FMI – Field Management Ireland – is expanding, launching a new contact centre in order to drive a new supplier support module for symbol-group retailers. As Charley Stoney, the company’s managing director, explains, it’s all about ‘bringing back the love’.
With a client list that includes the likes of Kraft Foods, Glanbia, Musgrave, Tesco Bank and Boots, FMI – Field Management Ireland – is already renowned for field-marketing and sales in the grocery industry. This year, the company announced an expansion to its Dundrum headquarters, unveiling a contact centre that will facilitate the roll-out of a new support service for symbol-group retailers, which will focus on enhancing existing sales-rep services by suppliers.
“It’s a telesales operation that can deliver a cost-effective enhancement to businesses’ own or outsourced field-sales operations,” Charley Stoney, managing director of FMI, explains. “It’s a reflection of the current state of the market. A lot of companies cannot justify sending sales reps into every store every week, so spend on physical fieldwork is way down. We can offer suppliers a cost-effective way of maintaining the service.”
Bring Back The Love
As Stoney explained at the Checkout Conference earlier this month, while the level of support from symbol-group head offices has remained sturdy in recent years, the lack of field reps on the road, particularly where certain product categories are concerned, means that there is a disconnect between what a symbol group can offer in terms of category management advice, and support from brands themselves, in terms of promotions and new product marketing. FMI will seek to reinforce that connection, and ‘bring back the love’, to borrow the headline of Stoney’s conference presentation. “We’re asking clients, ‘Has your relationship with a certain retailer broken up?’” says Stoney, “or ‘When was the last time you gave a retailer all the attention they deserve?’”
A survey carried out by FMI in association with Checkout last month found that there is a hunger among retailers for additional telesales support from suppliers, with 74% of the 150 retailers surveyed saying that they were open to receiving additional telesales support. “People can be sceptical about telesales because they feel it’s one step removed from the customer, but that’s not actually the case. It’s all dependant on the level of information you have about your customer. The one thing that we have already is a fantastic database, coupled with photographic images of the stores we are dealing with. When we call a particular store, our agent will know where the fridge is located, for example, or the till layout.”
Stoney is adamant that this service is not intended to replace the role of the traditional field-sales rep, rather she sees it as reinforcing the service already in place. “I think there’s nothing that can beat face-to-face interaction, I really don’t,” she explains, “but you need tools like this to enhance or reinforce what systems are already in place. Unless you are talking to a store owner or manager every week about a specific brand, it could get forgotten about, and a store could miss out on a key promotion or new product. Consistency is all-important, and we can help deliver that. Our service will certainly help with new product development, for example, because you can educate every customer. You can potentially talk to 4,000 owner-managers in a week.”
FMI has been planning for this launch for approximately two years, yet Stoney now feels that the time is right to unveil the service, given the business mindset at present. “I don’t know whether this would have been as widely accepted two years ago, as it is now,” she says. “Suppliers and retailers have optimised their resources in the past couple of years. They know how many reps are in the field for particular brands at any one time. And given the current state of the market, that level of business isn’t going to grow exponentially, but it’s not likely to fall that much either. It has settled at a certain level, and businesses are now eager to examine ways that additional cost-effective supports can be built in.”
Stoney feels that there is an opportunity to take on as many as 24 new staff members to man the contact centre, although given the period of time it has taken to implement the service, there’s no point in rushing things. At present, FMI is working with clients on a trial basis, with a view to developing case studies and benchmarks that will apply across the wider FMCG sector. “What we want to do is take each of those campaigns, do it really well, do it carefully and then take those learnings and build on them. Everything we’ve done so far has involved starting small and carefully growing to scale so that when we do, we know exactly what we’re doing. We’ve spent so many years building up our relationships with our clients that we want to be sure the service can deliver what it says.”
In addition, the service can also prove advantageous for symbol-group operators, in terms of enabling them to specialise more on added-value retail concepts, rather than having to focus as extensively on supplier dealings. “Symbol groups are doing a great job. They are focusing more and more on category planning and shopper marketing, and at a grassroots level, they’re performing strongly. But the market has got so much more competitive, and budgets are way down. There was a feeling at the end of last year, that many businesses were saying, ‘OK, we got there. We made it, by the skin of our teeth.’
“I think there’s a danger when you’re steadying to look at what happened last year, see that it worked OK, and decide, ‘Let’s do it again,’ but what you really need to be doing is continuing to innovate and change with the market. This is what we’re talking about with this new venture. We’re not reinventing the wheel – we’re being innovative within the constraints of the market, which is what innovation is nowadays. It’s all about nuances.”
This article appeared in the February 2013 edition of Checkout.