Build a formidable commercial team
Barton Canon is the senior vice president for commercial operations of Fly Ace Corp. (FAC), marketer of Jolly canned vegetables, canned fruits, Doña Elena Mediterranean products (olive oil, olives and capers, pasta and pesto sauces, canned tomatoes, anchovy, bottled sardines and canned tuna), Good Life oriental products (sotanghon, egg noodle, bihon, bread crumbs, sesame oil, oyster sauce) and other food products, many of which are leaders in their respective categories. In this interview, he shares about the big picture of commercial operations at Fly Ace.
Question: How do you ensure coordination, alignment and collaboration among marketing, sales and other related teams?
Answer: We give importance and attention to developing clear goals that are supported by relevant strategies, which are translated into a strong communication plan. This is driven by a moving culture of inclusion and transparency, which is further supported by the right tools and technology. Ultimately, we want to build a unified and effective commercial team that is strong and fosters authenticity and teamwork within the organization. We manage friction and disengagement, for we believe in the pag-usapan natin (let’s talk about it) mindset to resolve things. This is what will make it sustainable, effective and replicable.
It’s important to have in place both formal and informal structures of communication and engagement among commercial and support teams.
Formal activities such as sales leadership meetings, brand review meetings, and demand and supply meetings provide opportunities for cross-functional alignment and goal setting. These meetings should be pursued with the best decorum and encourage meaningful discussions aimed at solving meter-mover issues.
This will ensure that clear expectations and objectives are set for each team, and that they are aligned with the overall business strategy.
To further encourage collaboration and coordination, informal meetings such as tabletop huddles or situational/gap mitigation alignments are being integrated into the culture. These interactions should be welcoming and should foster a warm climate to be ensured of the positive impact they create.
Being transparent and having open communication is critical in ensuring successful collaboration. Team members should be confident to share their ideas and perspectives, trusting that they can add value to the organization.
Q: Which metrics do you monitor to evaluate the performance of your commercial operations and how do you leverage those insights for continuous improvement?
A: There are multiple data points to determine success and surface opportunities: sales—sell-in and sellout; top line; business unit; channel; category and brand; geography and region; speed of execution; effectiveness of programs—uniqueness, creativity, post-activity reports; rate of investment; cost to sales; return on investment; concessions (including their valuation); look of success: visibility, share of shelf and on shelf availability; market share, household penetration, numeric and weighted distribution; cash flow through receivables management; returns management; and employee engagement, retention and external attractiveness.
While we have strong capabilities in numeric reasoning, it’s equally important to complement these with a deep understanding of the various business landscapes on the ground. We use a good balance of both quantitative and qualitative data to improve our analysis and evaluation while using several data points to get a more comprehensive picture of the business. We also prioritize communication with our consumers, shoppers and retailers to get a better handle of their needs and find ways to add relevance to be able to serve them better. We put a premium on discoveries and insights, both positive and negative, and use them to sustain, augment and pivot as needed.
At Fly Ace, we operate with an entrepreneurial attitude and mindset, encouraging an “I own it” mentality at all levels. This drives the team to understand performance issues and gaps, and seek ways to improve and be better.
Q: How do you balance revenue growth with operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness?
A: It is always a balance between identifying priorities and determining a midpoint that makes sense for all key stakeholders. While all aspects of the business are important and interconnected, it’s crucial to set realistic yet challenging goals.
Identify business levers that can still be further managed. For example, we might examine our returns ratio and identify ways to reduce it further. We could also evaluate the efficiency of our merchandising manning looping or explore whether our route to market is the best it can be.
To succeed, we need to be brave and express the realities of our ambition, and what is needed to achieve it. And this is everyone’s job—not just of employees and not just of leadership groups. Management is open to hearing our ideas and can help us calibrate expectations to ensure that our goals are viable yet challenging. It is still all about multilevel teamwork and authentic communication that is supported by a well-developed business plan and brought to life through solid and hardworking executions.
Q: How do you approach talent development and succession planning within your commercial operations team to ensure strategic success?
A: First is to know the people in your organization. Understand their competencies and appetite to improve and to bring further value while recognizing their limitations and potential. Second is to know the positions and determine what qualifications and attitudes are needed to fulfill these roles. Third is to find the match or fit that will have the potential to develop and elevate to be a formidable pairing.
Do not hesitate to staff externally, if needed, but make sure that the cultural and managerial fit is aligned to our ways of working and interacting. Have constant dialogues with the people to understand them in a broader way. Ask for feedback and inputs to be better in our operations and how we manage our organization and company. Equip people with the right training, exposure and mentoring to prepare them for higher roles in the organization. Take care of your high potential talents with challenging tasks that will bring out the best in them while safeguarding their gratification for the contributions they have given.
Q: What is the culture at Fly Ace like? How do you continuously foster a customer-centric environment within the organization?
A: At Fly Ace, we function as a family. We work hard and take pride in our outputs, but we never lose sight of the human side of our engagement. We go out of our way to get to know each other on a more personal level, which helps build strong, lasting relationships.
We believe that leadership is not about hierarchy but accessibility. Our leaders are available to anyone who needs support or guidance, regardless of their position within the organization. We are always willing to “roll up our sleeves” and help our colleagues better manage their business and personal lives.
Our culture is warm and respectful, which sets us apart from other organizations. We have received consistent feedback from people who have left and returned to Fly Ace, attesting to the positive and supportive environment that we have created.
While we work in a very fast-paced environment and require a high level of intelligence, the team spirit that is alive in our organization makes the work feel both manageable and doable. We maintain this culture by safeguarding it and correcting misalignments early and fast. We are invested and take ownership of who we are. We are committed to fostering a customer-centric environment by placing a high value on collaboration, teamwork and open communication.
I consider myself as an ambassador of our culture and company, and the expectation is for everyone to be the same in every way. Together we build a better community that we call FAC.
Barton Canon will speak at the 3rd Mansmith Sales Summit on Aug. 15. For registration, visit salessummit.com.ph.
Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc.