CHICAGO -- With more than five years of experience with customer business teams under its belt, Helene Curtis USA here has found the system to be incompatible with old-style "lone wolf" sales representatives.
Today, team leaders at Helene Curtis are nearly as likely to have a background in finance as in sales, said Robert Shipley, vice president of customer business.
"The lone wolf is dying," Shipley said here at a conference on Effective Customer Business Teams sponsored by the Strategic Research Institute, New York.
He predicted that brand marketers' customer business teams will become more numerous, that they will be staffed more often by full-time, dedicated personnel, and that they will function so that customer needs will be known across the entire organization.
Although Helene Curtis began studying and implementing customer business teams in 1989, the activity has evolved continually since that time, Shipley said. This year the company has eight cross-functional customer teams, with a total of 64 people actively involved.
"About 65% of our total business is affected by teams today," he said, without elaborating further. Helene Curtis, which markets Suave hair care and other personal care products, does $1.5 billion in annual sales worldwide.
Shipley said his company has enjoyed multiple benefits from its use of teams over the past several years. Among the "hard" benefits he enumerated were:
· Better mix vs. high-margin brands. "In every case we have a higher percentage of high-margin business vs. low-margin business. Suave is an easy sell; Vibrance [a higher-priced Helene Curtis product line] is tougher."
· Lower cost of transactions. "One idea that lowered costs for every one of our customers. At Wal-Mart we realized $800,000 in logistics savings -- they did ask for half of it. Also, shifting to full pallets in aerosols saves handling costs."
· Better unit fill at all customers. "This is hard to explain but I would attribute it to better information and intelligence and more stock."
Shipley cited the following among the softer benefits Helene Curtis has accrued from its team approach: "We were named vendor of the year by three of our team accounts. We have more customer understanding throughout the company. We have more customer champions -- at least 64 more. We have improved understanding of profits by salespeople and team members who understand cost drivers. The customer feels good about teams and customer plans are being implemented."
He added, "There is more trust between our sales and internal folks and between headquarters and the customers."