The need to accelerate CPG’s digital capabilities has never been greater, but how do you do it? Listen in as Todd Hassenfelt, Sr Director of Ecommerce at Simple Mills, shares his top tips.
What does it take to build a stellar ecommerce grocery team? That’s the key question we’re answering in this episode.
The need for CPGs to build stellar ecommerce grocery teams has never been greater, but it’s a huge task. So, what does it take for CPGs to build world-class ecommerce teams? What skills should they focus on? How do they spread ecomm knowledge across their organisations? And what are the pitfalls to avoid?
Todd Hassenfelt, Sr Director of Ecommerce at Simple Mills, joins Julia on this episode to discuss how he went from being a brick-and-mortar expert to ecommerce leader and how he’s now upskilling his workforce to drive Simple Mills’ digital shelf success.
📒The Show Notes
To determine how to build a world-class ecommerce team, we’ve discussed three key topics:
- Knowledge transfer: from brick-and-mortar to the digital shelf
- Building ecom-first teams today
- Looking back to look to the (post-Covid) future
|owledge transfer (06:07)||– Be really humble and curious and a fast learner
– Key learning: online, you’re trying to attract the algorithm first before the human eye.
-PDP, imagery / videos, ratings & reviews are key as you have less than 3 seconds to get a consumer interested
– Really savvy ecommerce leaders need to look at ecommerce with brick and mortar and not either or
|2. Building ecom-first teams (21:33)||– Ask questions and don’t assume everyone’s trying to learn the same
– Appreciate different learning styles and varying paces, create an on-demand library of information within your internal systems, don’t forget to gamify the learning journey
-Secure alignment internally by starting with a problem and translating the solution from b&m to ecom (sponsored product = endcap)
-Adjust to your audience, lead by example and with context, and gamify it
– Try to build the mindset that it’s not going to be perfect, but we are going to test and learn with emerging marketplaces
– Instacart helps bring teams together better than Amazon, if yo don’t care who gets the credit you can move a lot faster
|3. Looking back to look to the (post-Covid) future (35:44)||– Showing the cost of doing nothing is a very important tactic
-Always keep the consumer view top of mind
– I used to do store tours to take pictures, why can’t use that for digital? It’ll enable teams to be better retail partners
-Pandemic showed us the cracks in our supply chain and ops systems were, but also taught us how we wan to improve forecasting methods and production schedules and our PDP content
-Upgrade PDP content making sure that you’re solving consumers’ needs with your product content
– It’s not just about getting the most data and compiling it, it’s about finding data that’s compelling and actionable, and how do we use it to your advantage
– Let the consumer guide your resource allocation
– Ensure that your DTC website is accessible from an ADA standpoint
📲References and People mentioned
- The Everything Store, Amazon Unbound
- Instacart for CMOs
- The CPG Guys
- Chris Perry
- Instacart, GoPuff, Gorillas, Flink
- Simple Mills
📝Abbreviated Transcript of how to build a world-class CPG ecommerce team
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Julia Glotz: Todd, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you.
Todd Hassenfelt: Thank you. I really appreciate being on here and love what you’re doing here with the digital shelf cast previous episodes have been really helpful so honored to be able to tell my story and help your audience.
Julia Glotz: We’d love to hear that. Now before we jump into our discussion, we always like to start by quizzing our guests about their own online shopping habits. So, tell us what’s the last item you bought online and where, and what was the experience like
Todd Hassenfelt: I’m really big on your reading to learn and I like giving back in a way that I did when I started my ecommerce journey, my boss at that time had sent me some books before I started. One of them being Brad Stones’ “The Everything Store” just to kind of ground me and learn about Amazon more so I like doing that for others and kind of surprise them. So actually, today I sent a former colleague, you know starting their ecommerce journey, a few books that I think are really helpful.
Kiri Masters co-authored Instacart for CMOs and Amazon for CMOs, and then also Brad Stones new book Amazon Unbound so I like doing that because wanting to surprise and delight getting something to unbox generates conversation, allows a person to learn kind of on demand, and then they can ask some questions if they want. I did that for someone so though they’ll be getting that today.
Also on the online grocery side, my family has been, you know, big using either delivery or curbside options at least once a week. My oldest son Alex just graduated from kindergarten and so he had some food requests, so we did that at Instacart, but I’m also using Anycart, which is a new online grocery shopping option that came out, less than a month ago, just to see how our Simple Mills products are showing up in the quality of delivery process so very much an online buyer and thanks for the question.
Julia Glotz: Oh fantastic and I love that idea of surprising people with books. I think that’s a that’s a fantastic approach it ties us quite nicely actually into your own ecommerce journey because you are someone who has transitioned from being a brick and mortar expert to becoming an expert in ecommerce. So, the first question I guess I’d really love to ask you is this: What was the hardest bit of transitioning your brick and mortar knowledge to understanding the digital shelf? What was the biggest mindset switch you had to make or was there a moment when you thought, “God, I just wish someone had told me this before!”
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, you know, I remember that first day in first week in first month when I started my ecommerce journey at my last stop and I think it’s scary and exciting and all the same time because you can’t really rely on your past experiences as much, and you’re not as fast on recall and being able to kind of read and react because you’re learning and I was learning what these sites were, who were Amazon’s competitors, how do consumers look at this. You know, while I learned later on how to connect brick and mortar to the digital shelf, which is a huge advantage versus being an only one. Initially you really have to be really humble and curious, and be able to learn at a fast rate, you know, not only because of ecommerce but also to help your company.
I think that balance of understanding both brick and mortar and the digital shelf will help me be more effective in translating ecommerce to non-ecommerce teammates later on. But as I was learning this Ito initially, you know one ecommerce has so many acronyms: PDP ATF SOV DP and even CRAP right? You have to really learn those fast because you can get lost in a meeting, quick.
So studying is important and asking questions. Side note I think Adam Rose on LinkedIn has done a fantastic job, compiling all these acronyms and has a guide out there for anyone that requested so if you’re in your beginning phase of your ecommerce journey, or even as an experienced ecommerce or your Adam has a great list, but you know I think I always tend to look at things from the positive side, right, and I think fresh eyes when I was learning in ecommerce, also allow for new ideas, or maybe noticing something that experienced eyes don’t always catch and really seeing things maybe from a new consumers point of view.
And I think that’s really helpful in making recommendations and learning yourself. Also, the speed and threats or speed of threats and opportunities for brands is so much faster online, especially with the digital shelf. You know for my brick and mortar days, I was used to maybe one or two planogram resets per year, and you know maybe quarterly reviews of performance in brick and mortar, but as we know on the digital shelf that changes, hourly, if not quicker, you’re evaluated daily from an Amazon perspective, they look at you from a SKU and Asen versus a brand. So a lot of different ways there.
I think the other thing too was kind of that speed is there so many competitors in terms of pure numbers, but also size and tactics. You know you have your, maybe from brick and mortar your big brands that have big awareness and big budgets, but you also have all these small brands that do tend to be nimbler and data driven, and I think we’re seeing both sides of this the big and small brands moving closer together as the big brands are upscaling to more of a digital data focus.
And interestingly enough, small brands are using their success on DTC and or Amazon to gain distribution and brick and mortar. So I think those are some of the learnings and then you’re just going back to the digital shelf those changes that happen hourly, and even how I’ve done this in rooms pre COVID you search a term. Search over a term, and you’ll find people can be in the room, and they may have five different experiences because there’s so many different factors of how the algorithm finds you. And I think that that was a key learning is: online, you’re trying to attract the algorithm first before the human eye. Things like the product detail page has so many ways of connecting with consumers, reviews is a big one. I know a previous episode had the CPG guys on, and they did a great job talking about that but then also how important product image quality was videos. How, when and why to use your products in a lifestyle image, you know, solve a problem or a need for consumers. And then the really fascinating stat I learned is, you have less than three seconds they can’t get a consumer interested.
So, you know, how do you how do you equate all this, and the positive side again is you have more data though than you do an in-store experience. You can’t really calculate glance views or what was in a cart or out of stock rates or conversion rates as fast as you can online.
So, I think, you know, just to tie this one up all the things, help me understand. You’re the consumer who is shopping both online and brick and mortar. So, you know, as I learned, really savvy ecommerce leaders need to look at ecommerce as with brick and mortar, and not ecommerce or brick and mortar up as the shift It is scary and exciting all at the same time.
Julia Glotz: I really liked what you said about being humble, because even just listening to that list of demands that you just, you ran through and you know all the different aspects that you had to kind of get to grips with. It can be quite a challenging situation for an experienced CPG executive leader, someone who’s got perhaps 20 years of brick and mortar knowledge, and now you’re being thrown into ecommerce. And as you say you sometimes don’t even understand the language, you don’t even understand all the acronyms.
How do you within your own teams, make sure that everyone is capable of putting up their hand and comfortable putting up their hand to say, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand how this works. We need to go back to basics. How do you make sure people don’t feel embarrassed to ask about those basics and fundamentals.
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah and that’s a real situation a few different ways. I think one you always appreciate that question and that engagement right. I always say that it’s better even to get an objection to an ecommerce initiative versus the cold shoulder, at least in objection, you can have a discussion, but I think you always want to make it an inviting environment, whether it’s in a meeting, full of people, or knowing that they can come in your office or come on your zoom box and say hey, do you have 30 minutes to teach me e commerce, that’s kind of a starting point, but you have to prepare for that and understand as an ecommerce leader, you know it’s a grind in a positive way because not everyone jumps in at the same time, and not everyone jumps in with the same level of engagement, maybe.
And so, you know, while you’re leaving your own knowledge and trying to look ahead, and that you’re trying to be present with your team, executing what you have on your plate to do, you also have to remember how was this when I was first looking at it, what are what are probably the thought that this person this executive is going through what if they’re understanding the difference between a sponsored product, or a sponsored brand.
And so I think you ask questions. Don’t assume everyone’s stories is the same, why they’re trying to learn or what they’re trying to learn, you know, ask them what happened, your experiences, just as a consumer with ecommerce, some are not. Some are very detailed, what are some of the things you think e commerce could help you with, what are some of the things that you feel threatened by ecommerce.
We have a lot of different ways of learning. Put those in different folders right on a OneDrive or whatever you have in your system. Create Slack channels or Yammer posts, depending on your inside piece so that you have this kind of on demand library of information, but I think you also have to be adaptable, it’s not always just that 30-minute teaching commerce. Some people learn better via, you know, live internal webinars, or even sharing, you know, external ones and saying hey here’s a topic I think might help you. And so they learn better that way. Others are written right so you craft an email, but I think that email is not just giving the definitions or an external topic about ecommerce. But the great emails, really tie it back then to here’s how it impacts you know for me like Simple Mills or to your company. And then I think another way. A lot of people maybe don’t have time, even to listen to a podcast or watch a webinar or read an email that’s, you know too long, so you have to kind of gamify it right and you do it in chunks. I do that via slack, you know, put a question in the Slack channel, and say, you know Did you know we’re a pop quiz, and then give the answer at the end of the day with a stat right and it’s a little bit more digestible and makes a little bit more fun.
So I think as a leader, you have to understand not everyone’s going to learn the same way you do not everyone’s going to learn at the same pace. And while that’s more difficult to manage. Big picture if you get, especially the executives and those that are making decisions on financial investments, it’s going to help in the long run. And I think, always being humble, like I mentioned, remembering what it’s like not to be an expert in always, you know, being a curious learner yourself, you know, it really makes people feel more like they can approach you and again not talking, you know, the obvious one, maybe not talking down to them or oh that’s a bad question I think those are obvious, but really making engaging, even it takes a little bit longer for the setup. It’s better long term as you build the advocates.
Julia Glotz: I’m interested in something that you just touched on there, which is making sure you get that buy in, really also from that senior management level, from your experience, how should ecommerce leaders think about securing that alignment internally across multiple departments, including Board of Directors groups, what have you seen work and what doesn’t work?
Todd Hassenfelt: I think while e commerce maybe gets the focus because it’s such an unknown and there isn’t that history, or, you know it’s not a channel that’s been around as long as brick and mortar, you especially when talking to board of directors or your leadership team, is start with a problem. And what you’re going to solve.
Right, I think, that’s that. So, a way of really grabbing attention. Do not come in, trying to laundry list, how much you know, or, you know, throw a whole bunch of terms at them, I think being focused on a problem, one or two maybe, and then show how that could be solved using ecommerce, but not only just ecommerce – connect the dots to what they do know, right, translate this to brick and mortar, whether it’s equating something that you’re like a sponsored product is like an endcap how search is different than a TPR what a glance view is. Relate this and don’t be afraid to show them maybe even on a screen right for the visual learners.
But I think what you want to do is narrow that gap from what they do know, which is typically brick and mortar and branding depending on the group or finance, and then connected it to ecommerce, and how it can help not only the ecommerce team, or let’s say an ecommerce account, but also how that experience translates.
If you lead with the consumer in your explanation – the consumer is shopping both: they are shopping in store, and they’re shopping online. So, whether they’re buying from a screen or a physical shelf in a store that omnichannel experience, I think is what you need to really highlight, so it’s not this either or, again it’s with. And if you can connect the dots there, then you can show how different actions impact each other, but also how they can complement each other.
A big one to share is, how many people are in a store going online searching reviews. They’re evaluating to buy in the store based on what those reviews are, and that can even impact search, because if they’re searching just a general category, and you’re not there, maybe they’re in front of your product at the store but they see a new shiny toy of a different brand, they might pivot to that one.
And I think the other part too is even advertising: connect the dots again how does this help the whole company. We’re not just representing ecommerce as ecommerce leaders, we really should be thinking like a general manager or higher. And how does like DSP retargeting advertising impact sales offline. And there’s different ways of doing it, it’s not perfect yet, but there’s different ways of proving that. So I think if you can connect the dots with what they know, narrow the gap between ecommerce and brick and mortar, and show how they’re connected follow the consumer, I’ve had better success, looking at it that way, versus looking at it as a ecommerce lecture or here’s how much I you know, right I don’t think that’s a beneficial way of doing it.
Julia Glotz: Totally, I think that makes a lot of sense and I, I guess what you were saying about connecting the dots and really spelling out the implications and impact for the wider business as opposed to you know just making it about an ecommerce presentation or lecture, I think that will resonate with a lot of our listeners, I suppose, to be able to connect the dots you do need to know how to read and interpret data. And that’s quite a challenge or it can be a challenge for category managers for sales managers. How do you make sure they have the ability to understand the data they’re looking at, and have the ability to make sense of traditional metrics versus ecommerce related KPIs. Have you, for example introduced specific tools to help your teams, your category managers, your sales managers make sense of all the data they’re looking at?
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, and again I think it’s in chunks right, you don’t want to throw everything at them at once. There’s a few different ways that I’ve approached it. One is, is by demonstration right, making yourself available, and I understand that it’s tougher on the calendar and the time, but making yourself available to partner with the brick and mortar sales team, if the buyer is okay with it right we let the buyer lead in that case, but we’ve been able successfully to get you more portions of the agendas with more of our accounts to have a digital conversation or omni channel or ecommerce, you know, depending on what the retailer wants to call it, but I can come in then be part of the brick and mortar sales prep and putting together the meeting, and demonstrate that way, and then that way the sales account manager that leads the brick and mortar side sees an example with one at one of their accounts, and then they can replicate that elsewhere. So that’s one way.
Another way is just, I think it goes back to kind of equating this data in to what does this mean, right, if you give them for example, a percentage of your what we’re winning above the above the fold share a voice without any context. Last night can be very helpful right it’s a great data point, it’s very important, but if you don’t have context to it, it makes it a lot harder for them to really understand it right and really embrace it. And let’s face it, you have to understand your audience is different in terms of some are more risk motivated, and some are more reward motivated. So, you have to tailor your conversation accordingly. So you can tailor those “Hey, how does this apply to simple Mills or your particular company” conversations by saying okay here’s why above the above the fold share of voice is important here is why it’s important to, you know maybe respond to reviews or what our ratings should be, you know, a perfect five rating actually is not good. That seems to be fake, which is you know sometimes counterintuitive for people.
But I think if you can really bring that context and again this has to be in chunks and that’s why it’s like a positive grind can’t give them too much at once, but what are they trying to accomplish right? So if they’re trying to get a new product on the shelf right they have a either a SKU rack going on the opposite direction, or the POG window is open. How can you use data like an Amazon’s bestseller lists, or our success on Instacart, to convince that buyer of our consumer appeal broadly in use data that way. Or we can use things like our repeat rates online, or even our ‘Subscribe and Save rate’ to show that you know our consumer can be maybe more loyal, Or it’s been increasing. So I think when you show different ways, in, in small chunks over time, then it kind of builds and they get more confident, either watching you do it via demonstration, like I mentioned, or knowing how to apply it.
I think, a great method I use on emails a lot when I share information internally is the Chris Perry method, I think he created but at least he uses it a lot. It’s the “what, so what, now what” approach even for those that kind of just want a sentence or two, don’t want to read a longer email; what now what is very impactful to get the point across. It means here’s the information, here’s it in context and now what can you do with it. I think when you put it that way, I’ve had better kind of responses to it. I also go back to kind of the gamification. I’m surprised at how well that one has worked for a while is kind of a fun one to try. If that’s th way a lot of people want to learn, and you know if we are still in a, you know Twitter character kind of attention span, that’s, that’s fine. Again, adjust to your audience. Lead by example, lead by context or gamify it.
Julia Glotz: I think that’s fantastic but what I’m also getting from you, you know, listening to all these examples is that it takes quite a lot of personal commitment and enthusiasm right, listening to you I can really hear that this is something you’re super passionate about, and you’ve clearly spend a lot of time thinking about not just the substance of what you’re going to try and convey to your teams but also learning strategies and how to make sure you create an environment where people are able to absorb the information you want to share. Was that something that you started to educate yourself on specifically once you started to go on your ecommerce journey, or were you always interested in how to how to help people learn? Because it feels like that’s a real focus for you, you spend quite a lot of time thinking about the right strategies.
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, no I think it is natural. I mean if you go to like a StrengthsFinder test that I’ve done multiple times, you know, a couple of my five top five are learner, which helps, you know, my personal learning & excitement from it, but then another one is like individualization, and that doesn’t mean working by myself, that means, how to figure out how other people think and see things from their point of view, Right. And I think from trainings from my brick and mortar days, you know, one of the companies I was at for a long time, you know, that was one of their values was see things from the others point of view. And so while that’s been natural for me, I think, you know thanks to my mom and dad for a great upbringing and just hard work ethic and curiosity, but you know I think it’s ingrained in me hard working and learning.
I was a walk on the Wisconsin Green Bay for a basketball team, you know, that takes a different level of commitment, because you’re not getting the scholarship or a lot of the benefits but you’re putting in all the time. But I think that learning piece is big, and you know I was a coach, you’re just kind of, you know, junior high basketball coach. I do like coaching from the athletic standpoint. All kind of jobs I’ve been in even, even if I’d been like a Senior Account Manager, which was, you know, all business focus without people, I always tried to have a strong work presence because I just think if you can give back that way, there’s a couple different things: one is personally beneficial because I think the best way to learn is to teach. And think about just if you’re driving in a car, let’s say you’ve been driving with someone and someone else has been driving and you’re going to the same spot for a month, but then some day you have to do the drive yourself. Maybe you actually don’t know how to get there, even though you’ve been in the car every time with the other person. When you have to do it yourself, it’s a different mindset right.
So I think it helps make sure I have understanding and make sure that I have a grasp of it, but then on the other end, When you translate it out or teach others, you have to really, I mean I think great leaders take complex ideas and make them simple.
I go back to my fast food days we you think about, yeah I worked in fast food and you know I would look at things even from the consumers point of view, looking at the drive thru menu, But when you think about the fast food industry and some others, I mean it’s, it’s amazing, it’s mostly run by teenagers or at least it has been in the past, a lot, because a lot of smart people made this whole process this complex, you know process simple. So I think if you can, if you can articulate, complex things and make it simple for broader masses to understand, that’s a great skill set, but then more importantly, you as I even look at my personal teams, whether they are my direct reports or not, I think it’s best just to put people in positions that you’ll really maximize their strengths, but also make sure that you’re challenging them with stretch goals and things that really can broaden their knowledge and allow them to be a more either complete person, a broader scale or a complete employee.
Because I think when someone doesn’t know something, there can be animosity, it can be fear it can be an avoidance, and that’s not good for any front and especially when looking at ecommerce how important growth to a brand is you want to build your advocates. But I think, you know, going all the way back to when you’re a kid, you want to accomplish things right as a little kid you love what you knock down the blocks or pick them back up. If you can help people learn, while it can be tough at first, they feel really good later on, right, that they understand this and that they can speak to it, or they can understand that they can talk to their buyers that they’re a salesperson a different way, finance can talk to the C-suite in a different way because they understand what this ecommerce spend is right, it’s not just this money pit potentially or we have to do, or whatever, when you can help your supply chain and ops team reduce their chargebacks and give you have them get the credit that’s really rewarding right.
A lot of times I like you either ghostwriting or just giving other people the tools so that they can shine, right, and, and when that happens, it’s kind of like what brands do right with consumers in a different way you want to make that emotional connection, but when you make that kind of connection, it’s really exciting to see others get into this, and in the ecommerce or just grow in their roles. And again, I go back, come full circle here: it helps not only you as an ecommerce leader what you’re trying to do but if you’re really understanding this ecommerce is helping brick and mortar, it’s helping the company as a whole, and now you’re making a big impact, and you have more people to celebrate that with.
Because I think sometimes the perception is, it may be reality, you know ecommerce can be on an island, and everyone else is on the mainland and that’s fine people come to your island every once in a while they enjoy it or maybe they don’t you go back to the mainland understand things or try and get resources, but if we can narrow that gap, I think that’s like a great journey it’s just kind of you’ll make that island part of the mainland, and when you get there, it is really rewarding. But I don’t think it’s ever done it’s kind of like a digital transformation, it’s not a set forget it’s, it’s ongoing.
Julia Glotz: Just to stay on our little ecommerce island for a little bit longer because there’s one thing that you’ve brought up a couple of times and that’s the rise of new digital first marketplaces, you know, Instacart is the obvious example. And in fact, you have been a pioneer, I would say, in pushing simple mills to test some of these marketplaces, early, and you talked early on about some of your own online shopping habits and how you’d like to use that as an opportunity to check out how these marketplaces work and how your products appear on them.
You’ve also contributed to the book Instacart for CMOs by Kiri masters who was on the podcast recently as well. Just tell us a little bit about how you help your team get their heads around these new marketplaces, because again, the rate of growth is tremendous, and the pace of change is tremendous. What approaches have helped your ecommerce teams make sense of all these different marketplaces.
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, that’s a great question. One is awareness of these and there’s a lot of different ways. You have to kind of change mindsets internally you’ve mentioned kind of the last miles with Instacart, but now there’s also, you know their shift has been there but you know, explaining what Gopuff is in the process of explaining, Joker in Weezy and Flink and Gorillas right all these, and then even with Amazon right. There’s a great Amazon turd out there that kind of shows all the different you know aspects of their business and different platforms, It’s not just amazon.com its Amazon Fresh, Amazon Business right the vault, you know, Alexa devices and everything there.
So one is, is kind of digestible awareness of it. But, I think, you know kind of how you educate is one, just in general like you got you have to try to have the mindset that this is not going to be perfect, but we are going to test and learn. You know a lot of times in interviews with candidates, you’ll I’ll tell them like, Okay, how do you determine that Amazon will give you a ton of different options to invest in. The key is making sure you invest in the right ones early, so it’s kind of like a penny stock and you get those advantages not invested in the ones that don’t work, and maybe what waste money.
Now it’s not going to be perfect so that expectation I’m talking about is, you know, we’re going to test and learn but we’re gonna have some failure, right, we’re going to learn from that failure, but this cannot be a, you know kind of like a self-driving car expectation right. If there’s one crash in one year for a self-driving car you know a lot of people like shut it down, shut it down, you have to set expectations that we’re going to learn, and we’ll show you we will be honest when we fail, and show you, you know what happened and how we’re learning from it, but we’re also going to show you the success and kind of show okay here’s what we did, and here was the impact. And I think also a mindset is kind of an Instacart is a great one.
We looked at Instacart over last year when I came to Simple Mills in April of 2020. It’s not just about throwing money at something, it’s about placing bets, and sometimes you have to do a proof of concept and start small. So we looked at it from Okay, we have four different categories right we’re in crackers, cookies, soft big bars and baking mixes. Let’s attack one of these, let’s see how Instacart new featured products and how their search process works compared to Amazon and others. And so we started placing bets, and we were seeing some growth, here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not.
We made the decision to shift all the last mile accounts from shopper marketing to ecommerce just for some symmetry but as we kept placing bets it was needed okay we have to take this from in-house to an agency partner, and that’s different for every brand but that was our decision, but as we were finding the numbers were going up for Instacart, and even past COVID so more looking at your late third early fourth quarter, we were having our highest months ever, what we were celebrating those successes. But when you’re showing you the organization the impact that you can have in brick and mortar, right, you can show how we’re investing in Instacart, and the success that we’re having even though you don’t know specific retailers on Instacart, obviously, but you can have a different kind of conversation there. So, place your bets versus throwing money and then showing what’s working and what wasn’t and pivot really kind of builds like a case study internally, and then you have a precedent you keep building kind of your goodwill chips to grow.
I think you connect more teams with Instacart than Amazon. In my experience at least Instacart really connecting departments to each other and here’s why: Amazon volume gets credited to the Amazon team or the ecommerce team. Instacart volume is a little bit different, and it can be challenging but again if you look at things from a positive point of view: okay, the sales team gets the volume credit, because the product is coming out of the physical store, you have to work with either shopper marketing in our case, or depending on where you are in your ecommerce team with the marketing team from a funding perspective, you have to connect the dots with your supply chain and ops teams to make sure all these accounts are better in stock because now Instacart has great data to kind of show you when they were out of stock and. And of course, sometimes the personal shopper just couldn’t find it, but at least directionally, you can say the importance of an out of stock thing that maybe resonated more than an Amazon out of stock. If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can move a lot faster.
I’m on a lot of share groups and you’ll hear, even now in 2021, some brands are still trying to figure out, who is owning Instacart, how are we going to invest, where’s the money coming from. I think you just need to look at in a positive way and say, “we need to win”. Because you have to do comparisons and I think that’s another big thing with educating internal organization; don’t just show one example or one option, because then it kind of naturally leads leaders or others to say yes or no. If you can show other options and one of those options should be the cost of doing nothing, because that can be sometimes more expensive, and again following the consumer. I think that’s the key here to make sure you look at it from the consumers point of view. I think that changes the mindset. Now it’s not just a yes no question, it’s not just about ecommerce, it’s a broader picture, there’s multiple options so maybe one of them gets picked. Staying still and this goes back to my athletic days, you may be the best player, your junior year, but if you don’t practice and get better over the season, everyone else is there, most people are you actually got worse than by your senior year. So, I think that the cost of doing nothing is a very important tactic to remind the ecommerce leaders case really,
Julia Glotz: You were just talking about the importance also of really making sure that, you know teams take into account the consumer perspective. Do you actively encourage your team members to shop across different marketplaces and try out different ecommerce sites so they’re actually living this as well they’re experiencing this as a consumer and they’re not just, you know, super focused on the one retailer or the one marketplace that they’re working on.
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, I think it’s definitely important, I am cautious try not to tell people what to do right, what you have to do. Like you said I kind of suggest it because I do think it’s important you know for your personal knowledge but again, connecting with the consumer. Experience it: who’s who has the best curbside? What is the online experience like? And even how is this comparing to the brick and mortar experience, what is missing. That can be helpful talking with your partners right if you’re talking to an Instacart or Gopuff or whatever you can say, “hey I saw this as a consumer, are you thinking about this?”. It doesn’t just help Simple Mills maybe helps them and it’s making you a good partner.
But even if you can’t get people and maybe, maybe the leaders are not the ones actually shopping for their family right so you’re not going to give to try anything because someone else does it in their house let’s say. So I think what you can do is, again, I think this is where the brick and mortar example, and kind of experience comes from, you know I used to do store tours to take pictures, why can’t use that for digital? Why can’t you show a Simple Mills pancake product with a bestseller tag? Why can’t you show the hot new releases, and say here’s what some of our competitors are doing or here’s a new competitor that no one’s seen in brick and mortar yet, but we may want to watch out for it because it might be, if they keep going at this rate they might be in brick and mortar in six months right so how do we defend against that and be aware of it.
And then also when you look at things like, you know, just different PDPs, and not only the main image, and that’s very important. the main image quality, whether it’s on mobile or desktop, but also kind of those, you know, I call it like the B+ images or the alternative images, how are you connecting with the consumer or how are your competitors connecting, you want to connect with them so they convert and learn versus confused them and move on to the next one right. You only have like I said less than three seconds before they move on. But I think if you can show those examples in the same spot or in the same method that brick and mortar endcaps are shown, and I’ve done that I know it’s exciting to have that picture come up and have everyone see it. Do the same thing for ecommerce and try and change that mindset and show that “hey, this is what the consumer sees too they see that end cap and brick and mortar, but they see above the fold. Here’s what happens when you at least this time at this moment, you always have to put what date and time you I did this. When I searched crackers does Simple Mills pop up? When I searched banana bread, did simple Mills pop up and here’s what it looks like.
I think even for those that don’t do the shopping themselves, or don’t shop broad places even take pictures of your curbside experience or your delivery right how do the bags look, how does the boxing of our product look on the inside that all kind of narrows the gap of the education or experience if they’re not doing it themselves,
Julia Glotz: Fantastic, I think it’s a really great ideas and inspiration for people listening as well. Now before we draw this too close, I do want to quiz you a little bit on you experienced during the pandemic, and how that shaped your ecommerce strategy. You’ve already talked about some of the increase in demand that Simple Mills saw during lockdown. Just tell us a little bit about what happened with your sales during the pandemic, what was the impact and what challenges this created specifically for your ecommerce team.
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, I said I came right in the middle of April. I think one thing, you know, I’m learning every day, even Amazon’s logistical network had a breaking point. I think you really learned like where your where your cracks were in your supply chain, and your ops systems.
Thankfully, Simple Mills, we were, nothing’s perfect, but we were able to stay in stock, we had some good planning, as this was the pandemic was starting and had some just kind of processes in place already so that we could capitalize when others were out of stock and as people were just bounced around trying to find anything to hack their pantry with. So, I think that was a key learning, I mean as we came out of it, what are some changes that we need to do from our forecasting method, how do we look at things from raw material acquisition and production schedule.
I think we were very lucky, there was the COVID bump let’s say in grocery as an essential category everyone’s stocking up, but then there was the Simple Mills bump. And the reason for that was, or what you know there’s many reasons we have a fantastic product that tastes great. We had a lot of, as everyone did, traffic coming to the site but when I came on board, it was “okay our PDP are really just a rotation of our boxes” that’s not going to be enough and we may never get this kind of traffic again. So, you know, as quick as we could we did a kind of an upgrade to our content: do more features and benefits include an image of a review within our products right that make it easy for someone to see, whether all they’re saying about this and that’s social proof.
We included portfolio shots because a lot of people may only know us for our crackers. We have cookies, bars and baking mixes and as big as baking mixes were I remember I think it was May of last year, Google had released the top 10 searched recipes and four of the top five we had products for so we capitalized on that right between banana bread brownies pizza crust, our artisan bread. You know all these things were an advantage and really to connect with the consumer. So, I think with the PDPs we really made sure we have a great consumer team and customer service. Aliza who does a great job of responding to consumers, but I think we looked at the consumer part, and especially how we looked at content off the PDP more blogs and emails, you had to just connect and help people right with non-food, non- Simple Mills stuff e.g. tips about how to work from home or to here’s some Zoom backgrounds, right just stuff to get people through because everyone was struggling so much at that point.
And I think that’s really, you know, even now, we’re not through the pandemic necessarily but it’s better than it was last year hopefully in most places, but it’s how do we look at this, even from our influencer network and how we’re putting out content is “how are we really making sure that we’re solving consumers’ needs?” We’re seeing things from their point of view, and we’re being helpful no matter where their journey is be it that they’re just learning about us, if they’re a repeat customer or someplace in between.
The other part is about data and how important data is. It’s not just about getting the most data and compiling it, it’s about finding data that’s compelling and actionable, and how do we use it to our advantage. And part of that to a degree is, you know, we know search we’ve talked about search and content. But even you know retargeting. Retargeting is like a second chance search, but there’s really a lot of different ways to do that and we have had great success using retargeting campaigns through DSP and others, because you can look at a few different ways: you can look at repeat your retargeting to repeat for like lapsed users, you can look at real time conquesting for competitor comparisons around socks, and you can look at it like relevancy.
Use retargeting for your existing customers, to show them your new products, right, we have some pancakes that have come out, we have some new organic seed crackers that have come out. That’s a great spot to go to your consumers and give them a little nudge and say “hey look what we have here” from a retargeting standpoint. So I think those are some of the key things, and then it’s also about prioritization and not that either one is this is a gift, it’s an either or. But Facebook Likes are not as important as lifetime value, impressions are not as important as insights. And I think when you look at that way you can evaluate your spend differently, when you know your customer acquisition costs when you know your lifetime value it can better narrow down even marketing spend in different ways. Okay, what is what is worth it here what’s going is the biggest impact from both an awareness standpoint as well as a conversion and sales standpoint. If you have that data, you can be nimbler, and you can read and react to situations, and you find opportunities.
We’ve partnered with, you know, a couple of great companies, a number of companies but a couple great ones: Mik Mak and Notch, and MM really helps us like with our social commerce and help us identify our target shoppers: are they coming from Pinterest, or are they coming from Facebook, how are our influencers influencing? You know we have better ways of racking stacking this, and now we can take like that Mik Mak data to a buyer, and instead of saying hey we posted on Instagram, something about our new organic seed crackers, we can say we posted, this many consumers picked your site, and here’s how many people added it to the cart, and in which products it was. That’s a lot more impactful.
Notch is on a different side, they allow us to really have consumer sentiment in real time, so that we know if our email newsletter or our blog or even our recipes are resonating with consumers, and it’s allowed us to kind of and change our formats for our newsletters from spacing to where pictures are located to bullet pointing. All these different things allowed us to you know learn different ways of how they’re reacting and both Mik Mak and Notch allow us to you amplify our first party data collection. So in addition to our DTC, we can then use that for the retargeting that I talked about or creating personalized audience kind of segments or look alike audiences, so a lot of different things.
The last thing I’ll just say is test and learn again, you know, Amazon has come out doing live streaming, but we’ve we dove into it we tested at the beginning of this year, they have Amazon Post, which is like their social media peace they’re testing, they have customer engagement emails for your new items. They have PDF documents you can upload on your PDP now that you can put things like your allergen charts recipes or FAQ’s. So you again, as long as you have this test and learn mentality and some of it might not work, but some of it will, I think that’s been a lot of great learnings for our brand in our company.
Julia Glotz: I’m fascinated by the fact that you’ve tried out live streaming just tell us very briefly what your experience was like because that’s just such a new emerging format, isn’t it particularly within grocery. What do you take from that?
Todd Hassenfelt: I wasn’t on camera so I don’t get the credit there. Colleen and Lexi on our social media influencer team did a fantastic job of putting this together and we did as a food brand looked at a few different recipes right and we kind of highlight where we lead with our strength as we thought about this, because of COVID we had to do it at one of their places using their kitchen. But I think the learnings are one, we need to do it, you look at what’s happening overseas.
Julia Glotz: You think it’s going to be part of your, your mix your ecommerce and social mix media forward?
Todd Hassenfelt: Yeah, I think we had great traffic that day we had some increased the sales. I think it’s going to be consistency right. So, as we’re working through it now is, how do we do this more often? Because it was a challenging process to do and it is time consuming for people you know for those two that have many different activities that they do and job responsibilities. So how do we use that maybe as we think about our influencer contracts, how do we just, you know, enhance our video content so we are in the process of figuring that out. I think this is one where you are learning was great from it, experience was good but difficult, but the cost of doing nothing here is going to be, too, too expensive, not to do it because consumers love video, we see what’s going on overseas so yes it’ll definitely be part of our mix.
Julia Glotz: Fantastic, really, really interesting. Now we’d like to finish by asking our guests about one essential piece of advice, they’d like to give our listeners and we call this your #22nd smarts. So Todd, what is your one essential piece of advice on how to build a world class CPG ecommerce team.
Todd Hassenfelt: I think it’s, let the consumer guide your resource allocation by thinking like and experiencing both online and offline brand interactions, as consumers, both new and existing would as well. Ensure that consumer experiences as best as you can make it, including the online content reviews that we’ve talked about.
One area that should not be overlooked, and I personally experienced this with my dad’s disability when he was alive is ensuring that your DTC website is accessible to as many consumers as possible from an ADA standpoint, there are many software partners out there to quickly upgrade your DTC site to allow consumers to choose the right accessibility profile for them, whether it’s vision impaired, ADHD friendly cognitive disability and others. Learn about, be aware of what Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are and how to get to the right level 2.1 Double A. Not only will it make your website more accessible, the more consumers, you add also can protect you from costly litigation as well. So I think that’s something that’s really important to be as you think about things like a consumer. Also think about all consumers, and how they experience your website.
Julia Glotz: Fantastic, Todd, thank you for being our guest and thank you for a fascinating conversation,
Todd Hassenfelt: No thank you, thank you for doing this podcast really excited to see all the ones after this and encourage people to listen to the ones before Thank you.