From Sales Directors to Category Managers and National Account Managers, the pressure is on to get up to speed, fast. So what differentiates the high flyers from the rest; those individuals with a troubleshooting reputation able to turn around failing departments or categories within months? Traditionally they might have been blessed with excellent gut feel; today, more likely than not, they have invested in a role specific analytics project.
Within days, these individuals have gained not only in depth understanding of the new area and a list of key priorities but also a compelling story to share with the team and build a strong relationship. They have new strategies that may buck trends in behaviour but are, critically, backed up by clear evidence.
And they have the ability to test and measure these new strategies to demonstrate performance and gain the commitment and respect of the new team. In reality, the secret to a flying start is less compelling personality; more compelling, evidence-based reasoning.
The first few months in a new job can be the most productive. It is a time when a new manager has the drive and commitment to throw off past behaviour and embrace innovation. But any new individual has to be confident in ability and market knowledge; he wants to make an impact, but must also take into account existing – and long term – behaviour.
For any individual involved in retail sales, brand or category management, how easy is it to understand the trends and behaviours in the new area? To understand category performance, the influence of merchandising or promotions, and a different competitive landscape?
And, critically, how much faith can a senior manager place in the new team? Not only does he need to understand how accurate the assumptions are upon which marketing decisions are made, but he also needs to ascertain whether activity is based on evidence or a simple repetition of approach year after year.
Given competitive pressure, no businesses can afford a significant hiatus in activity whilst a new manager gets up to speed. Nor, however, can any new manager risk introducing change without understanding recent history or the potential impact of these changes on revenue or market share. Yet the difficulties associated with attaining that understanding cannot be underestimated.
One of the biggest shocks is often coming to terms with the very different sources of information available – not least the depth, quality and timeliness of information provided by each retailer. Yet the speed with which individuals can gain an understanding of the new area can have a huge influence on the way new opportunities are grasped and challenges recognised.
Managers simply cannot afford to wait. Taking an immediate, proactive approach to evidence gathering can transform the first 100 days. Rather than gently feeling their way into the job or relying on gut feel, managers need to gain access to the facts. They need to find a way to gain real, empirical insight into the new business area. They need a way of delving through a great deal of market data to understand the history and identify opportunities.
This is not a long drawn out, company wide analytics project. This is a role specific data gathering exercise that can be concluded in days. So what is required to deliver this insight? It demands the ability to collect and analyse multiple data sets, both internal and external, including the inevitable spreadsheets that reflect the specific performance trends of a department, brand or category.
It is also an interactive process that demands the ability to ask questions and drill down into the data to reveal and understand previously hidden trends in activity. And it is a visual process: without the ability to visually display and explain the findings – using graphs and charts – managers will find it hard to share this new insight with the team and gain buy in to new strategies.
Indeed, one of the most valuable outcomes of this activity is the ability to highlight the myths that always arise within organisations. For example, one retailer’s use of analytics to explore a broad range of business norms and their impact on performance over the previous two years revealed that the decision to implement the Halloween range at different times in Scotland and England, due to alleged offsets in half-term holidays, was resulting in lost sales in Scotland.
In fact, the half term offset had occurred just once – and while phased strategy had worked brilliantly that first year, it failed subsequently. The original decision makers had moved on; and the new team had no idea why the phased policy was in place. Failure to analyse and understand the situation had led to a myth being perpetuated – with some vigour. Without the evidence based reasoning, however, the new Director would have struggled to identify and understand the performance differences.
Similar reluctance to change was faced by a new Buying Director with a brief to reduce range complexity. The use of visual analytics revealed that upwards of 20% of stock was not selling and had been accumulating for months, even years. The creation of a product-by-product assessment tool which grouped ‘problem’ products by supplier enabled the business to negotiate returns and implement a fire sale of problem stock – reducing stockholding by several million pounds.
In this challenging retail environment, there is little time for a senior manager to get up to speed. Three months at best; one month in the toughest, most poorly performing areas. Managers are under pressure to apply the experiences of the last job to the new one – but the risk of making generic assumptions is simply too high.
Exploiting visual analytics enables these individuals to become effective within days. In depth understanding of trends in sales, pricing strategies, the influence of marketing campaigns and impact of seasonal activities enables the rapid creation of top priority activity. Managers can implement new ideas, use analytics to measure and monitor progress and, critically, exploit visual insight to demonstrate the new approach to a potentially wary team. Armed with the right evidence-based insight, a senior manager can get off to a flying star – and bring the team along for the ride.