Promo Calendar: Common Mistakes Account Managers Make #4

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How to Plan For Your Account Plan!

Written by Darren A. Smith for KamCity.

No.4: The Promo Calendar From Hell!

It’s That Time of Year – Promo Calendar?

Whilst most typical people – Buyers and NAM’s – are relaxing and sunning themselves on beaches around world. There is that strange pale skinned breed of people who are busy working away on the promo calendar deep in the sunless bowels of the big supermarkets on next year’s budgets. Yes, the bean counters!

Most of the big six supermarkets financial years start in the first three calendar months of each year. Therefore budget and business planning starts just before the summer break. And gets going in earnest with the heavy thud of the ‘top down’ corporate budget as a cheerful welcome back from holiday for Buyers, lots of love, courtesy of the Finance team!

Which means for the chillaxed, sun bronzed account manager returning from their long, lazy summer sojourn, September is the time to start in earnest strategic account planning for next year for their key supermarket accounts.

The planning window is not long, and this year will be severely impacted by the ongoing ‘B’ crisis. In average times mid-October half term is the benchmark date by which most supermarket Buyers will have had their category targets set for the following year. And will be thinking about and wanting to hear about plans for hitting those targets for next year. Once you get past mid to late October the Christmas season starts to take over their thoughts, efforts, time and energy. So the time to start to plan and subsequently present your account plans is pretty much from now (late August) onwards.

The ‘Crystal Meth’ of Retailing

The most important thing to latch onto when creating your strategic account plans is to not forget to take absolute account of the ‘Crystal Meth’ of retailing. The retail drug they are absolutely addicted to. Try as they might cannot kick what is a decades old habit.

Simply put they are like-for-like junkies. The whole of their supermarket world revolves around their ability to positively lap the last years peaks and troughs of sales. As many suppliers will all too painfully know this year has had the mother of all hangovers from last year’s record-lasting heatwave and the World Cup.

They will all budget to increase their like-for-like sales by at least enough to cover the increase in their expected costs and most importantly their biggest single cost – store staff wages. In the good old days new store openings gave them huge sales boosts. But they are now very much a trickle rather than the raging river of the nineties and noughties. Add to the like-for-like increase a hefty dose of cost savings and the inevitable margin task for the buying teams and viola you have one perfectly presented top down. Like-for-like driven category budget for your buyer to lose countless sleepless nights over in the coming 12 months.

Pile of medical drugs represents addiction
Take into account the ‘Crystal Meth’ of retailing


Plan to Beat the ‘Highs’ and Exploit the ‘Lows’ with the Promo Calendar

So, as an account manager be very aware of your buyers like-for-like up’s and downs across the year.  When did a promotion you took part in produce a huge spike in sales?  What events – Royal weddings, sports tournaments, heatwaves or conversely for some categories abnormal cold snaps drove your and their business?

Account manager drawing financial graph for highs
Take advantage of the highs and lows as an account manager


You can bet your next month’s salary that you will be expected to match and exceed those sales spikes in next year’s plan. Your Buyer will be hugely disappointed in you if you omit or forget any!

The opposite is also true and perhaps of even greater importance. Where are the lows, the dips in like-for-like sales as a result of poor weather (or good weather) of the annualising effect of the previous year’s events. These are your and the Buyers opportunities to create like-for-like spikes against last year’s lows. Find the lulls and dips and plan to exploit them with sales driving activity. Your Buyer will be delighted and may even thank you!

The Promo Calendar From Hell!

Having taken careful note of their customers like-for-like highs and lows the erstwhile and intrepid account manager now goes off to come up with a cunning plan to lap the highs and exploit the lows. So where to start?

Unfortunately, in my experience it’s usually via a trip to the marketing or brand team to get a copy of next year’s ‘activity calendar’. Carefully laid out by month, a finely honed piece of art, a beautiful matrix of all the wonderful things that your business is going to activate next year.

As a Buyer I used to quite literally scream when (normally at around slide 32 of 90 in the annual business planning presentation from a big brand) presented with the promo calendar from hell!

Even if the promo calendar was tailored to my business and my promotional periods (always a help – but not always the case!) it was just a blur of ‘stuff’. Half price this here, billboard advertising there, MONP in May (money off next purchase). NPD in November and to cap it all TV in September – hurrah!  And with 120 GRP’s! even better!

The Language of WopFopPen

Now I am sure I have exaggerated to make my point. In today’s sharply focussed world of selling none of you Account Managers reading this would ever make the mistake of just presenting an activity plan to your Buyer!

The right approach of course, and it is something we discussed in the second of this series of articles (Common Mistakes Account Managers Make #2 – Don’t sell what you have – sell what they need), is to ensure you present not only what your activity plan is but crucially what it will do for their category and their shoppers.

Your plan will be designed, hopefully, to drive improved sales growth into their category so that they can sell more and make more profit on the back of it. Well, there are only three ways of driving growth in a category. You either sell more volume or value of the product (Volume weight of purchase or value weight of purchase). Get shoppers buying more often (Frequency of purchase). Or get new shoppers into the store or into the category (Penetration).

Your Buyers will want to see which of these three levers your planned activities will ‘pull’ against. The big 4 – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons are all about loyalty. Retaining their existing substantial numbers of customers. Driving up the weight of purchase and/or frequency of shop of those loyal customers. Aldi and Lidl conversely are still in the ‘land grab’ phase of driving new customer penetration. With some added upselling (value weight of purchase) sprinkled in for good measure.

Which of the ‘Levers’ You are Going to ‘Pull’ in Your Promo Calendar

So, any modern strategic account plan should show them not only what you are planning to do. But what your plan will do to drive shopper engagement via each of the aforementioned ‘levers’ of growth.  Each entry on the activity on the promotional calendar should have alongside it which lever it will pull and by how much.

Row of levers on a yellow machine
When thinking about the calendar, also think about which lever it will pull


For example, Multibuy 2 for £1 promotion in April to drive weight of purchase, estimated £200k incremental revenue. New Avocado flavour variant NPD launch in September to drive penetration of health-conscious shoppers, estimated cannibalisation 5%, nett incremental revenue £100k. Money off next purchase on pack voucher in April to drive repeat purchase and frequency, estimated £50k incremental revenue.

Take Them on a ‘Journey’

Be even more motivating and impactful. Show them that your activity plan is coordinated and specifically tailored to their business and shoppers.

They don’t want a brand plan. Your brand is only a (small) part of their category plan. Be holistic and whole category friendly. Any category growth you generate, especially if you are a brand leader will benefit you as much. If not more than any of the other, be they branded competitors or own label manufacturers.

Make your plan specific to them and importantly their accounting calendar. Of course, you can overlay ‘national’ or branded activity but again be clear what it will do for their shoppers.

The bit they will be most interested in is the customer specific activation or activity plan. What are you going to do to drive their category sales by better engaging with their shoppers and shoppers to be.  Taking them on a shopper ‘journey’ is the way to demonstrate not only that you are serious about shopper led insight. But also serious about supporting them.

For example, with NPD show them a product ‘life’ journey that tells them what at each stage you are attempting to do to drive shopper sales volumes. Free sampling at launch outside key stores to drive awareness, half price promotion after 4 weeks to drive pick up instore, 2 for £1 promotion after 12 weeks to drive weight of purchase, dual merchandising in high traffic bakery aisle after 16 weeks to drive impulse pick up and frequency.  Add a cost and expected value return for each of these activities and Robert will be your proverbial uncle!

‘But What About My Margin!’

A shopper lever-based approach to a healthy and growing sales line is of course the best way to offset the inevitable ‘where’s all my margin’ whinge. Develop your ‘Selling More’ plan as we have discussed. You can then have, hopefully, a sensible ‘Making More’ discussion or negotiation with the Buyer. To give them comfort that your plan will also deliver their budgeted margin task be that % and/or total cash margin.

I always used to love, and love the account managers who presented them to me. A neatly drawn and comprehensive waterfall chart, blocking up, piece by piece, activity by activity just how much sales and cash each element of the plan would deliver. And how the combined effect of all the activities moved me from outturn this year to budgeted target for next year.

I often used these waterfall charts as the basis of each and every review meeting with the account manager. It gave us both a focus, a target and joint responsibility for the outcome. For the buyer, a sense of relief and confidence that at least one major supplier in the category could be trusted to deliver a plan that helped me achieve my targets. For the account manager, enthusiastic buyer who would help achieve your objectives in a proactive and positive way.

How to Eat an Elephant…

Handmade toy elephant
Eating the elephant refers to chunking up your work into manageable bits


Clearly any plan is out of date the very moment the inkjet hits the paper and a target is only a target. To be beaten or missed rarely perfectly hit!  So I would ‘chunk’ up all the activities with key suppliers into quarters (the best way to eat an elephant supposedly!). Then only worry about the up and coming quarter. What do we still need to do to make things happen. Then review the success or otherwise of the previous quarter. And what mitigating additional activities would need adding in later in the year if a quarterly target had been missed.

Sounds simples and it is – when done with some proper planning and thought and patience……

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