I Have A Distributor! Now What? (guest blogger, Sue Jones)

Congratulations, Mr./Ms. Supplier!  You’ve pitched your brand(s) and product strategy to a distributor, and they have agreed to sign you up.  Distributors have the warehouse capacity, teams of trained sales reps, and relationships with accounts across the state to grow your brand.  Time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Wait, what?  Unfortunately, having a distributor does not equate to immediate and automatic distribution, particularly for new brands.  Having worked in two tiers of the three tier system, I’ve experienced this painful reality many times.  Signing on with a distributor does give your company and brand(s) broader visibility to a statewide audience, but that’s when the selling really begins.  More opportunity means more work.

In the current economic climate, competition is especially fierce across all channels.  The beverage alcohol industry has gone through rapid and continuous transformation in recent history.  Consolidation in all three tiers of the industry has changed the dynamics dramatically.  The major suppliers are in acquisition mode and getting bigger.  Distributors are joining ranks and consolidating across state lines.  Retailers are constantly changing their business models to maximize profit, making slow and thoughtful brand building very difficult.  Add the increased number of new categories and entrants into an already crowded space, and we have quite a challenge.

Even so, there is still opportunity for success in beverage alcohol; you just have to be smarter and more focused than ever. Following are some DOs and one big DON’T for new or small suppliers that want to make their mark in the beverage alcohol space and impress their distributors.  Maybe some gentle reminders to large, more established suppliers too?

DO optimize your website for mobile devices.  Truly, this needs to be on top of the list.  Everyone has a cell phone, and everyone searches the Internet if they have a question.  When a user clicks on your website on their phone for the first time, the experience needs to be engaging and informative.  If your website takes too long to load or is hard to navigate, the user will lose interest and move on.  It seems so obvious, but how many websites have we clicked out of because it just took too long to get what we wanted?  There’s so much opportunity with social media, but that is a separate conversation!

DO spend time honing your brand strategy and priorities as well as developing the communication, marketing, and sales tools to support that strategy.  Make no mistake.  This is a lot of work, but the brand message needs to be a clear and concise conversation, from the supplier all the way to the consumer.  If you don’t have those defining points of differentiation, the only selling tool you really have available to you is price.  Price is a hard game to play in and even harder to win, especially when you’re trying to make a profit.

DO get out into the market and sell.   You developed a great brand and story to support it. You and your team are by far the most knowledgeable brand champions that can tell the story most passionately and eloquently.  It’s also the best way to find out how your story is resonating in the market and who is responding to it.  Here’s a little secret:  Distributors know which suppliers are out working the market and the ones that are not.  They will respond to your efforts accordingly.  It may sound strange that they notice, especially for larger distributors, but it’s true.

DO keep it simple.  Sell sheets, PowerPoint presentations, programming elements, the mantra is this:  Less is more.  If a sell sheet has the fine print of a car leasing contract or a PowerPoint presentation reads like War and Peace, it’s too much.  It’s not focused.  Think sound bites, especially when you are working with sales.  They have dozens and dozens of brands to sell; help them help you get your brand message out into the market quickly and easily.

DON’T assume.  A very sweeping statement, but this happens all the time because of lack of priorities and focus.  I have lots of stories around this topic because it’s an easy trap to fall into.  In short, if you find yourself saying “Well, they should know,” there’s likely a reason why they don’t.  From vague or incomplete brand information to lack of clear priorities, there’s lots of room for confusion and miscommunication.  Trust your gut; if you sense something is not happening as expected, proactively ask.  You won’t regret it.

Daunting.  I like the word “daunting.”  It sounds like what it means:  intimidating, difficult, discouraging.  Introducing a new brand in a new market is a daunting task, but it is not impossible.  Start small and build on your successes.  Once you get traction, it does get easier.  Well, maybe a little easier.

We would love to hear from you if you’d like more information about how to accelerate your sales using “modern” strategies and tools.

About the Author:

Sue is currently a Senior Consulting Director for Salisbury Creative Group, Inc. She has been in the beverage alcohol industry for over two decades in various sales finance leadership roles for companies such as Constellation Brands, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Edrington US, and Young’s Market Company.  She has moved across the country on purpose to get a better understanding of the intricacies of the beverage alcohol industry across geographies.  She is passionate about finding and sharing best practices.

Putting the Business Back in the Wine Business

People get into the wine business for various reasons but the most obvious one is they love wine. A quick Google search of the phrase, “Why I love wine” yields more than half a billion results. Half a billion! Once you’ve been bitten by the wine bug, you are helplessly and hopelessly carried along on a never-ending quest for knowledge, discovery, and hedonistic pleasure. Wine quenches not only your soul’s thirst but your mind’s as well. History, tradition, geography, and health are just a few of the more cerebral facets of wine.

But, for all its romance and sensuality, wine is also serious business. Its commonly accepted that the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.  Between land, buildings, equipment, employees, and reams of regulations, starting a winery is one of the most capital-intensive endeavors on the planet. And even if you do everything right, you still must wait many years before you’re ready to bring your precious vino to market. And that, my friends, is when the proverbial s*#t gets real.

Selling all the wine you make is a hundred times harder than it was ten years ago. The consumers are there, no question. With the Baby Boomers on one end and the Millennials on the other, there is no shortage of people who want to buy wine. The problem is two-fold: tens of thousands of competing brands and fewer and fewer distributors. There is a bottleneck that continues to gets more constricting every year.

What remains shocking to me (and I addressed this at the Wine Industry Technology Symposium this week) is how few wine companies have made the appropriate adjustments. A reasonable person would think, in the face of massive headwinds, sales executives would be ripping pages out of the old playbook by the dozen and sweating feverishly in front of their war-room whiteboards. But, nope. They just keep running the same old plays. Wine education. “Managing” the distributors (it hurts just typing those words). Creating incentives. Planning crew drive and “work-withs.” Organizing trips to the wine country. Standing up and boring the snot out of people at a wine dinner.

So for those still asleep at the switch, and as a free public service, allow me to put a few modern strategies on your clipboard. It’s time to put the business back in the wine business. First, stop depending so much on your distributors. The days of distributors being able to do everything for you are long gone and they are never coming back. Next, invest in data, technology, and the best practices that go with them. Put down the Riedel and pick up a keyboard and mouse (or better yet, an iPad). The 80/20 Rule is real, and you ignore it to your peril. The data and the tools exist to be much more strategic in the use of your sales resources (time, people, dollars). The key to accelerating sales growth is to narrow the focus of your activity to only the most attractive and responsible accounts. The data will tell you what accounts those are. Thirdly, throw out the “old school” measurements like shipments, depletion, and accounts sold and start tracking POD against target accounts, sales per point of distribution (velocity), and level of market penetration. Lastly, hold people accountable for results. CRM is the answer and since you now have a keyboard in front of you, start searching the internet for articles on why it’s so valuable. Don’t worry about how your sales team will respond.  If you can’t change your people, change your people.

Nothing I said in the previous paragraph is sexy. None of it is romantic or hedonistic or even remotely sensual. But it is absolutely mission critical if you want to survive. There will be a time and place to put up your feet and watch the light play off your magical elixir. But not before you’ve sold all that wine stacked up in the warehouse.

About the author

Ben Salisbury is the Founder and President of Salisbury Creative Group, Inc. which specializes in helping wineries and craft distilleries achieve high levels of sales effectiveness.  Leveraging his knowledge and experience from three decades in the industry, Ben and his team deliver sales, marketing, and distribution expertise to a wide array of adult beverage clients.  Prior to starting his own company in May of 2014, Ben spent 17 years as VP of On Premise National Accounts for both Ste Michelle Wine Estates and Constellation Brands.



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Wine Knowledge Matters, But WAY Less Than You Think

I’m sure to draw some fire for uttering such blasphemy, but if you take a very hard, very honest look at what’s really going on in the wine business today, you’ll see that wine knowledge, while very necessary, is no longer sufficient to compete and win. And, that’s my whole point. No matter how much you know or what levels of certification you’ve achieved, it’s not enough to overcome the intense competition for wine menus and shelf space. Too many wines, too few distributors, and a generational shift in buying habits have changed the rules of the wine-selling game so dramatically, most wine companies who operate in “traditional” ways are struggling. A quick look at the latest US Nielsen data shows that of the 67 manufacturers who produce and sell 84% of all wine in the Nielsen universe, 55% of them are down in volume over the last year.

It should be no surprise that focusing on the where, how and by whom each wine is produced would be first and foremost in our minds. With the possible exceptions of cheese and child-rearing, wine is the most complicated and difficult subject on the planet to master. And this fascinates us because in addition to being complex, it’s also intensely pleasurable. For most of us, wine is literally essential to joyous living. But, wine is also a business. And being successful in business requires skills and knowledge that are as far less stimulating to our base instincts.

Take for example the chore of selling wine. For whatever reason, our industry is stuck on the notion that if salespeople just knew more about the product, they’d be able to sell it much better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up at the annual national sales meeting of a wine company, saw “training” on the agenda, and knew exactly what that meant: we’ll be tasting a lot of wine.

OK, so now I’m really going to piss a lot of people off. The key to successfully selling wine (or anything, for that matter) has very little to do with product, presentation or persuasion and far more to do with solid business acumen and strategy. This is so difficult for most wine sales people to grasp because they didn’t join this industry to be “business people.” They want to learn and teach and pair stuff and feel superior and memorize as much as their brains will allow. Now, hear me out, please. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things. The problem comes when there’s too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

The scales are tilting. It’s a dog fight. New abilities are needed. It’s about margins, not mid-palate. It’s about segmenting, not seamlessness. It’s about prioritization, not phenolics. While most are left-banking it and right-banking it, the REAL bank wants their money! I am not exaggerating when I say there are salespeople on the street today that can rattle off all the Crus of Beaujolais but don’t know the difference between markup and margin.

Even the measurements of success have changed but very few are paying attention. We think because (after 90 minutes of talking and tasting) we sold a case or two of wine that we’re doing our job. Distribution is one thing, but QUALITY distribution is something altogether different. Business savvy wine companies today measure the “stickiness” of high quality placements and the “velocity” that each point of distribution generates. There is rigor and discipline in their ground game.

Wineries today (especially those who are not profitably and consistently meeting their business objectives) need to take a hard look at their sales strategy and sales process. It is too skewed towards product knowledge? A solid foundational mastery of the product we sell is compulsory. But, it’s not enough. Let me just rewind that for emphasis: it is not enough. It’s time to start weaving in the disciplined best practices so essential to the business. If you’re not sure where to start of where to go for THIS type of training, my door is always open.

About the Author

Ben Salisbury is the Founder and President of Salisbury Creative Group, Inc. which specializes in helping wineries and craft distilleries achieve high levels of sales effectiveness.  Leveraging his knowledge and experience from three decades in the industry, Ben and his team deliver sales, marketing, and distribution expertise to a wide array of adult beverage clients.  Prior to starting his own company in May of 2014, Ben spent 17 years as VP of On Premise National Accounts for both Ste Michelle Wine Estates and Constellation Brands.

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How Mature is Your Wine Sales Management Model?

I recently became familiar with the concept of CMM (the Capability Maturity Model) during an ideation session with a tech-pro friend with whom I frequently collaborate. Maturity Models come from the field of software development, but I immediately began to draw correlations to the wine industry.

The term, “maturity,” relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes. On the immature end of the spectrum, you have chaos or informality.  From there, the organization “matures” through various stages culminating in “sustainable, predictable results.”


As a consultant specializing in helping wineries accelerate their distribution and sales, my mind began immediately thinking of ways I could help clients “move up” the ladder of maturity in their sales process.

I’ve been writing for some time about how the model our industry’s been using for 30+ years now is “broken.” What once worked to grow sales and distribution in the US no longer works for various reasons. You can read about those reasons in other posts.

Of course, there is a wide array of maturity levels among winery sales teams. So, here I offer a little self-assessment every winery can use to evaluate their current state.


You operate with a highly informal, just-do-it mentality. This is a more intuitive model driven primarily by strong relationships with distributors. You’re so afraid of burdening your sales team with “admin work” you leave it up to them to mostly manage themselves. One of the attributes that characterizes this level of maturity is your sales team tends to more closely identify themselves with their distributors than their own company by defending them and helping them justify poor performance. Account selection could best be described as “go-with-your gut” or “ask-your-distributor.” You believe your wines are so unique and so distinct, all that is lacking between you and success is more education.

Documented Process

You have developed some repeatable processes which may include establishing goals by brand, channels of trade, and premise. You even have a rudimentary process for targeting key accounts (but it’s based upon highly subjective and qualitative inputs like Zagat lists rather than hard data and empirical evidence of potential). You do a great job of measuring performance but tend to use lagging metrics (shipments, depletions, and accounts sold) rather than leading metrics like sales per point of distribution potential (velocity) and # of wines by the glass for specific product sets in specific account sets (right wines in the right places).  You are still clinging to the fantasy that the right incentives or the right amount of portfolio education will somehow cause your distributor to meet your expectations of them.

Predictable Results

You’ve identified the 20% of the accounts that drive 80% of the business and have the systems and disciplines in place to monitor sales activity and results against them. You don’t rely on your distributors very much beyond maintaining inventory and delivering the products your team has sold to accounts. You’ve taken complete responsibility for your own results and have separated your sales team into two distinct functions: those who manage distributors & business units and those who actively sell to key accounts (on, off, chain, and independents). You fully leverage all available data and technology to set goals, conduct surveys, record daily sales activities, and meticulously track compliance against your on and off premise chain authorizations -all using a mobile device.

Of course, there are more than just three stages of maturity – probably closer to five. But, I hope these three broad “buckets” have given you something to think about and discuss with your team. If, after some self-reflection, you think you might need some help from outside experts like me,  send me an email at ben@salisburycreative.com or visit my website www.salisburycreative.com

6 Reasons You Don’t Sell all the Wine You Make

The wine business is the most competitive consumer product group in the world. I defy you to come up with a category with more choices and more complexity. Oh, and guess what- every vintage is different!
Not to belittle the talent it takes to grow grapes and make wine, but you could be awesome at both those things yet if you suck at selling it, you’d better have a fat bank account from which to hemorrhage money.
If you (profitably) sell all the wine you make consistently every year, stop reading this post. You sure don’t need to waste one more second listening to me. But, if you’re among the THOUSANDS of winery owners who lay awake at night because the grapes for the new vintage are ripening in the vineyard while the current vintage remains stacked in your (or worse, your distributor’s) warehouse, please read on.

1. Depending too much on your distributors. Bottom line, distributors can only magnify YOUR efforts. If no one from your sales team has been in the market for six months (and I mean to work that market), don’t blame the distributor for your piss-poor results. All they are doing is magnifying your effort which, of course, is zilch. You’ve got no business asking for meetings or anything else if the remnants of your sales team’s shoe leather isn’t strewn all over town.

2. Too much emphasis on product knowledge. Let me preface this by saying I have the palate of a wolf and in a million years I could never become a Master Sommelier. My hat is off to anyone who can do it. They are the rock stars of our industry and they deserve our unwavering respect. But, I’ve sold millions of cases of wine in my career and made a handsome living for my family with only a slightly above average knowledge of wine. Wine knowledge is great- in fact its compulsory. But if you own a winery and you think “more education” is going to help you sell more wine, get used to disappointment. If your job is to sell wine or manage a team of people who sell wine let me give you some sobering advice: no one makes any money in this industry until someone BUYS something. I know this sounds blasphemous, but our industry revers wine knowledge at the expense of commerce. If the word “sales” is anywhere on your business card, you should sniff & swirl less and pound the pavement more.

3. Success in selling wine is not about persuasion. It’s also not about giving a great presentation or expertly overcoming objections. And, it sure as hell isn’t about features and benefits. I swear if I hear one more salesman tell me how often they stir the lees or how great their wine pairs with seabass, I’m going to drop an f-ing toaster in my own bathtub. Success in selling is about targeting the right customers and helping them improve their business. You can get anything you want in life if you’re willing to help enough other people get what they want. Shut up. Do your homework. Come back when you can add real business value. Rinse & repeat.

4. Treating all customers as if they had the same value. It’s shocking to me how rare it is to find a sales leader in the wine business that not only believes in the 80/20 rule but has the discipline to apply it. “Accounts Sold” is the worst metric in our industry because it assumes an account is an account is an account. A better metric is sales per point of distribution (velocity). Identify the 20% of the customers who sell 80% of the wine in each market and ignore the rest until you’ve met your volume goals. And for heaven’s sake, don’t ask your distributor to do this for you. It’s 2018 for crying out loud. The data and technology exist for you to do this yourself.

5. Most salespeople suck at time management. It’s a fact: left to their own devices, salespeople rarely act in the best interest of the company (or even themselves, for that matter) when it comes to how they spend their time. Sales people need direction. The single fastest way to accelerate your sales volume is to restrict all sales activity to only the most attractive and responsive accounts and ignore the rest. Sales people everywhere confuse activity with achievement – and shame on you sales leaders for letting them do it. Being “busy” is worthless unless its accompanied by a large stack of orders. So, the reverse is also true- if a salesperson consistently meets their sales goals year after year, they should be allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want to. They’ve earned it. For everyone else, though, the solution is CRM. “Oh, it’s too expensive. Oh, it’s so complicated. Oh, it’s so ‘big brother-ish. Oh, we don’t want our salespeople doing all that admin.” Let me clue you in- they’re already doing admin, they’re just doing it poorly. Fire your 2 or 3 worst performing sales people and use the money to invest in CRM. Don’t look at the cost. Look at the ROI. Which is more expensive? A fork lift or a hand truck? Fork lifts, while more expensive than hand trucks are worth every penny when it comes to moving wine around in your warehouse. If you want to move lots of wine in the market, invest in CRM.

6. You don’t know enough about where all your wine is sold now. Complacency cannot exist in an atmosphere of knowing. The data exists right now to know where every bottle of your wine was sold (talking retail level depletions here a.k.a. RAD). By store address. By SKU. By channel of trade. Chain or independent. You get the idea. This data should be on every winery owner’s desktop in a format that can be sliced and diced and analyzed with just a few mouse clicks. Another great reason to use CRM. Not only should you know who your best accounts are all over the country, you should be able to communicate directly to them. It’s been said, “The best thing to put in a vineyard are the owner’s footprints.” Well, “footprints” in the market is equally important and business intelligence at your fingertips is what makes those footprints. I want to make a very significant point, here: I’m not talking about the depletion reports you get from your distributor. I’m talking one centralized source that collects, aggregates, and delivers the data for you. You can’t afford not to be buying this data and the tools to analyze it.

It is so easy to get caught up in the romance of wine in this industry because wine is romantic. After 34 years in the industry, however, I can credibly say there’s a terrific paucity of business acumen. I hope this blog post makes lots of winery owners stop and think about the business part of their wine business. And, as always, I’m here to help with that.

Ben Salisbury is an industry veteran and former sales executive with Constellation Brands and Ste Michelle Wine Estates. He now operates his own sales consulting practice for the wine industry.

The High Cost of Unrealistic Sales Goals

One of the greatest thrills of a top-performing salesperson comes from hitting their sales goal. Not just once, but consistently. So when you, as a leader, habitually put the targets out of the reach of even your best performers, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot and them in the heart.
Stretch goals are fine. Stretch goals are healthy. But there is a big difference between a stretch goal that offers a tantalizing challenge for your sales team and one that sucks the very life out of them.
The first and most costly part of unrealistic goal setting is silent non-compliance. Your best salespeople will just “check out” and the worst part is you won’t event know it. They’ll put on a rah-rah face and go through the motions, but inside their own heads they know full well there is no way that goal is getting met.
I would like to come right out and say that goal setting for sales teams is a fine art. I’m glad I own my own company, though, because if I’d used the word “art” in relation to “sales” in my former life (flesh pressed into the sweaty ranks of a corporate sales scrum), I’d be staked out on the ground and gagged with the sales leader’s tube socks. I’ve never been much of an athlete but, having spent a career in sales, I’ve had a belly full of sports analogies. Arms locked; head down; throw your gut into it; never quit; never say die. Second place is the first loser and all that.

I know I’m going off on a tangent here but this is a big part of the problem – especially in the adult beverage industry – sales teams led by frustrated “athletes” with pseudo-macho swagger. I’ve got no problem with “leaving it all on the field,” but last time I looked, a P&L wasn’t printed on Astroturf. Ironically, “winning” with customers from a sales perspective has absolutely nothing to do with “drive” and “guts.” It’s about much softer skills like dependability and trust. When I look for great salespeople, I don’t look for the drive of an athlete, I look for the heart of a servant. I place a much higher value on promise-keeping than butt-kicking. No doubt there are plenty of former (and current) athletes that are excellent sales pros doing a great job year after year. My point is unrealistic sales goals are too often created because of the macho mindset so prevalent in our industry.

OK, back to the main point. The second most expensive cost of setting unrealistic goals is that it fosters a culture of failure. What normally happens when a salesperson continually misses their goals? That’s right: they either quit or get fired. Either way, it’s failure through and through. Now, for those who might say, “Good riddance,” keep in mind it’s impossible to keep great salespeople on the roster in an environment like this because culture is important to sales pros and, as I’ve said before, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Per my previous post about why sales incentives don’t work, great salespeople aren’t going to respond to your “carrot and stick” approach. Nothing will drive them away faster than goals that are too high because nobody likes to feel like a failure.

So, what am I saying? Create a soft, cushy environment? Give everyone a trophy? Of course not. This is business we’re talking about. A business has goals and they need to be met consistently. Just be smart about it. Be mindful of the cost of unrealistic goals. One way to tell if your goals are too high is to ask yourself how often your team achieves them. If everyone on the sales team is missing the goals, they are probably too high.

The last cost of unrealistic sales goals that I’ll cite is poor quality of distribution. In the pursuit of aggressive goals, salespeople and distributors will do things that are not in the best interest of the brand. For example, a common tactic is to write lucrative incentives for distributors to go out and gain new distribution. While this might look good on the surface, what you end up with in reality is placements at restaurants and retailers where the account buys just enough to qualify the distributor sales rep for the incentive –and no more. A very large percentage of those accounts never purchase your products again. This goes on every day of the week all over the country. Is the equity of your brand truly enhanced when you gain 50 new points of distribution but 45 of them never purchase your product again? These “one-and-done” sales come back to bite you because there’s no stickiness to them. Now, for those companies wise enough to invest in a CRM system that is embedded with RAD data, this can be monitored. Without CRM, however, you may not even know this is happening.

Setting goals that stretch an organization to full potential is a critical business imperative for any consumer product company – especially within the hyper-competitive wine, spirits and beer industries. Goals that are unrealistic and un-achievable, however, are not only counter-productive but very costly in terms of failing to keep salespeople engaged and the erosion of precious brand equity.

Why Sales Incentives Don’t Work (And What To Do About It)

Conventional wisdom is a powerful thing but it is also frequently and horribly incorrect. As human beings, most of us are definitely motivated by rewards. But, when it comes to using sales incentives to “motivate” sales people, the misconceptions abound.
I’ve written before about the futility of trying to “motivate” salespeople. If a salesperson needs to be motivated, he/she shouldn’t be on your team. Period. End of story. If you can’t change your people, change your people. As my business hero, Marcus Lemonis, says, “People. Product. Process.” Businesses tend to spend way too much time on the Product part and not enough time on the People part. And when it comes to Sales People, it’s all too common to see them as interchangeable cogs in a machine that only requires a little grease now and again to make it move faster.

Great salespeople need no motivation outside of themselves to consistently perform at a high level. I speak from experience here. Some of the top performing salespeople I’ve led over the years had absolutely no idea where they stood in relation to their annual bonus attainment as the year drew to a close. Sure, they loved getting the bonus every year – in fact, they expected it. But, the way they got it was to work themselves into the ground and then wait and see what their bonus was. I kid you not. And guess what? Their bonus was always the largest among the team members.

Most great salespeople care about two things above all else: winning and pleasing their customers. It’s in their DNA. They jump out of bed every day and attack their jobs with gusto. They do it because that’s who they are and not because someone else is “driving” them. By the way, whenever I see a business plan that has the phrase, “drive sales by doing ____,” I want to throw up in my mouth. These plans are written by people who don’t have a clue how to achieve outstanding sales results year after year. But I digress. The very best sales people will walk through walls to please their customers (and they do it of their own accord). They will work long hours to keep their promises. And, yes, they expect to be rewarded for their efforts. The primary job of a sales leader, therefore, is to find and keep these people – not to create clever ways to motivate them.

Let me pause to clarify something. I am not saying you should not offer sales incentives and bonuses to your top performers. Quite to the contrary. Just don’t go around thinking you can get an average or mediocre salesperson to improve their performance because you hold out some juicy carrot.

So what can you do? There are far better ways to accelerate your sales results. Assuming you have great sales people to start with, ask yourself (and maybe a few sales team members) some of these questions below. A word of caution here – if you’re not 100% committed to solving the deficiencies you uncover, don’t even go down this path. You’ll end up doing more harm than good by giving your sales team false hope.

1) Does your sales team have the tools and resources to do their job well?
2) Are you making it easier or harder for them to keep their promises to their customers?
3) Do they have realistic sales goals?
4) Do the goal posts keep moving?
5) Are the rewards for keeping and maintaining your best customers commensurate with acquiring new customers?
6) Do you routinely provide recognition of top performers among their peers – especially at company-wide gatherings?

Some of the things on this list cost very little, and those that do cost money offer a much higher return on investment than offering more “incentives” to your sales people.
Lastly, please consider the wisdom offered in this great Ted Talk by Daniel Pink called “The Puzzle of Motivation.” It’s a good place to start if you’re ready to start seeing sales incentives in a whole new light.

The 3 Best Ways to Demoralize Your Sales Team

I’m not sure who would actually want to demoralize their sales team, but I’m sorry to say it happens every day of the week. I mean, everyone wants their sales team to consistently perform at a high level, right? But, like many things in business, good intentions don’t always translate to best results. Conventional wisdom, after all, is often wrong.
There’s an old joke about a man who goes to the doctor complaining that every time he drinks coffee he gets a sharp pain in his right eye. The doctor’s sage advice? “Try taking the spoon out of the cup.” These 3 ways of demoralizing your sales team are those “spoons in the cup” and if you’re not happy with the current level of production from your sales team, you just might be in the mood for my nickel’s worth of free advice.

1. Measure activity instead of results
I know countless sales leaders and business owners who sincerely believe more sales calls will result in more sales. In theory it seems logical, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you’re in telemarketing, you’re wasting valuable time on a very low-probability activity.

In order to embrace the more-equals-more approach, you’d have to accept certain assumptions. One of those assumptions is that buyers are always ready to buy the minute they pick up the phone. Or that it only takes one great sales presentation to close a sale. The truth is, it can take up to 10 or 11 “touches” until a buyer signs the order. Another supposition is that a prospect is a prospect is a prospect. If they are not buying from us now, they are fair game. The truth is that not all accounts are equal. Not even close. The name of the game here is quality, not quantity.

I’d rather see a salesperson spend 40-50% of his time researching and qualifying the most promising prospects before ever picking up the phone. There is a direct correlation between high closing ratios and a solid qualification process. Whatever you measure, you get more of. If you want more sales calls, please keep measuring them – just know that as you do, you’re sucking the life out of your sales team. Now if you want more sales, measure only the results.

2. Tell them HOW to do their job
“Just give me my sales goals and leave me alone” is a common but unspoken sentiment among most salespeople. The world is full of sales leaders who believe their job is to ride roughshod over their salespeople who, without your constant supervision, would spend all day sharpening pencils and rearranging their desk. If you are worried about this behavior, the problem is YOU, because you’ve done a poor hiring job.

Micromanagers are a curse to any sales team. They slow things down. They create fear and loathing. It would save everyone a lot of time if they just came out and said, “I think you’re incompetent.” Every unsolicited suggestion, every “constructive” critique chips away at a salesperson’s self-esteem. Creativity and the ability to think fast on your feet are key components to sales success. So if you don’t care about sales success, by all means, get your people to question themselves and to think they need to stop and ask your permission before proceeding.

3. Show you don’t trust them
In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he calls trust a “critical performance multiplier.” The ability of a salesperson to perform at a very high level is in direct proportion the level of trust given to them by their supervisor. Everyone knows what it feels like to not be trusted by your boss. You can just feel it. One way this shows up in a sales job is your boss calling you at the end of the work day on the pretense of “seeing how your day went” and instead listening as hard as he can for background noises that might indicate your presence in a bar, or far worse – at home playing with your children. And, of course, their favorite day of the week to do this is Friday.

The whole “weekly/daily” call report is also a great way to show your people you don’t trust them. Look, you’re either hitting your sales goals or you’re not. If you don’t think your sales people are capable of achieving their sales goals or can’t be trusted to conduct themselves at work with honor, you should fire them on the spot. No amount of babysitting or micro-managing is going ameliorate a lack of integrity.

A final note addressed to Presidents and CEO’s: if you are not happy with your company’s sales results, don’t be too quick to blame your sales people. Take a good, hard look at the sales leaders, too. More often than not, salespeople are being held back from their potential by their leaders. After all, it’s quite true that people don’t quit companies, they quit their managers.

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

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.