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MBA dissertation leads to new cooperation strategy

In impact stories by Business School Netherlands

For Marlou Mulders, then marketing and sales director, the goal of her MBA education was to delve into several management areas within her organisation, Prins Petfoods. She achieved this goal and graduated in 2017. Through her MBA and dissertation research, she gained a deeper understanding of the organisation from the inside out. She developed an approach on how Prins could implement an omnichannel strategy for the next three years without channel conflicts. The result was impressive, leading to improved collaboration with partners and stronger customer engagement.

What was your motivation for doing an MBA?

“My previous education and work experience was mainly on the marketing and sales side. Given my role at Prins Petfoods, I wanted to deepen my knowledge in various management areas, from finance to human resources. Because I have to make decisions that go beyond the sales and marketing departments”.

When you’re working, you often don’t have the time to delve into other areas, and this training gave me that opportunity.

“I’ve chosen to work on Action Learning projects that cover topics and areas that don’t directly relate to my day-to-day work. You push yourself to explore in depth other areas within your organisation. I found this very enlightening.

What made you choose the MBA programme at Business School Netherlands?

“I chose the MBA programme at Business School Netherlands because it’s not just theoretical, but directly applicable to the projects you can do in your own organisation. Through action learning, you really tackle a real problem within your own organisation. You can see immediately what’s happening and the results of what you’ve implemented. It’s very satisfying.

What complex and pressing problem did you address in your dissertation?

“The title of my MBA project thesis was: ‘An omnichannel approach for Prins to successfully serve consumers without channel conflicts’. In recent years, we’ve seen a decrease in the number of physical points of sale and an increase in online points of sale. It’s important to act and look at how we can adapt to this in the future. It’s becoming increasingly important for brands to get to know their customers better in order to communicate more personalised messages and increase customer loyalty. On the one hand, as an organisation, you have your own value proposition (what you stand for) and on the other hand, you have customer needs. There has to be a fit, so that they are aligned without channel conflict, such as with your retail channel. However, as we sell mainly through intermediary channels (pet shops, garden centres and online retailers), we had relatively little customer data. So we formulated an omnichannel strategy to better meet customer needs.

How did you get the people in your organisation on board with this research?

“I conducted both quantitative and qualitative research to see how we could optimise our current channels and best serve our customers. The qualitative research involved talking to our retail partners. I made them part of the problem by involving them in the market situation and asking for their perspective. This creates buy-in and provides interesting new insights. Retailers often see the market differently from our brand perspective. I have also involved customers in the research through a major survey that we repeat every year. We look at the customer journey, identifying key touchpoints, customer types, their value drivers, why they prefer to buy from a pet store, why they prefer to buy online and where they find their information. This provided valuable suggestions and input to find the right solution”.

What changes has your thesis brought to the organisation?

“The customer journey research led to the identification of four customer profiles, which we still use every day to communicate with our customers and meet their needs effectively. We also target our marketing campaigns to these profiles. By talking to retailers, we’ve ensured that we don’t create channel conflict”.

We even developed a strategy with our partners to start working together in a different way.

How did you use Action Learning in your dissertation research? Did it add value?

“The application of Action Learning is really the foundation of the whole dissertation and, in fact, of all the projects you do during your MBA education. It’s particularly valuable for creating internal support and getting people involved in the problem. Our problem was so urgent that it was taken up by the whole organisation and became a real project with a cross-functional project team.

If you had faced this challenge before your MBA, would you have approached it differently? Would the quality have been different?

“Yes, absolutely! The depth would have been much shallower. The outcome and the path to it would certainly have been different. My internal mentor, Toni Sfirtsis, helped me to make this deep dive into planning. I also chose a topic that would remain relevant for years to come. We recently sent out the same consumer survey that I used in 2017. It’s very valuable to make that comparison between then and now. You make some adjustments, but the foundation remains and you can build on it. I would never have prepared that survey in such detail if I hadn’t had that education.”

What did the MBA and the dissertation mean for your personal development?

“I think the key word here is ‘depth’. I miss the fact that I don’t have this kind of MBA education anymore. It forces you to go deep, stop and read a lot. You really make time for it. When it comes to strategic issues, I now tell myself to take the time and space to seek that depth.

How do you look back on the interaction with fellow students during the dissertation period?

“I had a close-knit group. We still have weekly contact through a group chat and we meet regularly. We also set each other current challenges. It’s all about sharing knowledge and experience. We recently had a discussion about team development tools to gain better insight.

How did you manage to balance your personal life and your dissertation?

“It helped that I didn’t have young children, otherwise I don’t know how I would have managed. I had set myself the personal goal of completing the MBA in two years. You can spread it out more, but that’s not my style. If it can be done in two years, I want to do it in two years. That means you have to make time for a lot of weekends and evenings. I don’t think that should be underestimated. You can’t just “fit it in”.

What are you most proud of when you look back on your dissertation?

“The dissertation is a kind of masterpiece that you produce. It’s great that it’s still relevant and topical four years later. I mean, if you write something and it ends up in a drawer and is never looked at again, the satisfaction is much less”.

The fact that my MBA dissertation was actually implemented in the organisation and that the working method also created internal support, that’s what’s fulfilling!

Do you have any advice for organisations facing a similar problem?

“Listen to the needs of your customers, get buy-in from your key retailers and have discussions with them to avoid channel conflict”.

What advice would you give to current and future students about writing their dissertations?

Tip: “Set a deadline for your projects. I noticed around me that this is something that people can get stuck on and it quickly turns into a 1 or 2 year project. What worked for me – this was before COVID, of course – was to reserve every Friday afternoon at BSN to work on the dissertation. That forces you to keep up the pace. It worked well for me in terms of discipline.

Business School Netherlands


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