When ConAgra Foods, one of the biggest American packaged foods companies, went through the process of restructuring a couple of years ago, an in-house shopper marketer Olga Yurovski faced a choice either to stay and keep working, or leave the company, get a notable severance package and undertake her own new venture.
Unveiling the Problem
For six years Olga had been working hard to figure out the best ways to promote ConAgra goods through Kroger’s multi-department stores to shoppers.
To make it clear, shoppers are very similar to consumers in terms of marketing, but are the target audience of not only consumer packaged goods companies, but retailers as well. While consumers are treated as people deciding IF and WHY to buy a particular product, shoppers also considering HOW, WHEN and WHERE to buy it. So, shopper marketers strive to answer the following questions:
- Where our target audience would want to buy our product?
- What can we do to drive people to those locations?
- How can we convince them to buy our product instead of dozens similar ones available in those or other places?
If you sell lots of different packaged goods in a store, why not combine some of them at one stand and offer an all-in-one set of ingredients for, say, lasagne? And if you lack an ingredient, you can partner with another company producing it to boost sales for both of you. Having a big line of products, you can also perform promotions in stores or outside, advertise them in retailers' brochures, etc.
However, to arrange such events, shopper marketers need to be in constant contact with retailers and partners, negotiate details, manage budgets and report to their management. Then they also need to make pre- and post-analysis to figure out the effectiveness of the conducted events and improve it in the future.
All those activities require working with great amounts of unstructured data: emails, voice calls, budget spreadsheets, presentations for management etc. This is why often Olga found herself burdened with bureaucracy and having no time to do research, offer innovative ideas, think of strategic initiatives and experiment.
Based on her colleagues' feedback she figured out that shopper marketers spend up to 40% of their time on working and restructuring data instead of the marketing itself. Clearly, a web tool could automate those tasks and dramatically increase the productivity for such people.
Eventually, Olga decided to leave ConAgra and invest the received severance package into her own tool called Shopperations.
Is There Enough Pain to Relieve?
Backed up by her family, Olga decided to try and bring her idea to life. First, she needed to be sure if the idea is in demand and there's a market big enough that understands the problem she tries to solve.
The research showed that the shopper marketing industry keeps growing. During 2012-2014 only the shopper marketing spendings increased by $17 billion and grew from 6% to 13.5% of the total marketing budget in the US.
Olga started attending meetups and talking to different people and potential clients about her idea. One of the companies turned out to be so interested that they invested money and bought 20 user licenses of a tool that was yet to be implemented!
Later Olga met a representative of a local fund supporting female entrepreneurs, and after studying her idea thoroughly and discussing it with experts, they also funded the development of the product.
Having a prototype already done by her fellow, she started looking for developers to turn it into a full-fledged product.
Turned out, most great developers in Cincinnati (a city where Olga lives at the moment) were already busy with their own projects, and local agencies could not provide tangible estimates on how much time and money it may take them to implement her product. Besides, the solution was obviously too niche and specific to inspire people to work on it, as only shopper marketers can understand how great and useful it may be. So Olga kept searching.
Since local web development companies couldn't make Olga feel safe about her investments, she started looking for offshore companies and eventually found us. In reply to her request, our CTO Vlad Vorobiov provided her with more than clear estimates of how her product will be built at RubyGarage. Add here an extremely competitive price comparing to the US hourly rates, ability to constantly stay in touch with team members and see their current progress in Trello, and Olga was finally convinced about the web development team of her choice.
RubyGarage started working on a product in April 2015. In around 4 months we delivered a working MVP, and since then the product gets new functionality every couple of weeks.
Once the first working version of the product was released, Olga was left to do the most important part: find the clients. But before talking about it, let’s dive deeper into the product we've built for her.
What Shopperations Is About
As a tool for shopper marketers, Shopperations provides tools to organize events, plan and manage budgets. Thus, Olga has come up with four essential parts her tool should include: Budgets, Events, Calendar and Dashboard.
Since shopper marketers usually organize various promotional events to stimulate sales, the event management functionality was a first thing to do. The solution provides data on the timeframe when the promo is conducted, it's current status, owner, estimated spends, reserved budget, allocated budgets and current actual spends. Lots of filters and sorting options make it easier to navigate through events when their number gets too large.
In addition, every such event usually has many collateral materials: contracts, design documents, partnership terms. So we added the ability to attach documents and discuss events in the system.
OK, now shopper marketers can organize and manage events much more efficiently, but what about budgets? If your team has a particular allocated budget, you are again left with using Excel or specific budget management tools. So, Olga asked us to add the budgeting functionality.
Finally, the marketers got the ability to quickly figure out how their budgets are allocated, as Shopperations allows specifying all details you might need, such as a category (like brand or product) the current budget is allocated for, it's type, designation, owner, current spendings, reserved amounts of money, etc.
Just like events, budgets can also be sorted or filtered in an extremely advanced manner, and allow discussions and file attachments.
Having budgets, events and a calendar already implemented, we were only left with doing a main page, a dashboard where marketers could learn about all current events, spendings, and latest stats in a visualized manner. That made data processing even more complicated, as the tool is designed to allow you enter various information in many custom fields. Once you’ve done it, it will be immediately processed and displayed in a few other places, so the business logic behind the product is very complex.
For instance, if you are adding the event, its dates will be shown in the calendar, and the corresponding budget will also be adjusted to take the spendings for that event in the account. And now this data should also appear on your dashboard in a visualized manner.
After implementing the above-mentioned functionality and other under-the-hood features, Olga could finally offer the next features to her potential clients:
- Creating and managing marketing teams through Shopperations.
- Automating event planning and report generation.
- Controlling budget spendings on all stages.
- Negotiating events with partners.
- Staying up to date using the tool's notification system.
As a result of using Shopperations, the clients are expected to get the next benefits:
- Save up to 20-40% of shopper marketers' time on avoiding calls, emails, and bureaucracy. Also, team leaders can finally refuse from increasing the headcount to improve people's productivity.
- Improve decision-making speed for big companies. Usually it takes a lot of time for people sitting in branch offices and seeing opportunities to contact the management in the HQ and ask them to make a particular decision. Often, top managers will require more data, and retrieving it will take so much time that in the end the suddenly appeared opportunities will no longer be available. Shopperations allows to have the required data always at hand.
- Increase the efficiency of creative development expenditures. Previous experience allows shopper marketers and managers making decisions to analyze which practices, decisions, events and partnerships were more successful. That also includes analyzing the ideas that were cancelled, like design options, event concepts etc. Such data often gets quickly lost in the CPG companies, while having it allows to better understand partners' new requirements or avoid introducing ideas similar to the ones that were once rejected.
Making the Dream Come True
Finally, Olga was sure she would have a product that she can already present and offer. But once she started contacting potential clients, new challenges arose.
For instance, in a few weeks after we began working on Shopperations for CPG companies like ConAgra, Olga suddenly approached us and told that there's a retailer wanting to get it as well. Indeed, with its functionality Shopperations turned out to be useful for retailers as well, allowing them to organize big marketing events, especially when they want to attract sponsors and their money to hold another back-to-school or holiday promotion with lots of brands presented.
Besides, shopper marketers often partner with retailers, as their products are sold in retail stores, so it's no surprise Shopperations is potentially able to relieve the pains of both parties.
So we pivoted yet an unreleased product and started another its version tailored for retailers. Within only four months (May—September 2015) we were able to deploy a working minimum viable product for retailers. By the end of January 2016 the version for CPG companies' shopper marketers was also released.
The main difference between those two products is that Shopperations for CPG clients is positioned to automate the companies' inner organizational processes, while Shopperations for Retail aims to help retail managers organize co-marketing campaigns with the company's partners. So, the functionality is pretty much the same — in both versions you can manage budgets, create events and see the calendar — yet numerous usability enhancements allow two similar products to solve two different problems in the most effective manner.
Once the version for CPG clients was ready, Olga visited the office of one of her potential clients to demonstrate the product. The meeting involved 8 employees that were expected to work with the product and the CIO. What the CIO said about Shopperations made Olga very proud of her decision to start her own venture (and turn to us):
"I have never seen a new technological product to work so smoothly right after its first release".
Of course, that client had eventually agreed to buy annual licenses for around 15 people.
Later, Olga even tried to sell Shopperations to ConAgra, her former employer, but it turned out they have already been trying to outsource the shopper marketing bureaucracy by attracting a third-party agency.
This is when Olga realized that service agencies working for CPG clients is another target audience for Shopperations. They are able to not only resell Shopperations to its clients, but also use it to automate the work those agencies are ought to do for CPG clients.
Besides, shopper marketing evolves and conquers new niches. For instance, car manufacturers have started hiring shopper marketers from CPG companies to apply their best practices and help boost sales at car dealerships. So Shopperations can also be adjusted with minimum efforts to address the needs of the car market.
And while Olga is currently busy with a business side of her project, we keep improving the product from the technical side. And there's yet a lot to do!
Based on clients' feedback, Olga realized it would be great if Shopperations could allow importing market data studies and use that info to help even better forecast the shopper marketing events. Also, since shopper marketers work tightly with sales managers (who are responsible for forecasting the sales at promotional events), Shopperations could also allow integration with the software those sales managers use.
Olga always dreamed of finding a small market niche, where she could make a perfect product addressing the specific needs of users. She had a lot of ideas, but was always unsure if she has enough expertise for it. Finally, six years in shopper marketing provided her with a perfect opportunity to come up with an innovative and useful tool that she felt able to build and offer. And with our help her dream came true in the best possible way.
And if you also have a dream of building a market-blowing web solution or a mobile application, you already know the web development team ready to turn it into reality.