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A case study: Creating Collaborative Advantage - realising the potential of partnering

In February 2021 the head of the Moet Hennessy’s (MH) distribution business in the UK met with his Leadership Team. Whilst we were long into the Covid pandemic, the business was in a reasonably settled state. During lockdowns they successfully pivoted all on trade sales to online or off trade sales for home consumption, and consumers continued to spend on premium drinks. By early 2021 the on trade was stuttering back to life, but on off restrictions continued to dampen any real confidence. To deal with the ongoing uncertainty and disruption, the UK Leadership Team recognised they needed to get closer to their consumers, and so through the on trade they wanted to focus on strengthening their relationships with a small number of key wholesalers. Until that point they had an open market for wholesalers, giving them choice and fall back if/when the market fluctuated, but this meant a broad and very fragmented channel which limited their access and influence on their consumers.

The aim was to reduce the number of wholesalers, to deepen the relationship with them, and to explore the value that can be created through partnership. The primary partnership was with the C&C Group, owners of both Bibendum and Matthew Clark, who were themselves integrating the two brands under a single operating model. Those working closely with the C&C Group saw the opportunity and the LT supported. This alignment created an internal revolution within MH that kick started the process

The relationship between MH and C&C had been very fractious and fragmented due to the size and complexity of the respective businesses.

MH had never fully allowed themselves to partner with a wholesaler due to the perceived need to control everything. The pandemic taught both businesses that they needed each other in different ways but unless they found commonality the relationship would never change.

 

MH engaged an independent change consultancy, the Human-Centred Design Agency, to support the design and facilitation of a Partnering Health Check process. This allowed both sides of the partnership to have private conversations and to be held to account for their commitments, actions and behaviour.

 

New leadership teams on both sides allowed for a new approach and not bound by the past. There had previously been a distinct disconnect throughout both organisations – Joint Business Plans were previously set at a 'top to top' and never filtered down so the ground level, so people never saw the benefit or understood the relationship

An initial kick-off meeting set out the approach and allowed the key sponsors from each side (primarily the commercial leads) to share what they wanted to get out of the process. Both sides listed all the people who were involved in the partnership. The work involved multiple levels from MD to Account Manager from both businesses and created a honest and open format to work from and develop. They shared and agreed their lists: 25 from MH and 23 from C&C.

 

The process started with a short (15 question) behaviourally-based diagnostic survey. The survey was anonymous except for people stating which company they worked for. The survey prompted both quantitative and qualitative responses.

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Once all participants completed the survey, the Human-Centred Design Agency analysed the results and debriefed both participant teams separately. This gave the teams an opportunity for the analysis to be tested, to check there were no omissions or surprises, and for the respective partnering groups to discuss the issues raised amongst themselves in a safe environment. Once both teams were aware of the issues, we moved to design a joint workshop session.

The main issues to address were:

· The Partnership reason and intent is not well established yet

· The desired outcomes from the partnership remain unclear for some participants and people need deeper understanding of the respective company goals and objectives

· There is some uncertainty on how people contribute best to desired outcomes

· Positive sentiment towards recent meetings, joint-working through challenging times (Covid lockdowns), and progress in Scotland all give opportunities to build on successes

· There is a desire for more frequent meetings/connections

· Decisions taken could be more clearly communicated across the partnership 

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The joint-workshop was held face-to-face in London for a full day with around a dozen participants from both sides. It was designed to move the focus from awareness to action. Throughout the workshop the group worked in small, mixed groups as well as in one large plenary. The group worked on the Reason for the partnership, their desired Results, and their Responsibilities – including those that required close collaboration...where the real value is created.

The partnership committed to four clear areas for actions:

  1. Increase their joint revenue from the partnership

  2. Pool their data, insights and knowledge of their consumers

  3. Leverage each others’ brands to enhance their reputation in the trade

  4. Ensure their sales teams are fully educated in each of their brands

 

The teams also discussed and agreed how they would work together to progress their commitments. A joint steering group was set up and they ran a partnership launch event for their sales teams and then a second one for their customers.

Within three months of the partnering workshop, MH UK and C&C Group signed and launched an exclusive wholesale partnership for all of Scotland, and sales from the partnership continue to grow in value.

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Our joint interests in Scotland was a big driver and we are seeing great early promise from this

MHUK Commercial Head of On Trade

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Discover our Partnering Health Check Survey here:

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