In December 2021, Harvard Business Review published a book by John E. Katsos and Jason Miklian – Preparing for the Era of Uncertainty. This book posits that we are currently living in the era of uncertainty and gives organisational leaders the frameworks and tools, that are used by organisations and businesses in conflict zones, to survive and even thrive.

The book focusses on the culture that needs to be embedded in the organisation and the leaders of the organisation and includes interviews with seasoned leaders, charitable organisations that operate in conflict ridden parts of the world and draws learnings from communities that share purpose.

This book couldn’t have been more timely as we went from living through Covid and into war. For any business leader interested in learning more about the leading through uncertainty, I highly recommend the book, Preparing for the Era of Uncertainty

In this blog, we look at how sales teams and leaders can survive and even thrive during this time.

The reason HBR and the book consider this the era of uncertainty is due to all the various forces impacting our day to day lives. Even prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, we were living through rapid, unrelenting change – from unpredictable weather upending our expectations of living through normal seasonality to unexpected political and economic outcomes and everything in between. We had 2020, which necessitated an entirely new way of living and working. And now we have rising inflation and the conflict in Ukraine.

This has not just disrupted the way we live, but also the way we work. This disruption is most felt in the fast moving consumer goods(FMCG) sector (aka consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector) where any changes to the way we live and work impacted sales in the sector.

The disruption is most felt in sales and in marketing/innovation at these companies. This is because of two reasons:

  1. The first, as you may have guessed, is that these products are meant for consumers and any factor influencing our decisions impact sales and how we perceive the brands. Given the prevalence of ‘Cancel culture’/’Call-out culture’ companies and brands need to be hyper-aware of public perception of their brands.
    A recent example is how consumers took to social media with #boycottPepsi, #boycottCocaCola & #boycottMcDonalds, which were all trending last weekend.
  2. The second is that fast moving consumer goods companies are at least one step removed from consumers as most companies/brands are not direct to consumer. They sell into ‘aggregators’ like supermarkets, convenience stores, wholesalers and distributors, and the product is available to consumers through supermarkets, convenience stores and other grocery stores. So companies are not as in-sync with the end consumer as they need to be. This results in major jolts to sales and marketing when unexpected external factors influence consumer behaviour.

While these constant changes may be viewed as a threat, they can also be viewed as opportunities by sales leaders and teams as all companies in the sector are facing the same challenges. This then becomes more about transforming risks into opportunities.

So how can companies do that?

Data can tell a story. While so far, companies have been using data to provide analyses of historical performance, times dictate that companies start using data for predictive purposes.

The wealth of data that FMCG companies and retailers have to hand can be processed through the lens of the consumer to understand how they would behave given different circumstances. Channel, brand and change management decisions can then be taken in accordance with these results.

What are consumers likely to buy in the near term? How much are they likely to buy?

Both these questions can be addressed by data. However, companies need to transition from manually processing and interpreting their data to using AI driven platforms and models to process the data and interpret these results so they are not constantly chasing numbers, but are ‘on top of it’.

Companies can also use this time to trial new ideas and concepts for launch.

Times like these always bring with them opportunities. Looking back at history, revolutionary ideas were adopted & owned by consumers, primarily during periods of crisis. FMCG companies and supermarkets should use this time to trial product ideas and concepts that have, so far, been viewed as a risk by management.

Sustainability and cutting out (plastic) packaging

This has never been more critical. 2020 & 2021 have been the two worst years for climate change to date, despite fewer people commuting to work. Consumers are now paying attention to brands that are putting sustainability first. There has been a noticeable increase in demand for brands that have been doing this through the pandemic. Trialling these concepts during these uncertain times can help set you apart from other brands for consumers and help drive sales during these difficult times.

Pay attention to your consumers

While this is not a new concept (both CPG & FMCG have the word consumer front or centre!), both brand owners and retailers need to pay more attention to social media channels to track and respond to consumer sentiment about their brands. This can help with not just retaining, but also growing market share during times like these as you would be better placed to respond to or anticipate consumer needs and wants.

These days consumers do not shy away from expressing their opinions on social media. However, companies currently are not leveraging this information enough. They use this information primarily for new products/innovations and marketing activities. However a case can be made for using this information to understand consumer demand, sales volumes to be precise.

If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail or gain more information on how data can be leveraged during this time, feel free to email me on veena@salesbeat.co

Published by Veena Giridhar Gopal

After more than 20 years working in the FMCG/retail sector, Veena is now co-founder & CEO of salesBeat. salesBeat has an AI driven platform that uses micro and macro factors to model consumer buying behaviour and makes predictive recommendations of optimal stock levels to FMCG sales people who sell into supermarkets, distributors & wholesalers, ensuring 100% availability of your brands in store and increasing revenues by up to 30%.

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