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.