ConAgra Foods Activates Sales GMs

A new learning solution helps salespeople to look at their business holistically.

Edited by Margery Weinstein

The role of salesperson at ConAgra Foods, Inc., is evolving. The days of salespeople who just carried product information to their customers and purchase orders back to the company are long gone. Externally, “new” salespeople must be trusted advisors to their customers, understanding their customers’ business needs and helping them achieve success. Internally at ConAgra, “new” salespeople are general managers of their business who strive for continuous improvement in their trade spending, net sales, and profitability. Instead of being driven solely by volume and quota, ConAgra says its salespeople need to look at their business holistically and manage the entire profit and loss, both top and bottom line. The company says its sales organization plays a vital role in driving sustainable growth that will ensure it accomplishes its goal of becoming the fastest-growing—top- and bottom-line—food company by 2017.

Aligning with this shift in mindset, ConAgra’s sales leadership changed the FY’13 performance measurement metrics for its sales organization. It was then the role of the Enterprise Learning team to create a learning solution to ensure salespeople have the knowledge and skill to operate successfully in this “new” environment.

With this challenge set forth by sales leadership, the Enterprise Learning team created a learning solution titled “Activating the Sales General Manager.” This learning program was built with ConAgra’s “Learn, Apply, Sustain” methodology:
LEARN: Six weeks prior to the instructor-led classroom sessions, the company launched staggered pre-learning exercises. These exercises combined e-learning, simulations, videos, and reading materials, educating participants on the key business fundamentals required to be a sales general manager.

APPLY: Each of the company’s five sales teams was brought together for a two-day instructor-led workshop. These five sessions took place in summer 2012 with more than 500 participants. During the workshops, ConAgra’s salespeople were able to familiarize themselves with and practice using the tools and resources available to them in a role-play environment.

SUSTAIN: To sustain the knowledge and skill participants gained during the pre-learn and workshop activities, sales leaders hold them accountable to exhibit the behaviors of a sales general manager.

Within a few short months of activating this learning solution, ConAgra’s sales organization saw significant results. Doug Knudsen, president of Sales, noted in his first-quarter earnings letter: “As we release our company earnings this week, I want to provide some insight into our sales performance for the quarter. Overall, Consumer Foods delivered! We grew operating profit 23 percent and net sales 8 percent year-over-year while beating our plan by $20 million. It is evident our Sales General Manager Activation is working and impacting our results. Our customer profitability increased dramatically due to a much better sales mix of our products with higher profit margins. We did an excellent job of securing our net realized price targets, as well as strong new item execution at both headquarters and retail customers.”

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