Case: Sweet Discoveries at Mars, Inc.
Betty Palm is president of Dove Chocolate Discoveries, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc., that since 2007 has offered a premium line of chocolate products sold through an independent sales force of 3,000 chocolatiers.
What is Dove Chocolate Discoveries’ competitive advantage?
We have the benefit of first-mover status. We have pioneered a new distribution channel; there is no other direct-selling company that conducts chocolate-tasting parties. At the same time, we have the benefit of the Dove brand behind us. Innovation and speed make up our DNA.
What are some examples of innovation and speed?
We’ve expanded beyond candy to include a wide range of products, such as a martini mix, chai tea mix, and even a barbeque sauce. We’ve introduced 100 new products over the past three years. And we can go from mind to market in six months.
To what extent has the work you’ve done in aligning your senior team around high-performance behaviors helped you manage the business?
When you’re a start-up business, you need players who are tightly aligned around the strategy and business goals, who have a strong sense of ownership of business results, who are driven to embrace game-changing behaviors, who can deal with conflict and ambiguity, and who are able to depersonalize. The team-alignment work that we’ve done has been crucial in building a team with the right skill sets and behaviors to launch and leverage an entrepreneurial business.
Why is conflict management an important skill in a start-up environment?
When you’re sitting around the table with your leadership team, you’re debating a wide range of issues as you determine your core principles, product and market scope, brand identity, sales and method of distribution, and policies and procedures. It’s a potentially explosive situation, unless your team can deal with conflict in an open, candid, depersonalized way.
You mentioned “core principles.” What are they for your organization?
We have four mantras that we want everyone to embrace. First, walk in our chocolatiers’ shoes: think like they do and act as their advocate. Second, passion for growth: act like an owner and embrace game-changing behavior. Third, discover every day: uncover the insights from experience. And fourth, execute with excellence: deliver quality in what we do and how we do it.
What motivates someone to become a chocolatier?
Our chocolatiers are attracted to the freedom and flexibility of running a home-based business that they can grow on their own terms. They’re their own boss and decide whether they want to be hobbyists, part-timers, or careerists. They enjoy representing a premium brand and reaching out to their personal network to conduct chocolate-tasting parties. It’s fun and profitable!
What have you learned about aligning your vast army of 3,000 chocolatiers, all of whom are independent contractors?
The principles we espouse must be frequently communicated and embedded in all our touch points. When a chocolatier calls our Field Services Department, our people must treat her as our primary customer. We publish a newsletter, The Chocolate Dish, which, in addition to articles on products, skills, training, and recognizing top chocolatiers’ performance, includes an article from me about our values. We also have a field advisory council of top-performing chocolatiers, hold Webinars, and sponsor two major conferences each year.
You’ve recently taken your senior team through a self-coaching program. What did this accomplish?
The “Coach Yourself to Win” program was a powerful way for each member of my team to envision getting to the next level of performance, set his or her Intention to do so, take personal responsibility for moving ahead, and take the steps to get there. The process gave us greater awareness of—and respect for—one another’s goals and desires. And choosing a Guide and Circle of Support made everyone realize that when you are willing to invest in yourself, other people will invest in you. One nice side benefit was that there have been two promotions on our team that came about as a result of the program.
What’s your biggest challenge in running a start-up business within a global enterprise the size of Mars, Inc.?
Managing the differences. We are highly entrepreneurial, in a very different channel of distribution, we have less predictability, and our business processes are unique.
How do you manage those differences?
It’s a delicate minuet. Having the same high-performance vocabulary as our parent is helpful. We have to celebrate our uniqueness, do a strong job communicating and collaborating with our parent, and produce results.
And speaking of results, what can you point to as indicators of your success?
We’ve introduced 100 successful new products over three years; we’ve made a significant positive difference in the lives of our chocolatiers, and we’ve grown 100 percent in each of our first three years in business.
What’s the most important insight you’ve gained in leading Dove Chocolate Discoveries?
Listen to the chocolatiers. They are closest to the end customer. After all, you can’t get more intimate than being in someone’s living room every night of the week. By listening to them, almost every product we’ve introduced has been a significant winner.
And now, for the moment of truth: What’s your favorite chocolate?
I love our sea salt caramel. It combines milk and dark chocolate with a variety of different sea salts. You get a salty-sweet taste that’s perfectly blended. Absolutely delicious!