Carrying on with Collingwood’s Q&A blog series Chris Barker caught up with Max Bass, a Sales Director with International and Commercial expertise in the FMCG automotive and baby products sector, having previously worked for the likes of James Briggs, Holt Lloyd and Graco.
With such strong experience in FMCG automotive and baby products sector, Chris was keen to learn more about how he has developed business and marketing strategies, in particular internationally.
Chris: Talk me through your background in senior leadership roles in the FMCG sector, what product sectors and experiences have you enjoyed most over the years?
Max: I have been fortunate enough to work for some great businesses, at interesting times in their evolution, that have given me opportunities to lead sales and marketing teams both within the UK and overseas. I’ve spent time in an array of different consumer goods sectors, including housewares, baby products, automotive and chemicals. As a foreign language speaker, and a languages graduate, the time I have spent living and working abroad has been hugely rewarding. I think that international experience not only enriches you as a businessperson, giving you a much broader set of professional and cultural experiences to draw from, but also makes for a really interesting and diverse working life.
Chris: When developing and recruiting a sales team, what key skills and personality traits do you look for?
Max: Clearly, much would depend on the specifics of the role, e.g. the seniority level, the scale and complexity of business and whether or not the management of people is involved. There are however some fundamental truths that, I believe, are prerequisites for a successful sales person at any level. I always look for high energy levels and a relentless approach, clear and natural personal engagement skills and an ability to be both creative and commercially aware at the same time. It is also essential that good salespeople be strong communicators, nowadays via a broad array of media, and have a high level of personal and professional integrity.
Chris: What advice would you give to an FMCG business researching International markets?
Max: You have to be clear and selective about which markets you want to enter and why. It’s very easy to get caught up in the sheer scale of opportunity that multiple markets have to offer. Prioritisation is key, as a lot of time and resource can be expended in trying to enter a high number of markets at once. There are plenty of resources nowadays to help research thoroughly and trade associations and UKTI can help at this stage. Ultimately, there’s no replacement for spending time in market, visiting and speaking to local participants whether it be “on site” or at trade exhibitions.
Chris: What advice would you give when developing a sales and marketing strategy for a new region or country in the FMCG sector?
Max: Once the research work has been done and markets have been understood and identified, I think there are two key requirements that need to be fulfilled if the venture is to be successful and sustained. Firstly, there have to be appropriate levels of commitment and resource internally to deliver the program to the market in an effective and sustainable fashion. Secondly, you have to have the right feet on the ground in the region itself. If you are going with a local master distributor model, a relationship has to be fostered whereby the distributor sees itself, and acts, as an effective arm of the principle business. At a given level of scale and complexity, it will likely become worthwhile having direct employees located in market.
Chris: What advice would you give to a business when rationalising or developing a range of products for the International FMCG market?
Max: Understand very clearly what the proposition is that your business is bringing to market and what gap it is going to fill. Many businesses launch products and entire programs which are essentially derivatives, or worse, “me too” versions of what has been established in a given market for many years and expect a successful outcome. This core proposition should be at the intersection of an insight into the market and a true deliverable of your business. If this proposition is not real, meaningful and in some way differentiated, then the result is likely to be wasted time, money and ultimately an inventory problem!
Chris: Finally, How would you describe your own leadership style and how has it developed over the years, as you have become established in the FMCG sector?
Max: I’d say that my leadership style is based upon striving to give people the tools and motivation to deliver their best for their business and customers every day. Generally, people do things for their own reasons, so giving them a stake in the success of the business, psychologically as well as financially, is a good way to engender a high level of continuous engagement. Over and above that, I aim to be as consistent as I possibly can, to make sure people are at once comfortable but challenged in their work and that everybody has a very clear idea of their objectives and where they fit into the overall organisation.
I believe that you never stop growing as a leader of people. New characters and challenging situations are forever just around the corner and each one provides a great learning experience, especially when you are working within different countries and cultures.
For more information on Max’s background, you can review his LinkedIn profile here.
For the last 11 years, Collingwood has supported a number of FMCG Businesses to identify, attract, retain and develop Senior Leaders through our Executive Search services and Leadership Development programmes.
For more information on how Collingwood could support your business call us on +44 1829 732374.