This year, Return Joint Business Planning to its Original Glory

When we first conceived the concept of Joint Business Planning (JBP) at Target in the early 2000s, it created a lot of excitement around the opportunity to work together with our most important vendor partners to create out-sized value and impact on the business. And it worked – for years we saw JBP’s yield significant value, growth, and innovation for both Target and its most strategically and financially aligned brands.

In fact, Target’s growth into a powerhouse of beauty, grocery, greeting cards, pets, and other categories, were the direct result of invested JBP discussions. But something fell apart along the way.

Many retailers followed in Target’s footsteps and adopted JBP as a tool. However, both Target and most other retailers began to use JBP as a process for more and more vendors that were less important and capable of truly collaborating on both short and long-term opportunities. In fact, JBP came to mean the annual contract negotiation between retailer and brand. During Covid, tensions between the parties rose, and JBP became a competitive process for beating the other with little if any attention to how the parties could collaborate, grow the business, or innovate together.

In fact, at least one major retailer told it strategic partners there would be no in person contact or meetings for JBP. All communication would be done through e-mail and Vendor partners were simply provided with a number to meet. Naturally, this defeated the purpose of JBP. There was nothing “joint” or value-creating about this.

Today, we have an opportunity to reimagine JBP and return it to its previous glory. However, it will take a courageous step on the part of at least one of the parties to make JBP a useful tool for extraordinary value and impact.

Some suggestions:

First, be more selective with whom you will engage in joint business planning. There are generally only a handful of partners that can truly change the game with you. They should be both strategically aligned with you and financially important. Moreover, true joint business planning requires an investment of time by higher level executives and company resources to effectively prepare for this type of engagement. Be smart with whom you decide to truly partner.

Second, return to what made JBPs so successful in the beginning. This starts with taking the time to understand each other’s respective goals, strategies, plans and needs, BEFORE exchanging proposals or making demands. It requires time to brainstorm and an exchange of ideas. Be open to doing things differently.

If you are unhappy with how JBP is currently playing out, you can change the game. While there may be resistance at first from your counterpart, educating them on the benefits of more cooperative discussions, refusing to engage in bad tactics, and exhibiting the behaviors you expect to see in JBP, you can truly change the game for the betterment of all – most importantly, the ultimate consumer. Take the lead in JBP discussions. Outline the process you want to see. after all, those that lead these discussions often get the best results.

We have recently worked with several brands and retailers that are willing to change their approach to JBP in this way. The results have reminded us of the glory days when true joint business planning, including the exchange of information and brainstorming new opportunities have resulted in outsized results. Are you willing to lead? are you willing to change the game? Are you willing to achieve outsized results?

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