The Core Competency Of Customer Business Development

As the big-box retailers get bigger and bigger, they also grow more complex. Take companies such as Tesco or Carrefour. How can a vendor like P&G ever fully understand such a customer? These complex organizations have so many arms and legs that it becomes nearly impossible to get a full and firm grasp on their operations and needs.

To deal with such customer complexities, P&G organizes its sales representatives into customer business development teams. Rather than assigning reps to specific geographic regions or products, it assigns each CBD team to a P&G customer. For the company's biggest customer, Wal-Mart (which tallies a massive 20 percent of all P&G sales) the CBD team consists of some 350 employees. For a customer like a pound store, the CBD team might have only about 30 employees.

Regardless of the team's size, the strength of the CBD concept derives from the fact that each team, in and of itself, is a complete customer-service unit, containing at least one support specialist for every important business function. In addition to a general CBD manager and several sales account executives (each responsible for a specific category of P&G products), each CBD team includes a marketing strategy, operations, information systems, logistics, finance, and human resources specialist. This "multifunctional" structure enables each team to meet the multiple and vast needs of its customer, whether the needs revolve around those of a chief finance officer or an entire IT department.

A real strength of the CBD teams is that team members function as a collaborative whole, rather than as individuals performing their own tasks in isolation. Team members share information, organizational capabilities, and technologies. "I have all the resources I need right here," says Amy Fuschino, a Healthcare and Cosmetics account executive. "If I need to, I can go right down the hall and talk with someone in marketing about doing some kind of promotional deal. It's that simple."

But the multifunctional nature of the CBD team also means that collaboration extends far beyond internal interactions. Each time a CBD team member contacts the customer, he or she represents the entire team. For example, if during a customer call a CBD account executive receives a question about a promotional, logistical, or financial matter, the account executive acts as the liaison with the appropriate CBD specialist. So, although not each CBD member has specialized knowledge in every area, the CBD team as a unit does.

Competitors have attempted to implement some aspects of P&G's multifunctional approach. However, P&G pioneered the CBD structure. And it has built in some unique characteristics that have allowed it to leverage more power from its team structure than its rivals can.

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