How to Transform the CPG Sales Team

“The convergence of media, entertainment and commerce has blurred the lines between marketing and sales.”

That statement was made by Unilever earlier this month as the consumer packaged goods giant announced a small yet dramatic change in the title for one of its c-suite executives: Conny Braams, the former Chief Marketing and Digital Officer who this month became Chief Digital and Commercial Officer.


"We’re not dropping marketing. We’re adding sales,” Braams said of the change. "We can now build brands and convert sales at the same time, so why would [we] artificially split that?” she later told Adweek.


This shift in strategic mindset comes as no surprise to thought leaders at The Mars Agency, which has been helping its own clients respond to an unprecedented series of events triggered by the global COVID-19 crisis that have created numerous, ongoing challenges for the traditional CPG sales organization. Among the major challenges has been a blurring of the lines between the classic definitions of "sales" and "marketing."


Among these many challenges has been the dramatic acceleration of three marketplace trends that were already altering the classic retailer-supplier relationship but now demand immediate change to standard business practices:

  1. The growth in ecommerce as a popular CPG shopping channel.

  2. The emergence of retail media as a critical tool for shopper/consumer engagement.

  3. The increasing value of first-party shopper data as a growth catalyst.

To understand the current state of CPG sales organizations, their current practices, their most critical needs, and the efforts they’re undertaking to build a stronger retailer-supplier relationship in response to these changes, The Mars Agency recently conducted in-depth interviews with one dozen sales leaders.


Participants ranged from EVPs at top-10 CPG companies to sales executives at emerging startups, who were promised anonymity to ensure that the discussions would be as candid as possible. We also interviewed executives at four leading retailers to gain their perspective on the elements of a best-in-class partnership.


The resulting report, "Sales Team Transformation: A Blueprint for Change," presents 11 "Key Considerations" that CPG sales organizations should examine if they want to drive sustainable growth by establishing efficient, effective partnerships with retailers. They are:


1. Build New Skill Sets (Become Multilingual)

2. Take a Team Approach (and Pick a Point Guard)

3. Add Supply Chain to the Team

4. Put More Muscle into Analytics

5. Incorporate Ecommerce Right Now

6. Train If Possible; Restaff If Not (Then Train)

7. Stop Hoarding the Trade Funds

8. Reevaluate the Partner List

9. Stay Local, Act Global

10. Reconsider the Role of Brokers

11. Remember What Still Works (Innovation, Insights, Trust)


Participants in the project received a comprehensive, 30-page report that chronicles the discussions in detail and examines each of the recommendations at length. The report is intended to be an ongoing, “living” document of guidelines for the industry that will be updated on a regular basis.


CPG sales leaders who are interested in receiving a copy of the report by having a discussion with The Mars Agency that can be used to inform future updates should contact Peter Breen, VP-Content Development, at [email protected].