BOSTON -- The grooming products and personal care divisions of Gillette Co. here will announce a plan to expand its commitment to customer business teams this week.
The addition of three account-specific teams beginning in the early months of this year is regarded by the company as an "evolutionary" step, said Irving Kempner, vice president of sales for Gillette Grooming Products. The new activities will build upon learning derived from the company's mass merchandiser account team, which was initiated in 1995, and its geographic business teams, which have been active since the early 1990s.
In an interview with Brand Marketing, Kempner and Don Mackenzie, leader of the mass merchandiser account team in 1995, discussed this latest tweak to Gillette's go-to-market system.
"We are in the midst of setting up more formal teams," said Kempner. "This is an evolutionary step, an outgrowth of our well-known pilot begun one year ago," he added, referring to the mass merchandiser team, which was created to address category needs at Wal-Mart Stores and other power retailers.
Gillette, which holds a strong leadership position in the shaving category, with more than a 60% share of the business nationally, also maintains one of the broadest and most extensive direct sales organizations in the consumer product business.
While it has not led the brand marketing industry in its headlong rush to create teams, the company "continually recognizes and responds to changes taking place
among its large and small retail accounts," said Mackenzie.
"We saw business complexities beginning to rise five to six years ago," he said, adding, "But that may be good for all of us. Issues like Efficient Consumer Response and category management cause us, retailer and manufacturer alike, to focus on the target consumer, on how we add value for them."
Kempner said the addition of a few account-specific teams would not involve a diversion of resources away from Gillette's regional team structure.
"We will line ourselves up a little better on a team basis against some of our major accounts, because they are as big as some of these geographical regions now. They are as complex in terms of how they are asking us to face up to them," Kempner said.
"We're going to give them the same levels of support as we have been giving our geographic customers."
Each Gillette geographic team includes business development people, trade marketing, logistics, space management and regional retail managers, each of whom manages between 40 and 60 company-employed retail people and a broker network for ad hoc help with resets. They also each have analytical capabilities, including Nielsen category management specialists added last year.
Said Kempner, "Now some of these major customers of ours are becoming as big as regions in terms of their value to the organization. We have customers who want to remind us that they shouldn't be looked at as one chain of 2,000 stores but as 10 chains of 200 stores."
Mackenzie said that Gillette started out providing these services to its geographic customers. "We put more resources in the last five years into our geographic offices than we had formally in place against our major customers, whom we service out of headquarters."
Prior to the creation of its mass merchandiser team last year, accounts formerly referred to as "national" at Gillette were serviced through Gillette headquarters in Boston, he said. In some instances that meant "dedicated resources" and services were organized functionally rather than focused on customers and their needs, he said.
Said Kempner, "Now we need to beef up resources to our major customers. They need to be treated with the same amount of resource allocation, in proportion to their size."
Both men stressed that Gillette is determined that the addition of new customer business teams should not cause a shift of resources away from smaller or geographically concentrated accounts.
Neither would it mean reductions in its own sales force, a step that other brand marketers have chosen in recent years.
"When accounts consolidate, good people can become available, and can be redeployed to other activities, or in other geographic areas on other accounts," Kempner said.
Gillette is unusual among brand marketers in that it maintains its own national merchandising force, which handles routine display maintenance. "We also have relationships with brokers, whom we use for assistance on resets, on an ad hoc basis," said Kempner.
With the new teams, Gillette is carefully approaching the issue of compensation for its sales force. True account profit and loss accountability, while "nearer at hand," is still several steps away, said Kempner.
He said the company was looking at an interim step. "Some kind of team incentive will probably align goals with customers. You need this level of commitment when you think you have a partnership."