Interview Transcript

Back to the biggest challenge with companies like Coca Cola, where you need to have that beverage at arm’s length everywhere globally — what is the biggest challenge you faced in sales and distribution at Coca Cola?

The time I was at Coca Cola, that strategy was becoming a reality. It was the vision, but it wasn’t in place. Historically, Coca Cola grew primarily through doing amazing above-the-line marketing, so TV backed up with billboards and magazines, and then just having good distribution, being available. The thought of doing marketing in the outlet was not a big deal. I was at Coca Cola from 2002 to 2006, and for some parts of the world, we were saying, “Why does our product just get shoved on a shelf? Why is it not looking amazing, delicious, etc.?”

I guess the big thing for me was changing that whole mindset of the sales guy as an order taker to an in-store marketer. When a sales guy walks into a fast-food restaurant, they don’t just say, “How many Cokes do you want, Mr Customer?” They’d look at the outlet and say, “Okay, I think the best way to sell the most products in here is to have combo meals advertised,” or maybe an open-fronted cooler right by the checkout so people grab themselves a drink when they’re going to pay. Maybe it would be some merchandise on the tables as people walk in so the brand comes top-of-mind.

Every outlet will be different but turning an order taker into a marketer is a pretty tall order. That took intense training of salespeople to become in-store marketers. It took a whole load of new equipment they’d never had before. They needed to understand things like menu boards, in-store equipment, coolers. They needed a whole new language. We had a phrase we used: “You’re not selling drinks, you’re selling profit.” Coca Cola, in many ways, is a B2B company. You need to say to an outlet, “Okay, how many customers come in per week?” A thousand people. “If I did some marketing outside, given the footfall around here, maybe that could be 1200 people.”

Or maybe with the thousand people that come in, “What percentage buy a drink?” 20%. “I think we can make that 40%. If we put a cooler here, a menu board there, and did X, Y, and Z, you could double the number of drinks you sell per week. You make a dollar per drink you sell, that’s an extra X dollars per week. Is that interesting to you?” If sold well, the answer’s yes, but that’s a massive transformation, turning an order taker into an in-store marketer who can understand the consumers, the footfall, the potential, work out what the proposition should be, sell it, and make it happen, and do that systematically. I used to run sales and marketing in Poland. We had 125,000 outlets. I went from there to India, where we sold Coke in a million outlets. How do you turn every single one of them into a brilliantly marketed store?

Having experience and understanding of marketing also helps in those sales roles?

Absolutely. For example, with our marketers, we said they all had to do a stint in sales before they went into marketing so they understood the life of the salesperson. They talked to customers everywhere, they’d been in all the different outlets and had to think about it. Even if they had fancy-pants degrees and said, “All I want to do is marketing,” we’d say, “You start in sales.”

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