Joint Business Planning 2.0 Transforms Trading Relationships

May 29, 2018

By Ric Noreen


Most sales organizations engage in some type of Joint Business Planning (JBP) with their largest customers, but many such implementations do not leverage JBP to its fullest potential. In most cases, the supplier prepares the joint plan unilaterally and with little input from trading partners, making the plan more of a one-sided mandate of activity. The plans are typically written to support a supplier's point of view and the supplier's priorities, subjugating the retailer or distributor's own strategies and priorities.

Such plans are also frequently created with a short-term focus, which prevents larger ideas from taking hold. And, the lack of a shopper or end-user focus prevents the plans from achieving desired growth targets.

Rather than focusing on activity calendars and one-sided priorities, a better approach would be to ask the question, "What would a growth plan look like if we were one integrated company?" That JBP 2.0 approach goes beyond the too-common JBP activity, which is "joint" in name only, replacing it with a true level of collaboration that satisfies the needs of all trading partners, as well as customers. Such a facilitated process would be equally shared, collaboratively developed, and mutually invested.

Another common flaw which prevents a joint business plan from being transformative is a short-term focus, making it more of an annual operating plan rather than something truly strategic and forward-looking. A far more effective JBP will have a three- to four-year planning horizon, with a continuous arc of business-building activities relevant to long-term growth of both trading partners. The first year of the plan may still well function as an Annual Operating Plan, but also include a development of activities which are more forward-looking and lead to longer-term growth.

The first step of the process is insight, data collection, and analysis, with deep dives into consumer, category, and competitive insights, followed by polishing by each partner. Each team prepares an overview of their growth strategies and both partners dedicate one or two days to creating the plan together, sharing insights on each topic, with points of intersection noted.

Once those individual overviews have been created, both trading partners meet to create their plan together. During this one- to two-day planning session, the focus is truly collaborative, rather than one team leading the charge. Each team should have cross-functional subject matter experts present to help plan content.

Those insights evolve into four or five distinct growth platforms, which fall into three basic categories: growth infrastructure, market development, and innovation. In the growth infrastructure area, platforms may include data sharing, joint market research, supply chain efficiency, and sales effectiveness. Market development platforms designed to create incremental demand may include factors such as optimization of product assortment and shelving innovation, integrated shopper marketing, and digital development. Finally, in the innovation category, platforms emphasize collaborative development.

These innovation platforms will typically have a longer development timetable and may be more complex, and will often require co-investment and a commitment from all parties. However, these are likely to have the greatest returns.

Such growth platforms are evergreen, with each initiative on each platform planned, commercialized, and launched each year, while the platforms themselves remain constant. The plan itself is continuous, with annual reviews recapping each year's successes and making any adjustments needed.

The key to a sustained commitment and execution is strong governance. At the very top, the plan requires co-owners on each side, with each platform requiring co-owners as well. At the initiative level, single-side ownership may work better, depending on the nature of the initiative, but teams will still be used to plan and execute.

A one-page plan should be created for each initiative, showing team members, resource requirements, and development milestones and timetables. Quarterly reviews will help reinforce that sustained commitment.

A truly collaborative approach to JBP transforms the relationship between trading partners, establishing the supplier as the category leader, and the retailer or distributor as a most-favored channel partner. Growth in this case is accelerated for both parties, especially since many of the initiatives that are developed and activated would not be possible for either party to carry out individually. The growth is more sustainable with a JBP 2.0 approach as new initiatives are continuously developed each year, and lastly, profitability is enhanced as costs are shared across partners.


Ric Noreen is managing partner at Waypoint Strategic Solutions, a boutique consultancy that helps clients worldwide design and implement channel-driven growth strategies. You can reach him at


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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