Chris Field is an independent retail analyst and industry speaker who has chaired many industry conferences including BRC 20:20, Future Stores, and Mobile Shopping. He is CEO of Fieldworks, which helps tech companies sell to retail, and is managing editor of Retail Connections, a network of over 12,000 retailers.
We caught up with Chris to find out what he does and what advice he has for green marketers and retailers.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Chris Field: I help tech companies sell to the toughest crowd in business, retailers. Retailers still complain that tech companies don’t really understand them so we are effectively the go between that enables conversations to start and to end in a deal.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
CF: I am one of two directors but have no real directorial status as I am entirely at the beck and call of my team, so basically, I report and am accountable to them. Physically, I sit with the marketing and the content teams, so there is a healthy friction between us creative types and the marketers who have to deliver commercial KPIs to clients.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
CF: I only have two skills. One is communications, I know what words to use to get a message across. The other is retail market knowledge which enables me to advise clients on how to talk to retailers. Tech is almost synonymous with so much retail today but this brings so many challenges for retailers – which tech do I choose without betting the business? I’m good at translating techspeak into retail value.
Tell us about a typical working day…
CF: I have always worked a full day so 9-5.30 but they are rarely typical. The plan generally goes wrong about noon as the team asks for content ideas, market insight, meetings to talk strategy and brainstorms. I have a reputation for changing direction in mid stream but I think it is important to react quickly to new information and events.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
CF: Brainstorms I love and hate; love because this is where new ideas come from but hate because creativity hates routine and templates. I try to put distance between the idea and the deadline because I know the idea will come when it’s least expected. Nothing really sucks because I am eternally patient and persistent, but on occasion, it can be annoying when clients lose their nerve. Winning in this crowded and competitive market takes brave thinking, brave messaging and brave actions; not everyone is up to it.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
CF: I live for positive feedback from clients about content and content performance. They of course are looking for hard metrics on prospect engagement and are less impressed about soft metrics like brand awareness but there are ways to map the contribution of all measures, as long as both of us are agreed on who we are targeting.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
CF: Other people, if I can call other people tools. I could say voice recognition, but it is spending time with other people that sets off good ideas. I am good because they are very good. I can’t overstate how good my team are; what other reason can there be for being in business than to work with capable people, even if they do tend to take the Mickey out of me.
How did you end up at Fieldworks, and where might you go from here?
CF: I started Fieldworks with my partner while I was still a journalist. Her clients kept asking for writing so eventually I started doing that full time. I loved being a journalist, but it was a solitary existence. Now I work with and for people that I like and admire, and that is everything. We are currently developing a service that will enable tech companies to recruit and manage partnerships; the future of retail tech is partnerships, vendors can’t keep selling alone and working against integrated solutions.
Which retailers have impressed you recently?
CF: I’m afraid it’s Tesco. Say what you like about them, they never give up. Their internal culture is pretty friendly, and the store staff are the nicest in supermarket retail. I’m a cook so I know I can get pretty much everything I need there, although I’d like to see them pushing their Finest range. I’m a mixed basics and luxury shopper, mixing and matching across the price spectrum. The battleground now is for both the hearts and the minds of the shopper and that depends on having an awesome offer but also on getting control of data.
What advice would you give a marketer beginning their career in retail?
CF: Think about how you are going to make a difference otherwise you are just a drone pushing content out that no one wants to read. I am obsessed by marketing performance and don’t want to just tick boxes. Marketing is still regarded as discretionary spend by most CFOs so I am always on a mission to explain that for many companies, marketing can be the difference between growing and going out of business altogether. That may sound dramatic, but I have plenty of examples of companies that do no marketing that have not grown at all in 10 years.