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.

How AI Will Revolutionize Annual Business Planning

Annual business planning is one of those constants, like taxes and change, that nearly every organization can count on each year. It is enormously important to consumer goods organizations, and is a complex and ongoing process throughout a fiscal year where brands continuously shift priorities and strategies to meet performance gaps and adjust to fluctuating business conditions.

And this is all still largely done on spreadsheets.

Planning tool evolution (or lack thereof) aside, CPG organizations typically inform their annual planning decisions with historical sales trends and year-over-year performance data to paint a predictive view of how the year ahead might play out.

It is a strategy built on looking backward to go forward. This model has been reliable; learning from history has always been a competency, rather than a liability, and the consumer goods industry has typically been one of stability and predictability. However, history also tells us what worked before is not always going to be what works going forward (just ask Blockbuster Video).

CPGs (as most of us do) often miss black swan events, those rare sea changes in the market, because they are repeating what was done before. In our current environment of ever-advancing artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, we can now more accurately look ahead, better preparing brands for what may seem unpredictable. Further, the benefit of AI is continuous learning and an ongoing, realistic view of the direction in which a brand’s portfolio is heading, providing predictive outcomes against which to work and to plan.

The application of AI to annual business planning is a tipping point in organizations’ operations, resourcing, and capabilities. With smarter, evolved predictive market analytics, CPGs can lead the market in making the annual business planning process more manageable, and more importantly, more accurate.

It All Begins With Reliable and Relevant Data

The last few years may have produced some of the most historically unreliable data on consumer behavior. The COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and record-high costs resulted in brands facing highly unpredictable situations. Across the board, supply, labor, health, and macroeconomic trends created one hurdle after another for the production and delivery of goods of any kind.

When it comes to annual business planning, brands working backward to look forward aren’t fully armed to make the best decisions about what part of history will repeat itself. AI-powered predictive analytics integrate multiple sources of data, stabilizing volatility and creating a continuous learning model, enabling it to constantly import new data, test, learn and readjust to only deliver the most relevant information.

Produce Actual Insights on Category Futures

AI capabilities, when applied to annual planning, shift mindsets on portfolio investments. With predictive analytics at its heart, the future performance of categories and product classes/packs informs the most appropriate growth targets and levels of investment, optimizing profitability and effort. Imagine the efficiencies that could be attained through knowing, before hindsight is available, which categories are shifting in maturity? The cycle of growth and decline in any category (and the creation of new categories), based on consumer behavior and sentiment, is the moving target within which brands bet on growth investments and performance, all of which begins with the annual business planning process.

  • Emerging / Growth categories. These categories are where new entrants, or even evolving established products, begin defining new niches within an existing category. At one time, ‘energy’ was not a category, but is now one of the largest categories in any cold vault, with most trend data pointing to continued growth ahead. Winning in newly defined space is both potentially a higher risk and a bigger reward. This is a category that will see many new competitors enter the category, but there is a big growth potential, and AI can help brands identify where to invest and take advantage of the white space in the market.

  • Mature categories. These more developed categories face limited incremental space availability and more competition within existing space. But small amounts of growth in these categories can be worth more dollars in totality, since household penetration is likely higher in a mature category. Here, AI can enable brands to appropriately optimize strategic goals and investments to maximize potential.

  • Declining categories. In these categories, space is often shifted to emerging categories as a result of sustained declines overall. Which is not to say that a category will eventually be eliminated, but sized appropriately, it could eventually evolve into a growth category with new entrants and evolution of offerings. AI can help brands optimize portfolios, but the technology can also help identify how to disrupt a declining category to bring back growth trends.

Shifting from Setting Targets to Closing Gaps

Annual business planning is just getting started once the targets are set. This continuous cycle on which nearly all business routines are anchored is one of measuring progress and performance against targets and plans, closing gaps, adjusting strategies and solving challenges that arise. AI can quickly help teams optimize strategies to focus on the best opportunities to shift resources and priorities to achieve plan goals. Further, if teams are using AI continuously in this process throughout the year and make it an ongoing part of reporting and performance measurement, trends could be better predictive and prescriptive analytics can used to take the most efficient and effective action possible.

AI Is Annual Business Planning

It’s important to note that AI doesn’t remove the human in the middle of the data. AI helps find the most impactful needles in the haystack for teams to consider and around which to develop strategies.

AI/ML never stops learning, so organizations and teams can be prepared for fluctuations and changes in near real-time, removing inefficiency in guesswork, creating options for action, and ultimately, enabling plan achievement. At its core, AI technology is annual business planning. Customized solutions are designed to look at where a brand / organization is sitting relative to the category and market, identify where the consumer / trends will go, harmonize data streams to inform financial deliverables, and then manage to and against those targets in aggregate through continuous learning.

Put the Spreadsheets Away

Establish leadership in the industry by shifting the paradigm on annual business planning. Free up resources currently mired in planning and re-planning to get back to the business of thought leadership. Take advantage of what innovative technologies offer and evolve dynamically beyond the complexity of a static spreadsheet. Enabling the future means finding better ways to work smarter: the thoughtful application of AI in your data environment is the best way to do that now.

To learn more about how AI can create efficiencies in resources and accuracy in both macro and micro-trend planning, click here.