Wholesalers should have one mission – a driving thirst for change, says Nick Shanagher

There is a fascinating contrast at the heart of Michael Hayman and Nick Giles’ book, Mission: How The Best In Business Break Through, between Stephen Fitzpatrick of Ovo Energy on the subject of breaking through and Sir Terry Leahy on his Tesco years and enlisting followers.

“If you want to stand out, you need to stand for something. To thirst for change. To campaign for attention and support,” they say.

The whole purpose of Mission is to share with business people what the authors believe is needed for success today. The ability to explain your proposition is paramount. Your narrative matters. And the best story wins.

Is this a change happening in the world of wholesale? And what can be learned from the contrast between Fitzpatrick and Leahy.

Leahy tells the authors Tesco moved ahead of its competitors by making it abundantly clear they were putting customers first. In the early 1990s, Britain did not have a good reputation for giving great service and even in this environment, supermarkets were laggards.

“What I did was to apply marketing theory, building the whole business back from customers,” he says. Leahy claims it was by listening to customers and staff that Tesco built success. “We got the Tesco values just by talking to the staff. It’s terribly important that the staff believe in the basic proposition… You can’t make them contribute… Ideally you get a voluntary contribution because they believe in it.”

Hayman and Giles point out that Tesco’s problems today stem from losing its best value position. As the public perception moved from ‘every little helps’ to ‘every Lidl helps’, Tesco “lost the conviction that made [it] a success in the first place”.

Ovo Energy set out to challenge the big six. Fitzpatrick says: “The focus was born out of a frustration. Everybody else was doing it so badly, there was more of a challenge: surely it can’t be this difficult to sell energy? There must be a better way to do this.”

Rather than using their consumer knowledge and know-how to help customers save money, the focus of the big six was on keeping their customers paying as much as possible for as long as possible.

At a public hearing, Fitzpatrick told MPs that he could not see how the big six could justify putting their prices up. Press coverage of this won it 20,000 customers in weeks. A Valentine’s Day promotion then won a further 75,000 in five weeks.

How the best in business break through“Mean what you say,” Fitzpatrick tells the authors. Consumers have so much information that it is impossible to fool them. You really have to live up to your promises.

Hayman and Giles ask: “What does your business stand for? The longer it takes for you to answer that question, the less equipped you are for success.”

The second thing you need to do is to write down the answer. Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former communication chief, now advises large organisations on how to get their messages right. He asks the senior team to write on one side of a postcard the main objective of their organisation, on the other what the strategy to meet their objective is.

“Nine times out of 10, I gather in a stack of different objectives,” says Campbell. “Strategies which are tactics. Or strategies which are objectives.

What works?

The authors’ proposition is three tiered:

1. Have a mission, which is a driving desire to change things.

2. Be campaigning, which is turning this mission into a powerful reality.

3. Get momentum, which is the measure of success, moving and growing faster than the competition.

Many wholesalers have real purpose, yet could be better at communicating this. Mission will help them.

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As managing director of Newtrade Publishing Nick has over 20 years’ experience of covering retail markets, Nick helps shopkeepers and wholesalers of all sizes to think about what questions are important for themselves and their businesses, and to find answers that work in their shops.


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