Founded in 1880, Wella is now one of the world’s leading cosmetics suppliers, and sells its products in more than 150 countries. In the UK, the company sells its hair care products, equipment and education directly to hairdressing salons. In 2000, it set up a key accounts department, which consists of 13 key account managers who are responsible for 32 salon managers and their 1,300 salons.
By 2002, the department was facing tough competition from rival manufacturers who were approaching Wella customers and offering incentives to switch products. Linton Husbands, national key account controller, says: “We were seeing accounts we’d held for 20 years going to our competitors, and so we had to do something about it.”
“We’ve always had strong relationships with our clients, and decided to capitalise on those more fully,” says Husbands. “Rather than offering short-term incentives, we started to promote a more valuable, long-term service.”
Many of the salon owners’ interests are concentrated on the creative side of hairdressing rather than the commercial aspects of running a business. Husbands decided to offer consultancy to his customers on how to take their businesses forward and make them more successful.
To achieve this strategy, he needed to fill gaps in the skill levels of his key account managers. They were all successful and experienced salespeople, but lacked the financial, marketing, and consultancy skills to transform them from product vendors into business consultants.
Husbands approached Nigel Jones, Wella’s head of HR, and asked him to devise a training programme that would help develop these particular skills.
Jones turned to a training company he had previously used for some public courses, Tack, and commissioned it to run a two-day workshop on the principles of marketing. Having put the theory into practice with a couple of salon managers, the key account managers came back for another workshop, where they shared their experiences.
“The course provided a brief overview of the basics,” says Jones. “Realistically, no-one is going to learn about marketing in two days, but it gave them the confidence to go and talk to clients about the subject.”
As a result of feedback from the second workshop, Tack developed a marketing audit that key account managers can use on their customers as a route into discussing marketing strategy with their clients.
The costs were not insignificant: the training cost 11,000, and the entire key account management team was off the road for several days. However, Husbands says the venture represents time and money well spent.
For Jones, the key success indicator is how well the business consultancy service has been received by Wella clients.
“We expected it would enable us to keep key accounts, but hadn’t accounted for how useful it would be as a new business tool,” he says. “Our business education services now help to attract quite a few new clients.”
Husbands says there have also been a number of additional benefits from the training programme. He believes his key account managers now enjoy their jobs a lot more.
“Their role has broadened considerably,” he says. “The job is more stimulating and rewarding as they are helping their clients to develop their businesses. This, in turn, has helped us with recruitment, retention, morale and, ultimately, productivity.”
The impact on the bottom line has also been impressive. According to Husbands, this initiative produced a 22 per cent increase in sales to key accounts over a year. Given that it was prompted by the aggressive, and initially successful, tactics adopted by Wella’s competitors, Husbands and Jones are justifiably pleased with the outcome.
HR learning points
Work collaboratively with training providers: “Rather than accepting an off-the-shelf solution, we worked with Tack to develop it. This means we can keep running and developing the programme after the consultancy’s involvement is over,” says Husbands.
Tailor the training to the market: “Salon owners would have found it a real turn-off if our key account managers had turned up sounding like marketing dictionaries, so we phrased the training in language they could relate to,” he says.
A little training is better than none: “Our key account managers haven’t become experts on marketing in two days, but they have learnt enough to get the ball rolling,” he says.
Paul Fishwick is the key account manager for Wella in the North West of England. He is certain the training has helped him to retain some of his clients.
“Voodoo is a salon in Liverpool and has been a regular client for many years. In recent months, it has been heavily targeted by our competitors.
They’ve been going in offering Voodoo all sorts of incentives to switch to their products, but Voodoo has stuck with us because it realises that the consultancy I provide will, in the long run, be worth more than those short-term incentives.”