In today’s episode, I chat with Curt Balara, Chief Customer Officer at Bel Brands about his role as a leader for a B2B2C company. Bel Brands is the world’s third-largest branded cheese company, and the leader in sing-serving cheese portions. You may be familiar with some of their brands, Babybel, The Laughing Cow, and Boursin.
As CCO, Curt has a holistic leadership position over the sales and customer department, focusing on earning the right to organic, sustainable growth. Curt and I discuss how essential it is for the consumer packaged goods industry to become more customer-centric. He shares tactics and strategies that impact his approach to customer experience both internally and externally. One thing you’ll definitely want to tune in for is Curt’s advice on elevating your relationships with partners and approach to joint business planning.
Before Curt even stepped into the role, he dedicated time to assess the work he believed needed to be done as a CCO, while preparing for his interview. Curt shares that he put together a 90-day plan based on what he knew about the company. He researched what Bel Brands was doing well in the US, some things that Bel could improve upon, and who, in terms of competitors, was doing things better.
Start Off With A Simple Approach
According to Curt, it’s not just about growth, but it’s about recognizing the behaviors regarding relationships, going to market, how they sell, and how they serve — which is what earns long-term growth. When Curt was executing his 90-day plan, he evaluated the following aspects within the organization:
- Customer Relationships and Partnerships. Since partnerships are critical to Bel’s success, Curt spent time with his top 5-7 customers to understand what Bel needs to be doing differently, planting seeds for further discussions.
- Internal Team Performance. It was essential that Curt spent time getting to know his team so he could see the talent in place. He knew he had to spend a lot of time with his sales team and talked to them openly about what they saw.
- Get a Sense of the Health of the Business. Curt needed to know where did Bel Brands actually stand versus the objectives they had in place. What did they need to do to get things done quickly?
Curt shares that after his initial strategy, he wanted to impact the cross-functional engagement within his organization, going beyond his work with the sales team. He wanted to demonstrate to partners that Bel is bigger than just the salesperson the customer sees day-to-day. He wanted to provide true value and be experts across the desk. For Curt, this meant bringing insights into the customer’s categories, showcasing how cheese plays a role in multiple categories and departments across their stores.
Develop Retail Partnerships
Curt shares that it’s important to identify interactions with your customer on where you both feel you can collectively win and grow. As the vendor, it’s important to develop measurable objectives with the retailer and go after them together.
He explains that he and his team spend time understanding where the customer is in their business, then create a new way to identify actions around joint business planning.
Get Serious About Change Management
In order to provide the best services to customers, Curt also understood that it was important to shift the requirements and skillset of his internal team. Similar to previous leaders on the podcast, he shares that surrounding yourself with the best people is a necessary step in the process. That as a CCO, you will need to understand the capacity of your team, and you’ll need to assess opportunities for training and development. As Curt put it, “it’s about raising the bar for the organization,” and providing the right feedback and the resources needed for people to improve. Next, Curt says that you’ve got to set clear expectations within the organization on what you’re trying to do.
Considering the fact that Bel Brands has a range of different brands under its belt, uniting the internal silos was also a key step in improving customer experience. Curt explains that retailers want to talk categories or departments, not brands. He had to shift the way the team approaches things internally. This meant that they had to talk about their products across all levels — thinking about a product’s placement in terms of it being a protein, snack, dairy, etc. Curt worked with his team to elevate their thinking beyond brand, to category.
As a CCO, you will need to understand the capacity of your team, and you'll also need to assess opportunities for training and development. -Curt Balara, @belbrandsUSA #CCO #customerexperience Click To Tweet
What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Knew Then?
“There’s probably three things I’ll touch on briefly. I would say one is to be authentic. Just be yourself be authentic. Show folks a little bit of yourself so that they know you’re real. People respond well to individuals that are genuine and real. I would say number two, is to surround yourself with the best people. If you don’t do that, you will not be successful. Sometimes that leads to tough choices, but you have to surround yourself with the best people to be successful. And the third one is to learn how to step out, and really, truly make an impact beyond your day-to-day.”
About Curt Balara
Curt Balara is actually new to the CCO realm, but his CPG history includes Unilever, Hillshire Brands, Tyson Foods, TreeHouse Foods and Bel Brands USA. Curt was born & raised in Philadelphia and now resides in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife Michele and 5 kids.
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