If you speak to any Territory Sales In-charge or Manager (TSM) of a large FMCG company, they are going to mention one huge problem called price undercutting that affects their daily work. In an earlier post, I have written about how the wholesale trade leads to price undercutting. In this post, I am going to write about how the Territory Sales Persons use the so called ‘visibility budgets’ for undercutting practices.
Wikipedia defines price undercutting as: ‘Price cutting, or undercutting, is a sales technique that reduces the retail prices to a level low enough to eliminate competition‘. In most cases (more than 95%) the competition is not with a competitor’s product, but it is the competition between a company salesman and a wholesaler selling the same branded product at different prices.
Let’s understand this with an example. Let’s say there is a brand X of soap which the TSM is supposed to sell at Rs.32 per piece to the retailer. Let’s say, the area allocated to this TSM is adjacent to a big wholesale market called Bhindi Bazaar. There are twenty retailers distributed across his area and some of the retailers are at a stone’s throw distance from the wholesale market.
So, when the TSM goes to the retailer, the TSM realizes that the nearby wholesaler is selling at a very reduced price. Typically, the conversation between the retailer and the TSM goes like the below:
TSM: Naya scheme aaya he, aap bees pete (20 cartons) lelo… itne price mein milega aapko
Retailer: Kitna padega? Rs.32?
Retailer: Saab, Bhindi Bazaar mein Rs.26 per piece mein mein mil raha he (single carton mein bhi)
So, the TSM thinks that he cannot compete with the wholesaler’s undercutted price. The TSM calls the Area Sales Manager (ASM) or his supervisor and tells him the problem.
TSM: Rate ka problem he Sir
ASM or Supervisor: Mein samajhsakta hoon… per manage karlo
ASM or Supervisor: Aapka monthly target se shortfall hora hein
So, the TSM realizes that he is not going to get much help and he has to reach his monthly target by any means.
The TSM uses the visibility budget to get out of the problem
Generally, FMCG companies put up some display material or place their product very attractively in the shelves or as separate displays in the retail stores. The company pays a certain amount of money to the retailer for doing so. The TSM gets a certain budget to pay the retailers to place or stick the brand display material. Typically, the price for a shelf in a retail shop may range from Rs.300 to Rs.1000 per month. Generally, companies buy 1-4 shelves and pay the respective money per month to the retailer.
The TSM uses this money to reach his sales targets instead of giving it to the retailers. In our example, as the wholesaler is selling at Rs.26 per piece, the TSM will sell the stock at Rs.25 per piece (Re.1 less than the wholesaler’s price), but tells the retailer to give the bill at Rs.32 so that the company cannot find out about his undercutting practice. The TSM reaches his monthly target through price undercutting.
So, what happens to the display material of the company?
All the display material provided by the company will be placed in the TSM’s house and will probably be used by his son for making paper rockets.
What happens during the visibility audits?
FMCG companies also do some visibility audits or sometimes the brand guys would like to visit the field for some reason. Suddenly, the TSM will come to know that tomorrow morning there is going to be an audit of the display material. Within a few hours, the TSM and his salespersons will place or stick the display material in all the stores or a subset of stores where the audit is going to happen. They tell the retailer that they are going to remove it tomorrow and it is only for one day. Most retailers don’t mind it.
On the next day, when the auditors come and check, they find everything to be fine and they go back and send appreciation mails that this area is 100% compliant and that the TSM is doing a brilliant job. On the next evening, the TSM tells his salesperson to remove all the display material.
This is how the TSM achieves his sales target through undercutting practices. It is important not to blame the TSM completely but to understand that the origin of the problem is mainly due to large wholesalers. The sales teams do talk to the wholesalers and fix their prices or sometimes they solve the problem by re-allocating the markets.
The big danger in all this process is that the retailer is getting used to this practice, and it will impact have a negative impact on the brand in the long term. Nevertheless, price undercutting is a harsh reality of sales in the FMCG world.