A radical change in the sales model caused a >300% increase in customer acquisition for Unilever Food Solutions

Martin Müller

Content Lead

In a nutshell:

  • YoY growth in new customer acquisitions: >300%
  • Implementation time: <4 months
  • First year ROI: >230%
Now we have a precise picture of the total addressable market, segment potential and priorities. – Slavibor Petržílka, Unilever

The challenge: Radical transformation of a core sales model

Unilever Food Solutions is the largest global food producer and distributor of brands such as Hellmann's, Knorr, The Vegetarian Butcher, Lipton and others. The Food Solutions division targets on-trade customers (restaurants and other foodservice outlets) and its commercial team is 30+ people strong.

Our cooperation started with the General Manager of Unillever Food Solutions Slavibor Petržílka, who had a big challenge ahead of him. When he started in his role back in 2019, he soon realised that the existing sales operating model could not help the company achieve its ambitious growth targets. The company had to change from a model focused on:

  • Collecting orders
  • Restocking
  • Opportunistic customer hunting

To a new one where the sales reps:

  • Act as menu advisors
  • Suggest cooking practices
  • Help customers find new opportunities

Importantly, the sales reps also needed to become much more effective in targeting and acquiring new customers in order to boost customer base growth. And for that, they needed new, effective tools.

The starting point: How to target outlets with the highest potential

When Mr. Petržílka started, the sales team was performing very well in serving existing customers (“Farming”) but not in acquiring new customers (“Hunting”). As Mr. Petržílka puts it ”Hunting activities of the team were not systematic and often limited to simply visiting outlets nearby existing clients”. The team was relying on standard ways to map the on-trade market: manual data collection, references, tips from distributors and an occasional use of market research. What was missing was a consistent view of the whole market and individual outlets with to target.

"SharpGrid tools have become an essential part of our strategy directly supporting our key priority pillars for Unilever Food Solutions: Acquiring new customers and revenue growth." – Slavibor Petržílka, Unilever

Most common hunting scenario was a salesperson exploring new outlets in the vicinity of their existing customers. As a result, salespeople frequently visited outlets with limited potential and struggled to meet the relevant person when visiting directly from the street without prior planning. This approach didn't bring consistent results and wasted salespeople's precious time, typically requiring at least 2-3 meetings just to identify and meet the decision maker in person and progress further with the acquisition process.

The Solution: More effective acquisition process with SharpGrid

According to Mr. Petržílka, two main ingredients were missing in the sales reps' toolkit to make hunting successful:

  • To see the whole on-trade market and be able to “pre-filter” most relevant outlets to generate hit-list
  • In-depth preparation and knowing the prospective customer before making the reach out

Accordingly, SharpGrid provided Unilever sales team and management with the On-trade market map that included accurate data & insights about each individual on-trade outlet in the Czech market. Each salesperson was then able to accurately identify and qualify target outlets as part of his/her at-desk preparation.

Outlet Census is available for various devices.

To best target and qualify outlets for acquisition, salespeople used outlet indicators and insights to filter out most relevant and attractive places. The "favourite" filtering criteria turned out to be outlet type (e.g. restaurant or fast food), cuisine type, quality, growth and take away/delivery. Each salesperson was able to generate his/her lead list literally within minutes.

And when sales reps targeted the right outlet with relevant information at hand, the acquisition process became much more straightforward and efficient as they now had additional knowledge like:

  • Relevant decision maker
  • Connected outlets/chains
  • What offer appears to be most attractive
  • How to contact the outlet

As a result, they now needed only one meeting on average to initiate a sales conversation, down from 2-3 meetings previously.

"The key change that motivated people to do more hunting was seeing that the solution actually works. Before, the sales reps were discouraged by low success rates and slow results. With SharpGrid data in their hands their success rates started to go up and they became motivated to push more and close more deals."

As an important addition, field sales managers were able to set hunting targets for each salesperson based on the potential of his/her geography and target market. This ensured both more fairness and consistency in capture market opportunities. Each salesperson was equipped by their manager with a list of priority opportunities in his/her region to work through at his or her own pace.

Learn more: 2 major hidden costs of the on-trade channel you should know about. And how to stop them from eating away your profits

SharpGrid helps management make better planning and resource decisions

Unilever's management team also started using SharpGrid's outlet data & insights to assess market potential of new outlet segments (e.g. catering) or sub-segments (e.g. vegan / vegetarian restaurants), to identify geographic opportunities or to better allocate its commercial resources.

As Mr. Petrzilka adds: “Now - when we have an idea about what new channels we might approach - we simply go to the map and within minutes we get a precise picture of what is a total addressable market and total segment potential. Which is something we were not able to do before.”

Results that blew our minds

Despite the difficulties with COVID-19 induced lockdowns and limitations, the performance improvement after one year since implementation was a big success for the Unilever FS team.

Not only SharpGrid tools made it possible to remain active during the lockdowns when physical visits in the field were nearly impossible, but in the 3 months when restaurants were open, Unilever salespeople were able to more than triple the number of newly acquired customers compared to previous years. This resulted in project ROI in excess of 230%, blowing past most expectations.

The fact-based & data driven approach to planning and resource allocation has allowed the Unilever FS team to achieve much better results with the same team size & budget. It is also helping them figure out where to put priorities and how to sustain the past success for the future.

Slavibor Petržílka


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