely to happen through AI-powered demand planning and market-level trend forecasts. These data and insights help inform forecasting from the highest level. Brokers can help predict future buying behavior across channels and subcategories. They can inform retailers of trends and shifts in the marketplace, and they can provide the most granular store-level view into inventory and click-and-collect service. All of these efforts, powered by AI, continuously learn, adapt, and create an enterprise environment enabling strategic decision-making, rather than an increased digital workload. Brokers can become a single source of truth in developing a precise view of enterprise market and demand planning.

2. Assist With Store Execution and Assortment

At a store-by-store level, across retail channels, brokers can leverage AI to customize insights for CPGs in any category. AI can be custom-tailored to each of the brands with which brokers work, to build the most impactful product mix and decision-enabled portfolio. 

Further, they have the unique perspective of working with brands at all points in their journey of scaling and growth. For larger brands, some brokers have a responsibility to effectively build a mature portfolio with multiple opportunities in the retail environment. In that role, they fill gaps where large CPGs lack visibility and provide solutions where larger CPGs cannot internally manage the need for additional capabilities. For emerging, growth, and niche brands, brokers have a different, more targeted set of responsibilities to deliver that those brands might not be able to generate themselves. 

All brands are looking to achieve category thought leadership and mutual growth with retailers they serve. AI application to assortment optimization, demand transference, and predictive analytics can help them achieve a greater share of the category and effective increases in visual inventory. Smaller brands aiming to get a stronger foothold in a category can tap into brokers and their ability to lead with AI-driven insights to bring retailers data-informed strategies on how they’ll grow a category overall.

3. Optimize Promotions and Trade

Even without a robust services suite, as sales partners to CPG brands, brokers, enabled by AI, can boost acumen in understanding elasticities of price, space, and market. AI modeling shows how the interconnected dynamics in availability, leakage, allocated category space, pricing and promotions impact sales and profitability. 

Brokers that embrace this technology will lead by using learning models to predict the most effective promotional outcomes, optimized for their partners’ established goals and the current macroeconomic environment. 

The technology allows for actionable insights on how to execute the best overall plan, and the best use of promotions, in the most impactful locations, and in the most deserving regions. The technology backs brokers with the unique and differentiating capability to plan efficiently as partners and lead with the optimization of portfolios, brands, and categories, in ways CPGs are currently not leveraging themselves. Brokers can align a pricing strategy that maximizes sales, revenue, and profits for their partners.

4. Become a Bridge to a Common Truth

Possibly the greatest strength a broker can leverage through AI is an ability to lead the data capabilities that solve problems and enable more efficiencies for CPG clients, in addition to relieving their own ‘digital debt’ that continues to grow for the industry overall.

Digital debt is costing us innovation. According to a recent Microsoft study, 64% of people struggle with finding time and energy to get their work done, and those workers are 3.5x more likely to say they struggle with innovation. 

Common truth, or insights driven by the integration of multiple sources of data, narrow the focus to that with the greatest impact on the outcome. And those that excel at — or adopt these integrated models to find the common truth — will be the bridge-builders and the leaders in the industry. This becomes a powerful position for brokers, solidifying them as intelligence-driven category advisors.

Brokers have a tremendous opportunity to enhance their offerings to CPGs through the adoption of AI. AI and machine learning solutions can enable brokers to analyze vast amounts of data, including market trends, consumer behavior, and competitor insights down to the store level. By harnessing these insights, brokers can further establish themselves as thought leaders and strategic advisors, providing CPGs with valuable market intelligence, helping them to be more agile, make more data-driven decisions, and outpace the competition.

For more on how Insite AI can help brokers become innovation leaders in the industry, contact us here.

CPGs & Joint Business Planning: A Retailer’s POV

A former executive at 7-Eleven and Giant Eagle, Brooke Hodierne, EVP – Strategy Consulting, discusses where CPGs can evolve joint business planning and take more control

Joint business planning (JBP) is mission critical for retailers and their consumer goods partners. It’s a months-long process that runs from the starting line, through various checkpoints and past the checkered flag. JBP is when retailers address goals, category strategies and marketing initiatives, and CPGs bring insights, innovation and investment in the pursuit of growth.

After going through various stages of the process to see where the parties’ strategies align, they then settle on product assortment, pricing, promotions, shelf space, marketing and e-commerce decisions. The process is deliberate, but generally powered by old data and slide presentations. It needs a boost.

In my view as a former retailer, CPGs can light that fire and revamp JBP through new data and near real-time data and insights. CPGs can leverage more accurate and intelligent predictive analytics to chart a better course at the beginning of JBP, maintain their efforts throughout the year, collaboratively work to “gap close” and, frankly, drive more of the conversation. 

This is the type of intelligence that will keep CPGs at the top of a retailer’s list. 

Where CPGs Can Level Up During JBP

No matter the technology or industry advancements, a part of JBP will always be like playing three-dimensional chess. Both retailers and CPGs hold back just enough information for competitive reasons while being as transparent as necessary to drive win-win and mutual benefit.

It’s understandably complicated, but within that chess match, there are ways CPGs can help improve the process overall. Here are tips to gain a better standing in JBP: 

Be Insight Rich

You’ve heard the saying, “data rich but insight poor,” and this can pertain to many CPGs. The companies might be swimming in data but often they either don’t have access to it, can’t digest and harmonize it, or can’t synthesize it quickly enough to make it actionable. This often occurs during JBP and it can be obvious to a retailer when a CPG purchases data for the sake of saying yes but doesn’t shape it to a specific retailer’s customers or goals.

Honor the Deadline

A retailer’s internal planning deadlines need to be taken seriously. For years, retailers granted extensions to certain brands while negotiations continued, but in a world where teams are under-resourced or in the middle of reorganization, CPGs going into a JBP thinking there will be an exception will miss the boat. If a deadline isn’t met, the decision will be made for you. The retailer, with or without you, will make a final decision on the brand plan, space, pricing and promotional strategy. It can even come down to a retailer not including a brand’s new item introduction. Instead, they’ll choose the competitor’s new item because they followed the process.

Fair Share Isn’t Always Fair

Every category is different — especially when it relates to  allotted shelf space in stores. For CPGs entering a JBP with a retailer, they need to know their place in the category and be prepared to not always earn their “fair share” of space. From the retailer’s view, there always will need to be extra space reserved to make room for private brand introductions and innovations that excite a category from smaller, emergent, challenger brands. A CPG can’t merely expect to receive their fair share, so plan ahead and prioritize the brands and products that will deliver the most growth and differentiation.

Keep Stakeholders in the Know

Perhaps the single biggest issue to disrupt a JBP is when Sales teams don’t bring key decision makers along for the journey. In large, matrixed organizations, it’s especially important to expand discussions early and often with members of finance, revenue growth management and marketing.

CPGs that can improve processes around these tips can come to a JBP with better expectations and an understanding of a retailer’s priorities and constraints. But there are also ways CPGs can win over a JBP meeting.  

Where CPGs Can Shine During JBP

Lest we forget, retailers also have a lot of room to improve in how they handle JBP meetings. But, with technology like AI, CPGs are in a grand position to rewrite the game. They can change the tone of meetings with precise, accurate, forward-looking data. They can earn more control over how their products are received by bringing rich insights that help grow an overall category. Here’s where CPGs can win in JBP:

Bring Clear-Eyed Data

Retailers look to CPGs for data and insights. CPG organizations can leverage AI to run “what if” scenarios in real time that foster forward-thinking, collaborative conversations with retail buyers. The data accounts for all the ways retailers can play on their chessboard, which helps them develop rich category plans with more clarity. Using technology to detail the why, and share the explainability factor goes a long way with a buyer, and helps them also explain their decisions to their leadership teams.

Invest Toward Category Growth

Rich data that can present a predictive view of the entire category — not just how your brands sit within it — ultimately will win over a retailer. Data that highlights an investment in overall category growth and that arms a CPG to be the smartest person in the room when it comes to their product and the total category can be a massive game changer.

Forget the Rear View

For years, JBP relied on CPGs coming to the table with insights based on historical data. Brands looked backward, referencing what happened a year ago to predict what will happen in the year ahead. It’s simply not accurate. Do you behave the exact same you did last year? I know I don’t so why would we believe a customer would? There is so much change in shopper behavior and macroeconomic trends that it can’t be relied upon. The windshield is bigger than the rear view for a reason. Let’s all start looking down the road. 

AI Can Power Your JBP

Just as AI and machine learning can revolutionize how CPGs perform annual business planning, CPGs can leverage the technology to vastly improve how they meet with retailers and master JBP. 

To learn more about how AI can create smarter scenarios for an in-depth view of business planning, click here.