Alex Haslam, Senior Consultant, Kantar Consulting

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Alex and I were counterparts for several years, first at P&G and then to Duracell as the brand was sold to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. We had constant discussions over the relative value of sales and marketing in our organizations. That Alex was probably right, and marketing is the key to consumer goods

This interview is full of career insights into how sales is viewed by the marketing function, and how both can work together to ensure success.

You can read Alex’s full biography here

Jamie: We worked together at Procter & Gamble. Overall how would you describe P&G as a place to work?

Alex Haslam: All in all, I think P&G is a great place to work because of some of the people who you work with; until you leave P&G you really don’t realize the calibre of the people. Some really bright minds, some people that are challenging yet accepting of the people’s ideas and with a really can-do attitude, and those three things together, I don’t believe exists in a lot of other organizations. In terms of the people, phenomenal. In terms of what I was doing in marketing, the brands are in pretty much every household. You’re working with brands and products that everyone knows, then to market those brands is actually quite easy, and it’s a great place to learn. Overall, for me, it was a really positive experience. 

Jamie: You mention that there are a lot of really good people at P&G. How do they retain those people?

Alex Haslam: This is always the biggest challenge for a company, I think, even though I just described P&G as a great place to work. For me, a Londoner, I had a fundamental issue of not being based in London. Being based in Weybridge, you’re asking quite a lot of people, especially young people, in commuting a hell of a long way every day. I think retaining people is actually quite a challenge based on the location. Yet you have some of the best minds in the UK, from Oxbridge or a top ten university, who said no to becoming lawyers or bankers or consultants to work in marketing for P&G. If the dream doesn’t come to reality in P&G, they’ll just go and do something else because they can and then they’re very strong people. I think that’s where P&G suffered in my time because there was a lot of uncertainty of potential brand sales to other companies. There was a lot of uncertainty about the role of Geneva as the head office. There was very low clarity of what was going to happen. I think then people just jumped ship and left.

Jamie: How does P&G pay as an organization? 

Alex Haslam: I got paid pretty well, despite the travel. I know other functions didn’t pay well and maybe because FMCG as a totality doesn’t really pay very well until you get into very senior levels. 

Jamie: What attracted you to P&G in the first place?

Alex Haslam: My dad works in FMCG as an FMCG headhunter. When I said that I was interested in marketing, his advice to me was that there are only three companies that you can consider working for. The first one was P&G, the second one was Unilever, and the third one was L’Oreal. He said that I’m not French so you might struggle at L’Oreal, so go for Unilever or P&G. I didn’t get into Unilever because they were all about being environmentally friendly at the time, and back when I was a graduate – I didn’t really give two hoots about the environment. So, I went to P&G, and P&G was just right for me, it fit me culturally, and I really enjoyed the people; we’re all similarly minded, I’m still in contact with a lot of people from P&G. It made you feel quite good about yourself that you’re at P&G because in marketing they’re referenced as the height of brand management.

The training that you get at P&G you’d have to pay an absolute fortune for externally, and we able to get it at every single lunchtime. That for me was brilliant. The fact that I have P&G on my CV definitely helps as well. It’s a conversation starter.

Everyone knows what sort of quality I bring because I’ve been in that environment. And that’s something you can’t really say for a lot of other FMCG companies.

Jamie: Would you tell me a little bit more about marketing learning and development at P&G?

Alex Haslam: It really is the best part of P&G marketing. They have these “vitamins,” which are half-an-hour to hour-long sessions at lunchtime, where it could be on how to write a brief or how to get the most out of a TV copy or budget management 101. These things that everyone went to because you’re made to go to, but, in hindsight, I was actually getting some outstanding training. We were almost learning by accident, which I think is really the P&G model. The P&G model is also that you have to do your job and you have to do it better than expected to get promoted. It’s unique to P&G, where you’re not only rated on what you deliver in the market but also how you deliver internally. But in a very positive way, so you’re not criticized or even judged on what you deliver. It’s the willingness to deliver, the process, is what you’re judged on which I think is really positive.

Jamie: How did you feel about the balance of power between sales and marketing in the organization? 

Alex Haslam: I can answer this very clearly because it changed when I was there. And this was actually one of the main reasons a lot of marketeers left. P&G has always been a marketing first company. Its foundation is brand marketing. It’s known for being the best; it’s the biggest media spender in the world.

When I joined, if you are a marketeer in P&G, you were the best, in every way. It was sold into us, and everyone believed that if you are in marketing, you’re in charge of the brand. Within the years that I was there, it significantly changed towards sales for a number of reasons.

One, the market place became suddenly very saturated, with the German invasion of Aldi and Lidl and the issues with the Tesco accounting scandal and with the fact that talent was leaning towards sales because of the salary increases – all of those factors worked against marketing. Furthermore, jobs changed when they moved to Geneva rather than London. All of these compounded, and the fact that the power shifted to sales, it’s something actually I resented when I was there.

Seeing it now in the market place I think there is more power with sales, but I think the role of sales has changed in the last few years quite significantly, from a transactional relationship with retailer customers and individual consumers to a developmental side of the business where you are working towards a common objective and share of sales within that category versus “you must stock this product and I’ll give you whatever price you want” sort of mentality. This is very specific FMCG, but sales has drastically changed over the last few years.

Jamie: So the way you’d describe sales in FMCG companies now is more strategic?

Alex Haslam: Yeah. Back in the day, you were in sales, or you were in marketing. Until you got to a certain level and became a General Manager, you were either marketing or sales.

Now, sales and marketing have to work so closely together that there is now a Venn Diagram of core marketing competencies, core sales competencies, and the shared competencies. The shared competencies didn’t exist when I started marketing, and they’re becoming bigger and bigger. 

For example, sales need to understand branding, brand management, understand positioning into the hierarchy of importance, including consumer conversion rate.  Marketers need to know the cost per unit, margin, and game theory, because there’s no role for a marketeer that just throws a lot of crap towards a salesperson, to see what you can get away with. It needs to be worked together. Conversely, a sales guy can’t promise the world to a customer when they don’t have the support of marketing. It’s much more of a synergistic relationship now compared to the idea of sales versus marketeers.

Jamie: Do you think the biggest driver behind that is the “rise of the retailer”?

Alex Haslam: I think it’s the rise of the retailer; I think it’s the savviness in the retailer landscape and also the people that work FMCG. I think technology is so easy to grasp now that everyone can learn about marketing now; it’s on the internet. Ten years ago, there wasn’t that much on the internet about how to upskill yourself in marketing. I think marketing has gotten over their inability to be negotiators. I think sales and marketing roles are more hybrid that ever before.  

Jamie: Thinking about what you do now, working for Kantar Consulting – how would you describe that dynamic between the people selling and the people delivering content?

Alex Haslam: To be honest, it’s gone the complete opposite of how it was at L’Oreal or P&G for me now. Kantar Consulting, in general, has lots of different practices and lots of different arms. I’m in the brand of marketing arm of Kantar Consulting. And then there’s a sales arm of Kantar Consulting. The sales team do very specialized sales functions and the brand marketing arm does very different part because we are specialist consultants. There isn’t scope to be that hybrid in one person at Kantar. But a good consultant will link with sales in terms of trying to sell business. To compare an FMCG client to an FMCG agency, an agency is specialized, and we each do that particular thing excellently, whereas FMCG client would be more of a generalist when it comes to sales and marketing.

Jamie: In your view, having watched alongside a lot of salespeople, what makes a salesperson invaluable to their organization?

Alex Haslam: I think an acceptance of other functions is invaluable; I think that’s really important. So, yes, you have a target, yes, you probably have a bonus that is associated with the target. There’s more than one way to go about it. The direct hard-line approach, I think, is quite old-school and actually in the modern era can alienate quite a few people. Understanding and acknowledgement that there is more than one way to get what you want through other functions as well is a very powerful skill.  

For example, an account manager who understands that their customer had a supply chain issue and bringing their supply chain team to meetings, for example, is going to go down very well because you’re bringing experts and the customer can see that you are thinking about their business.

It’s also about bringing along a marketeer to talk about the bespoke media planning; that is always going to be better than you trying to remember something that you learned from one training six months ago. The ability to bring experts in that subject and have them sitting next to you is a very valuable skill, and it’s not something that everyone thinks about. It’s people that can look at the problem of being, “How do I get from A to B?” But also incorporating all the different stakeholders that can make that journey as seamless as possible, and then it seems kind of intuitive; by bringing more people into the conversation can actually make the journey quicker versus than trying to knock down the door of “I need this much, I need this much” directly.

I also think in the modern era, invaluable salespeople are people that have seen more than one business and I don’t sign up to the “You can be excellent in one business for your entire career.” Yes, it exists, yes, it happens, but I think the people that are really, really good are the people that have seen different ways of working and bring those skills with them. 

That was one thing that P&G really struggled with, it’s the “provide from within” mentality, especially in marketing. That’s great, but it doesn’t bring any new ways of thinking and not new ways of doing things. And I think, sales, marketing – if you can bring in different businesses, different brands, different countries and different perspectives it is really, really valuable.

Jamie: What skills do you believe the people should exhibit initially to want to go in sales?

Alex Haslam: I think you have to be confident in not only presenting yourself but presenting a topic. I have never met a good salesperson that is not both self-confident and confident in what they are talking about. It’s very easy to be a bullshitter but even that, you can see right through that, so you need to know the numbers and then prepared to present it in not just a piece of paper but a story or bring people along the journey, I those are the skills that are so important to me. Back in the day when I was looking at either marketing or sales, I was put off by sales because I would never be able to make door-to-door sales. But that couldn’t be further away from what sales is nowadays. I think P&G described it really well, they call it customer business development.

If you have that mentality of trying to get towards the common goal, that is a different mindset shift and a different mindset to selling. You’re focused the same things, but it’s business development rather than transactional selling. 

Jamie:  Lastly, how do you think skill sets in salespeople need to vary by region?

Alex Haslam: In my experience, I have worked for a lot of different regions, in Germany, France and Spain a little bit, Every country has a different culture to the way that they work. Germany is stereotypically like what you’d expect; very efficient and they have particular ways of doing things. We can’t really have flat, soft conversations in meetings in Germany whereas in France if you started with the negotiation or went straight into it, it would come across as cold. Having a long coffee break is very normal in France, whereas a long coffee in Germany would be frowned upon.

 It’s all about knowing different cultures, new answers can really have an effect on how the skills need to be tailored. For example, in the UK, I think it’s good to have pleasantries, but actually “let’s do a job and let’s get the job done” works as well. I think you need to have a quieter, more personable person in sales in the UK whereas in France, you don’t have to be personable at all, but you just need to be aware of that things happen a little slower, with a little bit more considerate. Again, Germany is all about in the deal.


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