Latest news and thinking from the engage team

by Mike Anthony on 6th February 2018

There seems to be a common desire among leaders to make their trade marketing team more strategic. I hear the question again and again, so in this blog I’m going to attempt to answer the question – how do you make your trade marketing team more strategic? Much of this advice could (and should) be […]

15 actions to make your trade marketing team more strategic

There seems to be a common desire among leaders to make their trade marketing team more strategic. I hear the question again and again, so in this blog I’m going to attempt to answer the question – how do you make your trade marketing team more strategic? Much of this advice could (and should) be applied to pretty much any team, but I’m going to focus on the context of a trade marketing team. The list could go on forever, but I’ve tried to focus on the things that typically have the biggest impact, or too often get forgotten. If you think I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments section.

What do we mean by strategic trade marketing?

The first step to creating a more strategic trade marketing team is to be clear on what is meant by strategic trade marketing. It’s a catchy phrase, but what actually does it mean? As a leader, its key for you to understand this: check out our definition of strategic trade marketing to get you started!

Fit with the rest of the company’s strategic process

The trade marketing team is part of (what should be) a finely honed machine designed to deliver profitable growth for the company. The trade marketing team’s strategic activity must fit with the strategies and plans of the consumer marketing team, and of the sales team. At engage, we work within the Total Marketing Framework which is designed to deliver marketing strategies which integrate and support the company’s goals by winning with consumers, shoppers, and with retailers.

Set meaningful goals for your trade marketing team

With clarity about what the company is trying to do, the most important next step is to set clear and powerful goals. Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-bound). And one last thing, make sure you only have a few goals. Two or three strategic goals is probably enough. If you have a dozen, then they are probably not very good, or, even if they are good – they aren’t going to get done.

Prioritize ruthlessly

Strategy is all about priorities – about deciding what to focus on. In my experience, executives find prioritizing certain things relatively easy. It is de-prioritizing things that they find hard! Of course, if nothing is de-prioritized, then nothing is really prioritized either! Deciding that there are some shoppers, channels, activities or retailers that will not focus on, is key to enabling your trade marketing team to focus time and resources on what is important.

Challenge anything that doesn’t seem to be designed to meet those goals

There will be mission creep. There will also be short term needs that don’t fit with your strategic goals. By challenging anything that is ‘off strategy’ however, we open up the opportunity to identify alternative courses of action that might be ‘on strategy’ (or less off-strategy than the original plan!) If a retailer wants support of a particular type, perhaps we can propose a different mechanic, or utilize a different product or brand?  And recognize that yes, sometimes, there is a need to do short-term tactical stuff – either to support a trade partner or to meet our own short-term goals. It happens. But it is best that we notice when it happens, and then work hard to reduce the number of times it happens.

Create a list of what you and your trade marketing team will stop doing, or will do less

When we run workshops to support trade marketing teams in transforming their role, everyone gets excited about all the new things they are going to do. But at some point in the workshop reality sets in – how will we find time to do all this new, exciting stuff if we are still bogged down with all the other tasks. Assuming you don’t have a whole bundle of extra headcount, that means your trade marketing team will need to stop doing some things, do less of some things, and take different approaches to others. Understand this, and sell this across the business. I can’t stress this enough – missing this step kills more team transformations than anything else. Today’s tasks are always more urgent, and our people are trained by habit to focus on urgent rather than important. If we want to get our trade marketing team to focus on more important tasks, we need to resolve what they will do about the ‘urgent’ tasks that are already filling up their days.

Recognize that your trade marketing team will still need to be tactical

At the same time recognize that you can’t just stop doing all of the stuff you did before that you now deem tactical and off-strategy. You can’t necessarily tell the retailers that you don’t want to do their big anniversary promotion, for example. Remember, you don’t need to fix everything overnight. In all probability your team has been tactical for years, and the business is still there. Treat this like a journey – becoming more strategic each year, scoring small wins, then bigger wins, as the business grows to see the benefits of a new approach.


Strategies don’t live in presentations. They live in the actions of people. Communicating continually within your trade marketing team is critical. Without this, your new nirvana of strategic trade marketing will be short lived. Just as important is communication across the business. Your trade marketing team will behave differently. They will have new demands of other teams, and without clarity of what this means and why it is beneficial, your trade marketing team could be in for a number of bruising encounters. Sell the vision, sell the benefits, and make sure you get support from your boss to help you through the pain of transition.

Build capability

Whenever you ask someone to do something new, there is a chance that they will need support in being able to do this. There are loads of resources to support this (including Shopper Marketing Experts, where many of the resources are free). Whatever your approach to building capability in your trade marketing team, please make sure you clearly assess your team against their new requirements. And if you’d like a low-cost competency assessment – please let us know, we’d be glad to help.

Focus (targeting and segmentation)

In our definition of strategic trade marketing, we called for trade marketing teams to be shopper-led. The principles of focus apply to this too. We cannot win with all shoppers, nor do we need to. Unless our goal is 100% market share, then we can let some shoppers go. What is important is to be able to clarify who are the target shoppers – those that are key to driving longer term brand growth – and to focus on these.

Think Return on Investment

OK – this one might be unpopular, but I’d hate myself if I didn’t reference profit at some point. A strategic trade marketing team does not have the luxury of forgetting about profit – far from it. The purpose of the team must be to drive profitable growth, so without a clear understanding of the profit impact of activity, how can we be sure that we are on track.

In addition, demonstrating an improvement in RoI is the best way, in my experience, to convince your bosses to give you more resources for team, research and activity.

Think shopper – always

Become a little obsessive about shopper, and encourage your trade marketing team to do the same. Remonstrate each time they (or anyone else) uses consumer instead of shopper. Each time you see a proposal for an activity ask three questions:

 – Which shoppers is it targeting?

 – How will their behavior change in the short and long-term as a result?

 – How does this fit with our strategic objectives.

 – What is the Return on Investment

Think retailer

You’d think that this would go without saying, but just in case, most trade marketing activity won’t get off the ground unless the retailer buys in. This is not the same as ‘rolling over’ and giving in to the retailer’s every demand, but it does mean that we need to consider carefully the implications of our strategies on retailers, and position them effectively to maximize the chance of success. 

Give people (including yourself) time to think

Doing anything new takes a bit of getting used to, and ‘being strategic’ takes time. But there is an important part of being strategic, and that is thinking. Thinking is unfortunately from a business point of view, rather unfashionable and frowned upon: too many bosses mix up activity and achievement. So if you want your team to be more strategic, give them time to think. Make sure you are overtly seen taking time out to think. Mandate thinking time in everyone’s calendar, if that is what it takes!

Get out of your world

The day to day activity of most people involved in a business gives a very narrow view of the world. The situation for trade marketing teams is little different. A big part of being strategic is seeing the world from a different point of view, and actively considering what that might mean for you and your business. You should encourage the members of your trade marketing team to read more (share this blog and encourage them to subscribe would be a good start!) and to actively seek out other perspectives. Meet people from other companies, talk to people in other functions (and not just about the latest business issue), and get out to stores to see what is actually going on.

The list could go on – and I’ve deliberately avoided the whole topic about recruitment – which will be addressed in an upcoming blog.

If you are inspired to take your trade marketing team to the next level, or need help building the capability of your team to do this, please get in touch for a commitment-free chat. I’m sure we can help!

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