Stop depending so much on your distributors

There’s a popular but delusional belief in the wine industry that distributors will build your brand for you. Same goes for spirits and beer suppliers. It seems a reasonable assumption on the surface. After all, that’s how it’s been done since the repeal of Prohibition. shutterstock_312602363The best supplier sales leaders in America have built outstanding careers and stellar reputations on their ability to leverage relationships they’ve worked hard to build over the years with their distributor partners. It used to be that a national sales manager with strong ties to the largest distributors in the country was worth his weight in gold. But, not anymore and here’s why: distributors are constitutionally incapable of doing for you what they used to do. Let the hate mail ensue, but just because something is hard to accept, it doesn’t make it any less true.

Don’t get me wrong. Distributors play an indispensable role in these United States and always will. But times and circumstances have changed considerably in the last 20 years. It’s just crazy, though, how few people have woken up to this new reality, let alone accepted it. If you are a national sales manager and you’re still using the same playbook that got you to where you are today, you are in for a rude awakening. But don’t just take my word for it; consider the facts.
Twenty years ago, there were 2,600 wine companies peddling their wares in the US and about 3,000 distributors. During these glory years, distributors excelled at placing your products in thousands of restaurants, hotels, liquor stores, and grocery chains. And smart suppliers actively participated in the process by investing in education of the distributor sales teams, creating exciting incentives, organizing crew drives and sales blitzes, and bringing sales people out to the wine country so they could capture the magic for themselves. And, of course, nothing was as valuable as spending time in salespeople’s cars and calling on accounts with them; teaching them to sell your brands when you weren’t around. The suppliers who did these things well prospered magnificently.

But this isn’t 1995. It’s 2016 and these tactics are no longer near enough. There are now fewer than 700 distributors and almost 9,000 wine companies competing for space on the retail shelves and restaurant wine lists. While they’ll never come right out and say it, distributors are completely overwhelmed. They have too many suppliers to satisfy. Ongoing consolidation has only exacerbated things. It has made life miserable for the small-to-medium sized suppliers and most have no clue what to do about it.
A good start would be to accept the current reality and adjust your expectations accordingly. You need to start taking more responsibility for your own outcomes instead of expecting your distributors to do it all for you. They will certainly do what they can to help but the best you can expect is for them to match YOUR efforts. If you don’t show up in the market, they won’t show up.

It’s time for you to throw out the old playbook and upgrade to the new, modern approach. And here it is in a nutshell:
First, invest in your own RAD data and the tools to analyze it so you’ll have full visibility into the quality of your distribution. Knowledge is power and you can’t leave this up to anyone else. You’ll be amazed at what you discover when you bring this data “in house.” Second, before you hire another sales person, invest in a CRM system to give yourself power and control of your own destiny. We’re talking beyond-your-wildest-dreams power and control. Lastly, toss out the hollow, useless metric of “Accounts Sold” and replace it with “Accounts sold Against Targeted Accounts” because not all accounts are equal. Identify the 20% of the accounts that are capable of delivering 80% of the volume. If you’re not sure how or where to get this information, give us a ring. We call this Key Account Targeting (KAT) and we do it all day, every day for many suppliers. By narrowing the focus of your sales resources to only the most attractive and responsive accounts, you will achieve two things: 1) dramatically accelerate your distribution growth and depletions and 2) start relying less and less on your distributors. Careful here- I’m not saying you don’t need distributors. That day willnever come. But you can adjust your expectations to better fit reality.

Now here’s the kicker: most people reading this blog post will not accept what I’ve just written. The gray-haired leaders of our industry think they already know it all. There’s nothing new under the sun in their minds. Hey, if doing things the old fashioned way is still working for you, more power to you. But, for the rest of you who aren’t happy with your current level of sales, are frustrated with the quality of your distribution, and aren’t entirely sure what to do about it, there IS hope. If you’re open to completely transforming your business and ready to join the small band of us who are already doing it, we’re ready to welcome you into the tribe.
Ben Salisbury is a 30- year veteran of the adult beverage industry and founder of the fast-growing consulting firm, Salisbury Creative Group, Inc.

Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come

shutterstock_110032925
It’s worth noting most people incorrectly quote the signature catch phrase of the movie Field of Dreams as, “If you build it, they will come,” but – as any devotee of the seminal flick knows – the precise quote is, “If you build it, HE will come,” referencing the disgraced and footwear-challenged Joseph Jackson. But I digress.

This post is about the all-too-common misconception that filling gaps in a product portfolio will solve any deficiency in your sales results. While this is sometimes true, it is more often than not common sense interrupted by thinking. Some salespeople love to blame everything and everyone but themselves for failing to achieve their sales goals. One certainly shouldn’t discourage the new product development team from creating the next big thing, but salespeople get paid to deliver the number regardless. Rainmakers accept NO excuse for getting the job done.

I’ve sat in many sales & marketing meetings over the years, listening to sales leaders lament the lack of innovation: “If we only had ______.” It is the job of the sales team to generate profitable new revenue no matter what. A “rut” is a grave with both ends kicked out. Get over it. While you’re waiting around for someone else to create something new and exciting, you’ve still got a job to do: selling what’s already on your plate.

Now, in all fairness, salespeople aren’t the only ones who fall into this trap. Just because you DO create a new product or service does not mean it’s automatically going to sell. It might, and that would be great – but it’s not a given. Too many companies have an anemic sales culture because the power and value of a great sales team is discounted in the misguided belief that any fool can sell a great product. Heck, it might even sell itself.

This “if you build it, they will come” mentality can be a genuine trap. One should instead heed the warning, “be careful what you wish for.” Some marketing teams take the sales leaders at their word and create new products as requested. Now, it’s up to the sales team to execute. If you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself. Is it the chicken or the egg? Is it better products that are needed or better sales execution? In a perfect world, you’d have both great products and great sales execution. But if this was easy, every company would be doing it.

Since most of what I write in my blog is directed at sales teams and sales leaders, I want to address them directly here. Instead of focusing on what’s missing in your portfolio, concentrate on the things you can control. Find ways to bring real business value to your customers through great service, dependability, and trust. If you are accessible to your customers, always do what you say you’re going to do, and put your clients’ needs before your own, it won’t matter what products are in your sample bag.

It’s a great day in the life of a salesperson when they finally realize they already have everything they need to be successful. Strive to become the person your customers can’t live without. Figure out how to execute in spite of your company’s shortcomings. The very best way to differentiate yourself from all the people with whom you compete is to become habitually dependable. You don’t need anyone’s help building that.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Hiring a Sales Person

I know of no more challenging aspect of being a sales leader than making good hiring decisions. Leading sales pros requires very different proficiencies than just being a top sales performer in your own right. One of those skills is the ability to assess talent.
shutterstock_193680194
Before you can be great at something, you have to be good at it. Before you can be good at it, you have to be bad at it. And before you can be bad at it, you have to try. This pretty much sums up my experience in the hiring-manager dimension of my career. I became very good at finding, evaluating, and hiring outstanding salespeople only because I used to be so horribly inept at it. Experience is the best teacher.

Fortunately, I’ve had several mentors who’ve imparted their wisdom to me. This blog post is about paying that wisdom forward to you. My greatest boss, teacher, coach and mentor, Glenn Yaffa, was the Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates until his retirement. Glenn taught me to ask myself three questions as I considered a candidate for a sales role on my team.

1) Can they do the job?
Yes, skills and experience are important. However, the bigger idea here is “Can they execute? Can they deliver results?” Being effective in a sales role requires the aptitude to get the job done year after year without excuse. Certain challenges will always be present like unplanned price changes, inventory shortages, inconsistent quality, gaps in the portfolio, and competitive pressures. Even so, when you reach the end of the fiscal year, will this person offer up every excuse in the book to justify their failure or will they exceed all expectations because that’s who they are?

Don’t hire “Talkers.” Only hire “Doers.” Let me illustrate. I recently had a coaching session with a salesperson employed by one of my consulting clients who, for three consecutive years, had fallen well short of expectations. I asked him to make a list of the things keeping him from reaching his sales goals. As we stepped back to look at his lengthy catalog of “obstacles,” I pointed out that not one single item was within his control. His mindset, in essence, was, “It’s not my fault.” This is exactly the type of person you do not want to hire. Without further intervention, this guy would always be categorized as a “Talker,” not a “Doer.”

Contrast this with some of the stars on my former sales teams. These rainmakers saw the world from a completely different perspective. Their attitude was, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” and “My job is to ‘find a way’ no matter.” What a contrast! There are people out there whose internal “will to win” far exceeds any external expectations. They are worth their weight in gold because they know how to execute. They take full responsibility for outcomes and never make excuses. Job number one for a sales leader is to fill your team with “Doers.” No amount of training, incentives, or threats can fix a “Talker.” You must learn how to discover the difference as you evaluate your candidate pool.

2) Will they do the job?
What you want to find are people who are hard working, self-starters, and able to operate with little to no supervision. The idea that you have to motivate salespeople is a fatal mistake. Find people who want to succeed because that’s how they roll, not because someone is compelling them to do so. To discover if a candidate WILL do the job, ask lots of questions about their achievements to date. Ask them, “To what do you attribute your success?” Get them talking about how they overcame obstacles to get the job done. What you are looking for here is the will to win, and asking lots of questions about how they have functioned in previous situations is the best way to discover it.

3) Are they a great fit?
Never underestimate the importance of “fit.” Sales leaders are the keepers of the culture and, as one of my business heroes likes to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” The key to establishing and curating a solid sales culture is being clear with yourself and the team about the values and guiding principles that define who you are as a group. A great example of a winning team culture is the “work hard, play hard” mindset. Another one is “we like to win.” Do team members like each other? Do they respect one another? Do they value excellence? Are they committed to continuous self-improvement? Bringing a new salesperson into an existing high-performance team is risky business and an important responsibility of the team leader. Salespeople like to look around at the other members of the team and see similar values. Contrary to popular belief, selling is a team sport; there’s no place for lone wolves. You owe it to your stars to bring in other stars and nothing less. We’re not talking about everyone being exactly the same. On the contrary, there should be an array of diversity among team members so they can draw upon each other’s strengths.

Like so many aspects of the business world, practice makes perfect. Building a sales team that consistently delivers outstanding results starts with the hiring process. Take your time. Be patient. Don’t allow the pressure to fill an open role cause you to rush the process. Be diligent, ruthless, and thorough in judging the capabilities of prospects. Don’t rely too heavily on résumés and interviews. Above all, trust your gut. A good rule of thumb in avoiding hiring mistakes is, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you have any reticence about moving forward with a new sales person, that’s your gut trying to keep you from making a big mistake.