With guests from established enterprise companies to start-ups barely out of infancy to everyone in between - you’ll get the inside scoop on what’s Up Next in Commerce. New episodes come out every Tuesday and Thursday.

Subscribe to get notified of new episodes and our Up Next in Commerce weekly newsletter. 

EPISODE 18

How Kellogg’s is Leveraging Emerging Technologies and Strategic Partnerships to Build a Scalable B2B2C Platform

With Robert Birse, the Head of Global B2B Ecommerce at Kellogg’s

You may only know Kellogg’s as the company that makes your favorite cereal. But there is so much more to the company than just delicious treats. Robert Birse is the Head of Global B2B Ecommerce at Kellogg’s, and he has been leading the charge to position Kellogg’s as one of the leaders in creating scalable B2B Ecommerce strategies.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Robert explains all the ways that Kellogg’s is upending traditional Ecommerce strategies in order to help customers find greater success. Using technology like A.I. and machine learning, and by developing a platform that all of their customers and partners can use, Kellogg’s has been pushing the ball forward on bringing small and large businesses into the world of Ecommerce and helping them get the most out of their Ecommerce strategies.

Key Takeaways:

  • A brand like Kellogg’s has the power to up-end the typical Ecommerce strategy. Instead of asking how to get customers to buy more, they ask how they can help their customers sell more. In doing so, their customers and partners become more successful, and it’s a win-win for all parties.
  • Change management is important because many of the small businesses Kellogg’s works with have to fundamentally change the way they think about doing business. They have to rely much more on technology than ever before. But the appetite is there because A.I. and predictive analytics are proving to be critical tools in helping businesses determine what to stock and how to look at consumer behavior.
  • B2B Ecommerce is still in its infancy, but there is an appetite for innovation across the board from brands to retailers to distributors. They’re eager to test, iterate and experiment with new technologies in order to create better one-to-one engagement at scale

Key Quotes:

“I’m using technology to create value for our customers and changing the paradigm that was always traditional in sales engagement, which was how do I get my customers to buy more? Now the principle behind our Ecommerce strategy from a B2B perspective, is how do we enable our customers to sell more? And then we will be the recipients of the downstream benefit in due course, and that’s a big change in the approach.”

“I hope the consumer will start to see how B2B is impacting the shopper experience, not directly but indirectly. As part of our mission, we’re trying to use technology B2B platforms to create a conduit where we can influence, educate, inform and enable our retail, especially our independent small retailers to be better store owners and to create a better in-store experience.”

“At Kellogg’s, we’re really focused on a single global platform, one ecosystem of applications that will scale globally across markets and channels and the customer segments within these channels, with a lower cost of ownership as we scale it out. That’s the first guiding principle. The second is, if a machine can do it, we probably shouldn’t do it. So everything is going to be machine-driven.” 

“Partnerships are key. The synergistic product from more than one brand that you could curate into a collective offer, there is a lot of power in that. So strength in numbers has always been the case. So I think we could really team up better in the industry to make a more powerful proposition to our retailers, that creates greater value, greater economies of scale, and it’s easier to adopt.”

“I think you look inwards and outwards. There’s no stone not worth turning over to find an idea about a new product.”

“A cornerstone of what I’m trying to do with the B2B platform is create efficiency. To create efficiency, the first thing I’m trying to tackle is preventing any waste of time as it pertains to identifying a product.”

“Success has moved upstream. So when I think about what success looks like from a digital perspective in B2B, it’s very much around ensuring that the retailer is selling more products more effectively and more efficiently, and if that’s translating into more dollars at the point of sale, then that’s what success looks like to B2B commerce going forward.”

“We’re still very much in day one of our B2B engagement. I think you will find that modern B2B is still in day one globally across both industries. So there’s still a lot of learning, a lot of testing, a lot of refinement to do, but the appetite is there. ”

Bio:

Robert Birse is the Head of Global B2B Ecommerce at Kellogg’s. Prior to joining Kellogg’s, Robert held executive roles at Allied Electronics, Future Electronics, Orckestra Inc., and Brady Corporation.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome to Up Next in Commerce. This is Stephanie Postles, your host from Mission.org. Today I’m very excited, we have Robert Birse on the show, the head of Global B2B & B2B2C E-commerce at Kellogg. Rob, how’s it going?

Robert:

It’s going great. Thank you very much, from captivity.

Stephanie:

Yes, yes. How is life in captivity?

Robert:

Well, I’m thinking about calling Amnesty International, see if they can get me out of here.

Stephanie:

Well, we were just talking about what life looks like right now, just us eating lots of Cheese-Its on our bed at home, calling into Zoom calls, or maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s not you.

Robert:

No, I think that’s a typical picture across the world right now.

Stephanie:

Yeah, which is okay. Temporarily, it’s okay. So, I saw you have a very long history in E-commerce. I think I saw dating back to even early 2000s, right?

Robert:

I’m afraid it was in the ’90s.

Stephanie:

Oh nice, okay perfect. Well, I would love to hear a bit about your background and what led you into E-commerce.

Robert:

Sure. Well, I was working for a catalog distributor, so not a distributor of catalog. We use the catalog as our medium to communicate with our customers who were predominantly engineers in factories across Europe. The business that I was responsible for at the time was a small specialist distributor, and we were struggling a little bit to find our position as E-commerce was starting to take more of a role in the consumer engagement or the customer engagement in our case. So we were on the tube and this was the late ’90s, and we took a digital transformation, even though digital still wasn’t really a bonafide strategy because it was only emerging. The first task we undertook was to create a digital asset library from all the bromides and things that we’d cumulated to support the catalog production.

Robert:

So we partnered with a startup in London, a bunch of basically college graduates who were trying to create the first digital content management system. And that was more than 20 years ago. So we did that and we started to work to create a digital presence online, starting with static content and then moving into transactional capabilities. It helped transform that little business into something that had a much greater future. So that was my first introduction to digital and then never looked back since to be honest.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s great. What kind of transformations has your career seen since the starting point in the ’90s to now? And what does your role look like now at Kellogg?

Robert:

Yeah, I mean, I’ve used digital disruption and innovation in all the roles I’ve had since that position in the UK to varying degrees of impact. When I joined Allied, and I moved to Texas, we transformed that business collectively from a couple of hundred million to 600 million in a very short period of time. Just really ensuring that we unified the sales channels with the digital channel. In the early ’90s, or early 2000s was very popular to Ring-fence E-com as a separate channel, and I felt that was wrong. So when we moved to the US I tried to ensure that the unification happens, so it was the best one to punch we could possibly give our customers, we’re always on capability with the human interaction. I have used that principle throughout my career to build success.

Robert:

Ultimately all the way to Kelloggs where now, I’m using technology to create value for our customers, changing the paradigm that was always traditional in sales engagement of how do I get my customers to buy more? Now the principle behind our E-commerce strategy from a B2B perspective, is how do we enable our customers to sell more? And then we will be the recipients of the downstream benefit in due course, and that’s a big change in the approach.

Stephanie:

So what did your first, maybe like 90 days look like? When you came to Kellogg’s and you saw the lay of the land, what were some of the initial things that you were like, we have to do this, or have to shift this? What did you do?

Robert:

Well, the train was leaving the station when I joined Kellogg and I decided to embark on a pilot, a B2B pilot, in Brazil of all markets, one of the hardest B2B markets in the world. So it was an interesting challenge to ramp up very quickly. Now, thankfully that we’re using Salesforce Commerce Cloud as the technology platform, which I was very familiar with. So that was okay, but getting familiar with our business model in Brazil, which was a direct store delivery model was a different beast for me. And then obviously with Portuguese language challenges, it was an interesting 90 days, but it was certainly a massive. You know the saying, jump in the deep end and [inaudible] and that’s where I found myself.

Stephanie:

Thankfully you’re still swimming today, which we all are glad about. So what does your day to day look like now? And how would I think about B2B when it comes to Kellogg’s? Because from a consumer perspective, I don’t really think about what goes on behind the scenes. I just go to my local whole foods. I find my cereals and my RXbars, and I don’t think about how it gets there or how maybe it gets to a smaller Mom-and-pop stops. So how do I think about Kellogg’s B2B experience and B2B2C experience?

Robert:

Well, I hope the consumer will start to see how B2B is impacting the shopper experience, not directly but indirectly. So as part of our mission, we’re trying to use technology B2B platforms to create a conduit where we can influence, educate, and inform and enable our retail, especially our independent small retailers. Not a frequency store or space in particular, to be better store owners and to create a better in store experience. As well as use some of the modern engagement tactics, such as social media engagement to bring more food traffic to their store from within their community. Therefore, strengthen their business and providing a jumping off point for them to become more successful in the future.

Robert:

So the consumer should recognize that when they go to the store, the store has always got the product they’re expecting to find in the store, and if that product is displayed in a fashion that’s compelling and it’s positioned next to other products, they well, that would be the perfect combination. Then B2B commerce, modern B2B commerce is starting to have an impact on the buying experience. So that’s what goes on behind the scenes, and that’s what our vision is built around.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That is something I never think about, is this product positioned next to another one to make a better, maybe make me buy more. How do you figure out what products should be next to each other? And how do you work with the store owners to ensure that they abide by those rules? To make sure that, maybe not rules, but it’ll also help them sell more as well. So how do you work with the store owners to creating a partnership?

Robert:

Well, in the past, it was always through traditional sales engagement. The Lucas success has always been a principle behind how we’ve engaged our retailers in using planograms and driving compliance around these planograms and the science behind them has been well understood, and the discipline has been in place for a long time. However, the cost of serving and maintain that relationship at a cadence that we need to continue has become ever more challenging. So digital is helping to change that paradigm and allowing us to go back to the long tail and really start to help our smaller retailers to really become stronger and more effective in their day to day life. So we see things like AI driving the intelligence around product recommendations for a store type, for instance.

Robert:

So if you are an independent store owner and you are in a rural environment where you are a 1,000 square feet and two the cash registers, that we would like to be able to cluster you with other retailers just like you, do the analysis and determine what you must stock, what you could stock and what you shouldn’t stock. And then ensure that we’re talking to the owner operator on a cadence that would allow us to then do more of that and offer and recommend as consumers trends change. So we’re always ahead of demand, not buying demand in the long tail.

Stephanie:

How do you stay ahead of demand? What kind of tools and technologies are you using to ensure that you’re able to quickly react to consumer buying behaviors or inventory levels for the store owner? How do you stay ahead of those things?

Robert:

Well, you’re giving me way too much credit to say that we’re actually ahead of those things, we’re aiming to be ahead of these things. So let’s make sure that’s completely clear and we’re being transparent, there’s a lot of work to do here. So what we see is the ability to take all that historic purchasing information, and then combine it with social listening to see what consumers are talking about, then plugging in triggers like weather and other influences on buying patterns and then continue to feed machine learning and AI logic to build a picture that is constantly dynamic and changing so that we can then say to the customer, the retailer, “Hey, this product is starting to decline its popularity so we’re recommending you start to reduce the inventory you carry. And by the way, this product is gaining popularity and we’re going to drive a marketing campaign in your market to promote it. So now it’ll become a hot commodity, please accept this recommendation and capitalize on that demand and it will happen in the coming weeks.” That’s what we’re aiming for.

Stephanie:

Do you see the partners being ready to accept that and wanting to stock the products that you’re recommending? Are they trusting your guidance or has it been an uphill battle when it comes to those recommendations?

Robert:

Well, first of all, the primary segment we’re focused on is that high frequency store, independent retailer, a C-store, a convenience store that kind of customer segment, and they’ve been incredibly underserved for many years now. So any insight that we’ve given them so far, and the questions we’ve asked them about would it just be of interest, they’ve all unanimously said, this is what we’ve been asking for years, please help me grow my business. So I think the appetite is definitely there.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s amazing. How do you set up platforms and systems for these different businesses? Because I could see each one needing something a little bit different. So how do you scale that model to provide the data to each company in a different way, or each, like you said, store in a different way?

Robert:

Right. It has to be done without human intervention to start with, we cannot be responsible for building an army to support such endeavor. So at Kellogg we’re really focused on a single global platform, one ecosystem of applications that will scale globally across markets and channels and the customer segments within these channels, with a lower cost of ownership as we scale it out. So that’s the first guiding principle. The second end is, if a machine can do it, we probably shouldn’t do it. So everything is going to be machine driven. And then by rewarding the owner operators to complete their profiles, that allows us to capture information like, is your store rural, suburban, or urban, gives us another great data point to then create more effective costuming.

Robert:

And then in these clusters, the analytics can be very powerful and the machine can then start to communicate through marketing automation on a cadence that we could never possibly imagine before, and then touch them with relevant content that is absolutely pertinent to their business. So I would make a recommendation to you and your store that you’re missing these two products, you should this and if you do stock these, we predict that you will make X number of dollars incrementally every year thereafter. And that’s very powerful for comparison.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s great. Are there any pitfalls or learnings when going about this partnership model and helping the retail stores that you saw along the way that you would find maybe other companies or brands will need to do this, where you’re like, “Hey, we ran into this problem along the way, or this was a big hiccup that other people could probably avoid if you listen to this podcast.” Any advice around that?

Robert:

Well, I think it’s going to be the same answer that everybody gives, and that’s really focused on education, change management. You’re asking people to change their habits. So in emerging markets like Brazil, for us high growth markets, there’s a full service that the reps provide to date. And so the store owners are accustomed to doing a particular style of business with us, we’re asking them to change that and be more responsive from a digital perspective. Now corporate, for all the bad and sadness that’s come with corporate, it has been the catalyst for changing the perspective of many retailers to how they should interact with their brands. So that’s been that the silver lining of corporate is it’s elevated the position of why B2B could be a very important tool in their growth strategy going forward. And that’s changed the perspective of consumers considerably.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s a good silver lining. So I saw that you also created a mobile app to reach some of the smaller retail clients. Can you tell me a bit about what problem you were facing and why you thought mobile was the best way to solve that problem?

Robert:

Well, that’s a really easy one is the business tool of choice for small business owners. The internet and the mobile device and companies like Kellogg’s are now developing solutions, online solutions that years ago would have been financially out of reach. Now they have all these tools that they can run their business, and that’s why mobile is so important to us.

Stephanie:

Got it. Do you ever feel like you’re encumbered by trying to meet your partner obligations or that the experiences maybe can’t be what you want them to be because of certain obligations you have with partners?

Robert:

No, I feel more enabled to be honest, because it’s a difficult market. The times are always challenging. So anything that might add value to a relationship, I think it goes a long way to creating a winning business scenario. So don’t feel there’s any barriers, maybe some adoption challenges that those would have been there regardless. So I feel that there’s such a large opportunity to use Ecommerce to change our engagement model, that there’re enough partners that have put their hand up and will put their hand up to say, “Yeah, I would love to be part of that because I can see that could create competitive advantage for me and alone I can’t do it but in partnership with you, I feel that you could guide us and help us aspire to our own digital endeavors going forward.”

Stephanie:

Yeah, completely agree. How do these retail partners keep track of all their other brands? So I’m thinking, if Kellogg’s has their website that you would log into and you would look at the recommendations and get your orders and your inventory and all that kind of stuff. How would a retailer keep track of everything else they have in their store too? Is there like a single source that they can rely on or how do they think about that?

Robert:

So that’s a great question, and it’s greatly misunderstood. There is no real lifespan for a single application to serve a single brand in a retail environment. Who in their right mind would manage 50 different applications from different brands? So for two different models, I foresee. So in a mature, disciplined distribution based market, such as North America where most of our distribution wholesale partners have a web presence to date with E-commerce capabilities, we will be looking to integrate into that, to improve the experience in that environment. So think about a store within a store concept, and that would be where I would see brands like Kellogg’s and others prospering and allowing the retailer to buy across a broad selection of products available from the distributor, but also to technically punch out to reach my Kellogg experience, where they can see their performance plus with their peer group to get the recommendations that we’re offering, being informed about trends and product demand and so forth.

Robert:

And then if they’re inclined to confer upon a recommendation we’ve given them that product order will go back into the distributor environment to be processed in a normal fashion, thereby allowing them to continue to go about buying other products for the store. Now in markets where distribution isn’t as well evolved from a digital perspective, then marketplaces become the answer to ensuring that a retailer can go to a marketplace designed for their customer segment, with brands that represent at least 40% of their shelf. So that there’s enough for them to do in one execution to not create administration, but to reduce administration in the procurement of product.

Stephanie:

I got it, that makes sense. How do you think about working with different platforms? You just mentioned marketplaces and I saw when you go on Kellogg’s website, you direct people to go on platforms like Amazon and then also CVS and Target. How do you balance working with bigger stores and retail partners, and then also platforms like Amazon within your Kellogg strategy for E-commerce?

Robert:

Well, there’s a lot of room for improvement on both ends, so in the end you’re referring to where the large platforms are in play, there’s a ton of up side to improve content, to improved recommendations, to really get deeper integration, that we can take all that learning and insight and present it as a more refined offer list dynamic. Obviously the price part architecture element of ensuring that what we’re presenting is something that’s scalable and profitable for us, as well is a key factor in these relationships at both ends, of course. I would say that they’re not mutually exclusive in the sense that, we can operate in two spectrums here. So in the large platform, but also taking that technology and applying it to enable the long tail to prosper.

Robert:

Monetizing the long tail is actually, a very worthy prize worth unlocking for every CPG company in the world. And I think that’s where the glue on your food is to be honest, we do a great job in most cases with our Walmart’s, and our Target’s and our Amazon’s. We don’t do a tremendous job today with a smaller, high-frequency stores as an example.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That long tail does seem really important. How would you advise other CPG brands to engage with those? Like you said, the long tail?

Robert:

Do you know, I think partnerships are key. The synergistic product from more than one brand that you could curate into a collective offer, there is a lot of power in that. So strengthen in numbers has always been the case. So I think we could really team up better in the industry to make a more powerful proposition to our retailers, that creates greater value, greater economies of scale, and it’s easier to adopt. And I think that’s what’s missing today because everybody is a little nervous about working together, trade secrets and what if the competition find out. But honestly in my entire career, I’ve always had a hard time just getting our innovation execution done, nevermind, stealing somebody else’s in time. So in reality, it will never happen, but there’s an insecurity, that’s common to human nature, I guess.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I see the same thing in startup world where people don’t want to share their ideas and you’re like, “Trust me, I’ve got my own stuff to work on, I’m not trying to steal your idea and build a whole nother startup on top of the stuff that I’m working on. Don’t worry.”

Robert:

So true.

Stephanie:

Have you seen any successes when it comes to those partnerships that you would advise others to think about it this way, when it comes to letting people lower down their guards and allowing them to see this could have benefit for everyone, any successful case studies there?

Robert:

No, nothing is mature as a case study yet. We’re still very much in the embryonic stage of developing this strategy. You can see it though in play from time to time when we do joint ventures with other brands targeting the consumer, to be honest. We did last year, we did a very exciting campaign with cheeses and house wine, that was the box wine company.

Stephanie:

Oh, tell me more about that?

Robert:

Well, this one is very interesting and very simple, it was a box wine. The box had to be extended to contain cheeses. Cheese and wine, as you know, is a perfect combination. I personally was just eager to get my hands on a box and, yeah, that morning it went live at nine o’clock and we sold everything in about 40 seconds, I believe. So none of us got any, so the power-

Stephanie:

You’re still on the wait list.

Robert:

It’s never coming back, I don’t think.

Stephanie:

Oh, no.

Robert:

We have to recover from the demand. Yeah, cheeses doesn’t need much help [inaudible] as I said, we can’t make enough to meet consumer demand. That’s a great example of when you can join forces and just make the proposition more compelling. So I see that playing out in the B2B space as well, as I said before, together we’re stronger.

Stephanie:

Yeah. How do you think about what partnerships are advantageous to have? It seems like it’d be hard, and I could see a lot of brands maybe partnering randomly, and you’re like, “Ah, that’s not really even helpful to the consumer.” So how would you think about striking up new partnerships in a way that’s mutually beneficial to both brands and is good for a longer term strategy?

Robert:

Well, it depends what your ambition is, of course. So there’ll be different solutions for different approaches. I mean, obviously, we wouldn’t partner with a Benjamin Moore Paint brand, there’s no correlation. So within the food industry taking snacks as an example, the beverage industry is the perfect partner, beer, wine, alcohol, Cheez-It and Pringles, it’s a perfect combination. So the same as for cereal, milk and yogurt, it’s a perfect combination. So there’s definitely groupings of product where you can see which brands aspire to the same vision, it would be critically important as well. So just because the product has synergy doesn’t mean that the strategy is there, you can’t force a round peg into a square hole.

Robert:

So my first checkbox criteria would be, is the digital ambition the same? Do both companies, or do three or four companies aspire to own breakfast across all hospitality in the world? Well, if we do, then we’ve got a common objective. Now, how do we go about it together is the next step.

Stephanie:

That’s great. It seems like the larger brands too, might have to give a little bit more, or provide a little bit more help to the smaller brands, if they’re picking someone like … If you were partnering with a smaller wine company or something, it seems like you might have to be ready to do maybe the 80% of the heavy lifting, because maybe they don’t have the resources or the budget. Is that kind of how you’re seeing things play out when you pick partners, that sometimes Kellogg’s has to do the heavier lifting to create a partnership?

Robert:

Yeah. Even with partners with some of the bigger brands we’re actually willing to do the heavy lifting. We made a decision with our leadership to own our destiny in this space. So it’s from top to bottom, and I do see that small startups in an incubator fashion, we would be a great big brother to get products launched. And we have our own startup business within Kellogg’s where we’re giving grants to products like Leaf Jerky and so forth, which is a different plant-based product that challenges the status quo of what we felt like Jerky was in the past. So yeah, I could see that there could be a market verticals that we would go after, there might be health club awaited before we joined the Kohler, we were talking about RXbars and examples.

Robert:

So predominantly through health clubs and so forth, why not probiotic yogurts? Why not non-alcohol based beer? So why not the combination? All plays well to the health industry, so there might be some small companies in there that are pioneering excellent alternatives that we would be, I think, more than delighted to partner with them.

Stephanie:

Yeah. No, that’s great. So Kellogg’s is over, they’ve been around for over a 100 years, right? Since 1906, is that correct?

Robert:

Yeah, it’s correct.

Stephanie:

Okay. Oh, good memory, Stephanie. So with a company that’s been around for that long, how do you think about making sure that the company continues to innovate? Like you said, you have a startup within Kellogg’s, what do you see within that startup? What kind of products do you see coming out of that? And would you advise a lot of other large companies to also put on their startup hat to compete with these B2C companies that are all popping up everywhere?

Robert:

Well, change has become the new norm. I mean, taking COVID aside, people want to taste new things, that is my impression, anyway. I think, there’s an appetite for new and more challenging flavors and so forth. So in the food industry, I can see that the innovation around our product offers is actually critical for success. But the innovation doesn’t stop there though, we have to be more innovative in how we present these products, how we ensure these products create value other than just in flavor, but in health and wellbeing as well. So Kellogg has always been a very health driven business right from its inception, that continues to be an underpinning philosophy of our company. I see a great deal of passion in our business and investment for innovation. It’s not just digital, it’s all down to food, not innovation kitchens and the chefs we have, they’re inspired to really go find new products.

Robert:

We do a great job of creating an incubator within our business by constantly searching for ideas within our employee base around what we could do with Kellogg products. So I think you look inwards and outwards there’s no stone not worth turning over to find out an idea about a new product.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that makes sense. When you mentioned marketing earlier, it seems like you would have to market to two different audiences. You have to market to your retail partners and then also to the consumers, how do you go about, maybe within your platform where you’re selling to retailers, do you market differently than how you do to consumers? Or how do you think about that?

Robert:

Well, so now you bring up an interesting subject in the sense that direct to consumer, which could in sense be side by side be B2B, does provide you with an awesome channel to test the appeal of new product, and affordable cost if you engineered it appropriately so that you’ve got something you can stand up and tear it down quite quickly without major investment. So I don’t know if you would really want to continually be knocking on the door of your retailers with new products without having some good market data behind it, to say that this will sell. And so testing that product in market that becomes a critical part of the evolution of the go to market strategy. So I see traffic consumer testing being interesting proposition for companies like Kellogg’s going forward.

Stephanie:

Got it. So you test the product with a market first, and then you go to your partners and say, “Hey, a lot of people like this, you should also put this in your store?”

Robert:

Absolutely, because that’s where we get the scale, and then we can then turn on all of our abilities to cross sale and use some of the capabilities we talked to earlier about in the B2B platform, ensuring that our retailers know how to create success with new product. There’s another interesting aspect of that too, so if you’d go back to the conversation around the long tail of retail, these companies, these business owners don’t have sophisticated inventory management tool. So one of the biggest challenges we’re solving for is ensuring that new products, our products we’ve recommended for that retail when they’re placed that they stay. Because we see a lot of occasions where a new product is being placed or our product from the portfolio that they should be adopting, has been taken.

Robert:

And then a week later has been sold and never replaced because somebody in the evening has just redistributed product on the shelf to complete the look and that position be lost. And so making sure that these products are reordered and reordered again, until they become habitual, their presence is habitual on the shelf is a massive opportunity so it’s not about just new product and innovation, it’s also about ensuring the stickiness of product they are placing on a shelf.

Stephanie:

What ways do you engage with your partners to make sure that they, like you say, keep reordering, have you seen any best practices to stay top of mind with these people even if they do excellent and lose a spot in the shelf. They’re like, “Oh, hey, this product actually belongs there.” How do you go about building those patterns?

Robert:

Well, there’s also technology becoming available from scanning to just constant recognition. So there are solutions coming, they’re not particularly affordable today for the segment we’ve been addressing, which is the high frequency stores segment. So the challenge has been resolved by manpower up until now, and of course, that’s not very affordable. It’s interesting when you go to markets like India, if you don’t show up something else will steal your space.

Stephanie:

[inaudible 00:32:09].

Robert:

I know, so there’s a whole bunch of, I must run … Making sure that you hold onto the shelf space that you’ve worked so hard to attain. So we’re looking at tools like, asking our retailers to take shelfies using the robot cameras and uploading-

Stephanie:

Shelfie? Tell me more about a shelfie.

Robert:

So a shelfie is just, the shelf equivalent of your selfie, in the sense that, we’re to set challenges for our retailers and say, “Listen, take a shelf of your cereal display.” And then we’ll match that image to the planet ground that the AI has in its memory, and then give them a score, and that score will then be translated into points, Kellogg points that they can use for purchasing everything from a discount to cleaning services, say for instance, in the future. So one thing happens in this process, is we ask them to do a challenge, before the actually did their pictures there is a pretty good chance they’re going to address any gaps on their shelf. So we see it being a little self serving and helping us get a better position in the store, but also then just educating the retail around best practice and reinforcing that practice. So the look of success is getting closer and closer in the package stores within their reach. So that’s just one example, I guess.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s awesome. That’s a really fun example. Have you seen the rewards program that you have actually really incentivize these retailers to, like you said, take these shelfies and engage with your brand more?

Robert:

No, again, you gave far too much justice. I talk with authority, but we’re still very much in the theory and the testing, the technology is still catching up, but we see rewards and we have a rewards engine built into our platform to date. We haven’t really turned it on to its full force yet, but it will be a cornerstone of our strategy. We’re looking at gamification rewards and recognition as being a key driver of behavior going forward, and creating the path to best practice. So it will be a constant in our engagement strategy, so at eight o’clock, nine o’clock at night, we’ll be connecting with an owner operator of a store through WhatsApp or email or text to say, listen, we have a challenge for you, and this challenge is worth a 1,000 Kellogg points. If you go and take that shelfie or if you can tell us, answer this question about the new product you recently stocked, did it sell out, did customers come back and repurchase? Did you get any feedback in any shape or fashion about the flavor? What did they think, and reward them for that first party data insight.

Robert:

Now, all of a sudden you’ve got this incredible ability to harvest information that could be invaluable to your R and D teams. At the same time, you’ve got the opportunity to influence best practice and take the customer on a journey, the customer being the retail owner operator on a journey to become better at their craft, which is super exciting to us.

Stephanie:

No, that’s really awesome. It seems like there’d be room to build a community among these store owners, to all do the challenges together and to talk about best practices. Have you all explored that?

Robert:

We’re exploring it. We’re definitely exploring it. So it came from, when we looked at one of our customer’s segments being a K through 12 schools starting here in North America, there’s a lot of schools that are rural. They’re isolated, they don’t have large school communities to support them, and there’s so many challenges that they face from allergies and health and nutrition, taking food and making education subject matter. All of these things we’re looking into to say, okay, so our community together would be again stronger. So connect schools that are similar together and then connect schools that are not similar and let them use our product as a teaching aid. So we aspire, this is long away from happening.

Robert:

So please don’t take this as something that’s been executed today, but we can see that sometime in the future, we’ll create a syllabus around corn and our cornflakes and how it changes the flavor of patterns in Japan compared to Idaho, and then to schools when their kids are having their breakfast, they can share the differences in the sweetness and so forth because the [inaudible 00:36:46], the climate is different so that the plant takes on a different flavor. So that’s a subject that you could turn into a syllabus and education and bring kids together. Yeah, it is a very exciting proposition for us and different from anything we’ve ever done before.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s awesome. And I did not know that flavors around the world would be different. So you definitely taught me something brand new here.

Robert:

Yeah. We’ve done a few things at Kellogg’s in the office in Chicago where they’ve taken five or six or seven different sources of cornflakes and put them all in independent bowls unmarked, and then tasted them and people were convinced that sugar had been applied and so forth. And it actually hadn’t, it was just that the different produce, produce different flavors and it was quite an epiphany for many of the folks tasting them.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s really interesting. So when it comes to your B2B platform, what are some of the best capabilities that you’re using today that maybe you weren’t using a year or two ago?

Robert:

Again, cornerstone of what I’m trying to do with the B2B platform is create efficiency, and so to create efficiency, the first thing I’m trying to tackle is preventing any waste of time as it pertains to identifying a product. So we are integrating scan into the mobile device, using the mobile device camera, quickly scan that barcode it will take you straight to the product in our platform. So no need to key in, no need to type in the barcode or any keywords that are associated, just quick scan within less than a second you’re on the product detail page, and you got a path to purchase with one click. You’ve got a path to understand your performance versus your peer group with one click. And you’ve got a path to understand how to sell more by accessing the tools that give you the toolkits that will help you do that. So that’s, that’s one aspect.

Robert:

The second aspect is to create value around ensuring that big data is conferred into some form of exportable logic that says that, hey, you are not creating the optimal product assortment. Companies, businesses, stores, like you sell these products successfully, and you’re missing revenue as a result of not taking them. So here’s a recommendation for these products. Here’s the stocking quantity that we believe you should take. And here’s a revenue projection based on MSRP from the class that you belong to that. That to me is transformational in so many ways.

Stephanie:

So are you using AI behind the scenes to create a lot of these recommendations? And do you think a lot of brands are also doing this or is there a lot of room for them to adopt to this technology?

Robert:

Yeah. AI is the key to success. So we’ve talked about AI for several years now, and it has really not delivered what it says in the box as of yet, but I am a 100% confident we’re getting closer and closer all the time. Anybody that’s been getting with AI knows that a lot of teaching into the logic that supports the output, but we’re definitely getting closer to being able to use it at scale. What I see in the next year to 24 months will be the ability to then turn on that dynamic, self-sustaining logic that continues to morph as it reads more data and continue to present very tailored recommendations to all of our retailers worldwide, simultaneously because the computing power, obviously, continues to scale at an exponential rate. So it doesn’t do necessarily what it needs to do today, but the path is now clear, and I think it’s just around the corner, to be honest.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, I completely agree. Are you all training your own models for AI? Are you relying on a platform to help you with that? How would you recommend another brand or a larger or smaller brands to start adopting this technology or start experimenting with it?

Robert:

Well, there’s a lot of data scientists that they’re all better actor than I am for sure.

Stephanie:

Sure?

Robert:

Yeah, I’m absolutely positive. So we’ve been looking outward to smaller businesses, as well as some of our larger partners to use their experience. Because clearly they see the opportunity too, so I would continue to just make sure that you’re using a blend of traditional partnerships and innovative new businesses that come up with some left-field idea about how to resolve one of the challenges. Constantly looking for new ideas from the marketplace, from the periphery where there’s new startups starting and looking for an agent, they might have a great concept that we can use. I often equate it to something you might see in a Paris fashion show where coming in the the runway is a presentation that could be quite outrageous, but some form of it we’ll get to the high street that will be very popular with the consumer. So a really wild idea can really translate and be boiled down to something that can be a game changer in reality. So never assume that it has to be something that’s already in place, but to be open to suggestion and I try and work on a daily basis to be that way.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that’s a really good lesson too, to look at tangental markets and industries that could also help influence not only new products, but also E-commerce strategies and just like keeping tabs on what other people are doing, especially startups who are moving quickly and experimenting quickly. How do you keep tabs on companies like that stay up to date with what other people are trying?

Robert:

Well in prior lives, working for brands that were less recognized, it was on me to continue to search and find, and encourage my team to continue to look for these innovations. Working for a brand like Kellogg’s, there’s a lot of people come calling. So I’m obviously in a fortunate position to be exposed to a lot of these ideas on a day by day basis from various entrepreneurs. I feel that Kellogg’s could prosper from taking on the idea so that role has changed. So I’m very fortunate in that regard to be exposed to great ideas across the industry and not just from within the food and beverage industry as an example but from sending an upturn to, you name it aerospace, there’s a lot of innovation going on.

Stephanie:

What is definition of success for E-commerce? What kind of metrics do you look at? What do you think is successful?

Robert:

Yes. Okay, so none of the traditional metrics are really going to be of any interest. So for me, the success has moved upstream. So when I think about what does success look like from a digital perspective in B2B, it’s very much around ensuring that the retailer is selling more products more effectively and more efficiently, and putting more money in their pocket. So if I can look back and say that all the retailers that we supply our products are prospering as a result of our E-commerce engagement, because we’re delivering not just the fundamentals of E-commerce, which is about auto management and everything else that comes with it. That’s just table stakes, whatever else comes with it, where we create the value through AI recommendations, access to toolkits, marketing campaigns, guidance on how to create the perfect store. If that’s translating into more dollars at the point of sale, then that’s what success looks like to B2B commerce going forward, in my opinion.

Stephanie:

Yeah. It seems like that partnership and education is really important in B2B, have you guys seen success with doing that?

Robert:

Well, again, I wish I had something much more tangible to give you in terms of the successful metrics. This is still ground zero, we’re still very much in day one of our B2B engagement. I think you will find that modern B2B is still in day one globally across both industries. So there’s still a lot of learning, a lot of testing, a lot of refinement to do, but the appetite is there. When I talk to other brands, they feel the same way about how we can harness technology to create value. The retailers I’ve talked to they are hungry, and so is our distributor and wholesaler partners too, to participate in this new era of one-on-one engagement at a scale that’s affordable and on a cadence that has never been achievable before. Just that combination of menu items is really driving the hunger to get to that point quicker.

Robert:

I wish I had to go quicker, we’re definitely trying to get there quicker, but it just takes time to build. And so ask me again in six or 12 months, and I’ll be in a far stronger position to give you a better answer.

Stephanie:

Oh, you’ve just invited yourself around two. So with things changing so quickly, are there any new or emerging digital channels that you all are focused on or trying out?

Robert:

Again, comes back to just watching and keeping an eye on how things are changing, an example would be, for instance, say WhatsApp for instance. So WhatsApp starts life as a messaging tool, becomes incredibly popular worldwide, supplanting email, phone, texting everything. Now WhatsApp is developing your online ordering capability that will potentially change the trajectory of B2B commerce. So we’re watching it very, very carefully, but there’s a caveat, there’s so much low hanging fruit in just doing what we already know, we can do better in B2B commerce. The WhatsApp example would be a very shiny object while we still need to continue to look to shop opportunities, we need to temper our enthusiasm to be distracted, it can be a distraction. We know that there’s enough revenue potential just executing our primary mission without chasing rabbits down holes.

Robert:

I don’t want to be the anti-innovator, but there’s got to be a balance. So I use three words to caution myself, stop, better and clever. Stop doing things that create no value. Identify what you do well, but do it better. And say Friday afternoon is for the clever things. So Friday afternoons are dedicated to it, but don’t let it become all consuming and that’s how I approach this.

Stephanie:

That’s great. That’s a really good lesson, Friday afternoons with a beer maybe then you’re even more creative, right?

Robert:

Why not? Yeah, certainly, my wine consumption during COVID is gone up tremendously.

Stephanie:

I think everyone else. So are there any B2B commerce trends that you’re excited about that are coming down over the next couple, well, maybe even in the next year?

Robert:

Well, I just think the fact that the chatter around B2B has climbed exponentially in the last three or four months, is exciting. I’m super excited about what machine learning can do for scale in just enabling us to do the value added services that we’ve aspire to do, but couldn’t execute because of the cost. So these two elements that B2B is becoming a cornerstone of business strategy, and it’s not seeming to be as a poor cousin of B2C, B2B can be sexy. We’re taking all of the goodness from the user experience and applying it, but then with this logic, that’s data driven it’s hard to turn down when we recommend products to a particular owner operator that I’ve got a revenue projection associated with them, that’s a hard proposition. Plus we’re giving them an award for accepting the recommendation. If that recommendation comes and was close to our prediction, then I think conversion could be a 100% going forward.

Robert:

Now in digital, we usually have 2% conversion and an action was great, a 100% conversion, wow, that’s perfect execution. What does that do to the industry? Truly transformational.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree. So when it comes to implementing technology and stuff, because I think, like you said, a lot of people and a lot of platforms are focusing on B2B now, it is a new player to look at where B2C was maybe the sexier area before. How would you advise other companies to think about onboarding new tech technologies and tools in a way that sets them up for longterm success?

Robert:

Well, first of all, think scrappy. You can’t innovate with the mindset of perfection. Large companies, I think suffer more than small companies, of course, there’s a procedure and there’s an ROI calculation, and there’s a certain set of expectations. Especially when you’re dealing with technology that can’t quite deliver on the initial promise, but you have a fairly competent perspective on it, we’ll get there. So you have to be a little ashamed of what you take into market, because quite frankly, in my experience, you see the flaws, whereas the target audience does not. They see something different, something value added, they know it’s a work in progress, and they can see it resolves a pain point. It removes all of the inadequacies of what you didn’t do as a result of getting to market quicker and testing a reaction. So that would be my recommendation. Feel a little ashamed, to be a little ashamed about what you go to market with initially.

Stephanie:

So is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to cover before we move on to the lightning round?

Robert:

Oh, no, I didn’t know there was going to be a lightning round.

Stephanie:

Yes. There’s a lightening round.

Robert:

That’s a little scary.

Stephanie:

Yeah, anything high level, E-commerce trends, the industry that you’re like, “Man, I really wish Stephanie asked this question and she just didn’t.”

Robert:

No, I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered off the fact that, I think the biggest thing that’s missing in the industry is that more collaboration. I think collaboration is going to be a game changer in terms of driving success. So that’s what I’m seeking to build through networking and working with other brands to try and find some common ground we can explore in. So if anybody is interested, please reach out to me and I’ll be happy to partner.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I completely agree. That’s great. All right. So the lightning round brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud is where I ask a question and you have one minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Rob?

Robert:

No. Okay, I am.

Stephanie:

All right. You’re ready. What’s up next in your cereal bowl?

Robert:

Oh my God. No, Scott’s, it should be porridge, but it isn’t. I like porridge, I’m a diehard Frosties guy. I don’t know, there’s not a bad time in a day to consume Frosties, so that’s what’s always in my cereal bowl.

Stephanie:

I agree. It’s a delicious choice. What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Robert:

Netflix, I just finished watching Altered Carbon and it was a book that I’d read, three books I’d read many, many years ago. And it was actually a really good rendition of the novel. So I thought it’s Sci-fi is very forward looking, it’s probably what you’d expect me to watch, but I thought I enjoyed that series.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that sounds great. What’s up next on your podcast list or audible?

Robert:

Yeah, so podcast, during COVID, I mean, I listen to a lot of podcasts, especially at nighttime and I’ve started to rediscover Vinyl. So I’ve become a bit of a pseudo audio file or want to be, at least I fought the big stuff, but I’m working my way into. So I started to listen to Vinyl’s audio file podcasts, which have been fantastically interesting, but suddenly they’re talking about technology I can’t afford or justify. My wife keeps a very close eye on me, so sorry-

Stephanie:

Oh, man, so rude of her.

Robert:

I know terrible, isn’t? But logical, she saves me from myself.

Stephanie:

That’s good. Yeah, that’s really fun. Well, if you were to have a guest on a podcast of your own, so if you were to have The Robert’s podcast and you want to bring on your first guest, who would you bring and why?

Robert:

Oh, that’s easy. That’s easy. I am a big soccer fan from the UK. And one of my idols is Alex Ferguson. I would love him to be my first case on a podcast. He has such great insight into leadership, management, the stories he has. He would be, there’s an entire encyclopedia of subjects we could discuss, and he’s an idol of mine.

Stephanie:

That’d be a fun one. I would listen to your podcast. All right. The last hard question. What one thing will have the biggest impact on E-commerce in the next year?

Robert:

One thing, I think, changing the culture within companies to really embrace innovation, not to necessarily wipe the investment and make a net positive operating gain in the short term but to be more risk orientated. I see a lot of challenges around investment strategies and payback periods and so forth, and it really does slow down our ability to go to market. So if we can get to a point where there’s an acceptable investment tolerance, and that will obviously vary by company size and profitability, then I’d like to see more about an entrepreneurial approach to taking that startup fund internally, and going to market with it, improving success or a failure. In Kellogg’s we’ve done a tremendous job recently of celebrating failures.

Robert:

We’ve even have an award, for the peace of the award for failure. So it’s a transformation that’s underway, but we still have to get more comfortable with capital investment that can be used to experiment rather than the business case that supports it longterm, which will come, that will come when we determine what the metrics are or what the levers that work that can be expanded upon and so forth. So that’s what I’m looking for.

Stephanie:

I love it. You are a lightning round expert, so nice job. Well, it’s been a blast having you on the show, where can people learn more about you and Kellogg’s?

Robert:

Well, they can see my profile on LinkedIn, obviously, I’m not a big social media user today. So reach out to me through LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to engage.

Stephanie:

Awesome. Thanks for coming on the show, Rob, it’s been a blast and we will have to bring you back since we have an invitation now for round two, we’ll have to bring you back in the future.

Robert:

That was a mistake, wasn’t it?

Stephanie:

No mistake, we’ll have even more fun then.

Robert:

I look forward to it. Thank you very much for having me on. It’s a great pleasure.

Stephanie:

Thanks.

Subscribe in your favorite podcast app.

Love this? Share it with your friends!

Facebook
Google+
Twitter
LinkedIn

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel.

Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Get exclusive updates and new episodes straight to your inbox. 

Subscribe Now To Get

– Our daily newsletter designed to increase your wealth, health, and wisdom.

– Access to exclusive giveaways from The Mission full of awesome swag and prizes.

Our Podcasts