Watch Out for “SALY”

By Bruce Montgomery, General Manager, Regional Operations      

Years ago, one of the finest sales professionals I ever worked with told me, “We all need to be alert and watch out for Sally at this time of year.” It was getting toward the point on the CPG calendar when line reviews, promo planning, and new item presentations were popping up on our schedules. Since I had no idea who Sally was, I asked, “Where does this person work?” His answer was, “everywhere.” Turns out Sally wasn’t a person, but an affliction: Same As Last Year (SALY). As we spoke further, the mist began to clear and I soon understood the lesson that was about to come my way.

We are all subject to the tyranny of SALY if we are not careful. Being human means we usually default to taking the quickest and easiest route versus one that involves more thinking and effort. At a typical promo planning meeting, a buyer will state that they have to “match last year’s performance plus a few percent.” If you aren’t prepared with a detailed alternative to present, the promo planning meeting has already been framed, which means a default to last year’s plan. Meanwhile, your senior management is most likely expecting you to beat last year’s plan as well.=

But what if last year’s plan wasn’t optimal? Or you don’t get that end cap this year? What if there isn’t any hot, new item? How will you offset the pipeline volume from the previous year when it isn’t accounted for in this year’s plan? What if you need to make a big change to respond to a new competitor or consumer trend? What if your buyer is not engaged and doesn’t want to slug through a new plan? What if you are lazy and don’t want to develop and present a new plan?

You should always be prepared to build the best plan possible, which is not simply accepting last year’s plan and then doing some “tweaking.” If you accept SALY, the “plus a few percent” mentioned previously will come right out of your margin. It will happen either via a demand for list price reductions or enhanced “commitment” to merchandising support. Both options are losers for your brand. SALY doesn’t care.

So, how do you approach a meeting with SALY? By being as prepared as possible with facts. If you’re ill-prepared for a meeting, or you’re simply expecting to replicate last year’s plan, you will lose. Any number of less-than-attractive reasons can rear their heads, such as:  A buyer leaves the desk and the new buyer has no affinity toward you or your portfolio. Your competitor has a hot, new product. Another competitor gets an injection of capital. Or most likely of all, someone is willing to outwork you.  

You need to show that you have come to the table having done your homework. Know what the optimal price points are, know the distribution you really need and why, and come prepared with a promotional plan that makes sense for your brand, the retailer and the consumer. Lifts aren’t about “sort of.” Specific lifts are projected with a definitive, supporting rationale. As a final point, make sure to demonstrate that you understand not only what is important to the account but also what the buyer is tasked with delivering to their management.  A little empathy can go a long way.

One more thing. Engaging in retailer planning meetings with very specific facts and a clear, logical proposed plan is not a guarantee that you will get what you want. But when you prepare, your odds of success increase, greatly. That preparation will separate you from the vendors who walk in ill-prepared, as well as those who bring the same plan everywhere they go, just changing out the retailer logo on their deck.

If you want to learn how you can ready yourself for key account planning sessions and walk away with a win for the company that puts their logo on your paycheck, contact us today.

SALY doesn’t work at CMG.