CHICAGO -- At Tambrands, the adoption of customer business teams has been a multistep process that has evolved in stages over four years to match the changes taking place at retailers.
In their latest iteration this year, CBTs have empowered members from the company's sales, marketing, logistics, finance and manufacturing sectors. "They are getting more involved with customers, and our customers are changing the way they are organized," said Keith McAlpine, manager of supply chain operations for Tambrands, headquartered in White Plains, N.Y.
"Now that the category management model is more common, our teams need even more organizational resources. So we are again re-evaluating how to do teams."
McAlpine spoke here at a conference on "Effective Customer Business Teams," sponsored by the Strategic Research Institute, New York.
Tambrands is the world's leading tampon manufacturer, with a 60% market share across all markets where it competes, he said. Currently, in North America it works through brokers and third-party distribution centers. They in turn service 40,000 orders annually, he said. "Most are less-than-truckload quantities," he said, explaining a company focus on logistical and supply chain issues.
"Our first try was everything for everyone," he said. "It began when Kmart asked us to do vendor-managed inventory."
That initial effort was focused primarily on a key operational issue -- reducing out-of-stocks. McAlpine said levels were running at an unacceptable 80% to 85% in stock at the distribution center level and 60% to 70% at the shelf level. A continuous replenishment program, taking over management of inventory, created a 20% volume increase.
Tambrands' sales people led the program and controlled nearly all contacts with the customer. Upon later evaluation, he said, the company recognized that it had "insufficient resources to tailor to meet all our customer needs."
The company's second try at teams, he described as "something for everyone." The company offered the same programs for all its customers, such as CRP, shelf management and national promotional programs.
This moved control down one level in the organization to the director level in sales, logistics, information technology, marketing and finance, he said. "By now our sales organization was more ready to accept this help."
While these programs were designed to meet the needs of key retail partners, they didn't roll out easily, McAlpine said. "Our limited ability to tailor programs meant poor customer acceptance."
However, the company saw first hand how clearing technical and logistical issues prior to the sales call can improve the sales-buyer relationship. "Our sales organization realized that it didn't have to deal with those outstanding issues any more. Volume rose 10% with increased profitability."
For its third try, two years ago, Tambrands tried to focus programs on its key customers, which it divided into Gold, Silver and Bronze categories, rated on their ability to support partnership programs. "We worked with the Gold customers first," McAlpine said. "We set up a full range of logistics, marketing and sales programs. But we found we could only support about 20 customer teams."