At this stage in your journey it’s time to buckle up - you’re well prepared at this point; having brewed up something with a great taste, crafted a clever brand story and eye-catching packaging, and if you’ve been following our advice so far, you’ve done your homework to ensure your future sales efforts can be tracked effectively. Now’s the time to hit the ground running, the sales grind awaits.
The Pre-Game Huddle
It’s important in the heat of things not to lose your head. I’m not trying to freak you out, but the stress of the sales grind is very well documented, even more so when you’ve got skin in the game trying to sell your own product (trust me, I get it!).
The point is, stress happens and with it you’ll lose the bandwidth to balance out the little things that eventually start to add up - bottles will break, people will quit, a shipment will get delayed, an email that should’ve been replied to is left unopened. These things will happen, and things will be okay, but you have to have a system in place. With a systematic approach to your outreach, you’ll know what you need to do, when you need to do it, and where you need to focus your efforts — this is the anchor to keep coming back to to ensure you’re pushing your business forward.
Where to Start
The first step in your approach should be to identify what type of clients you can and should be attracting. This is where that work we did in sales personas comes into play. Are you looking to fill the shelves of crafty mixology bars city-wide? Hoping to be the mainstay brew at local pubs? How about looking to be stocked in the shelves of a major retailer? Do a deep think here in terms of the types of businesses you want as clients, and start to list them out. In OrderEZ we call the potential clients that you haven’t signed sales agreements with yet “target accounts”, and that’s how we’ll refer to them here as well.
For reference, you’re going to be looking at a pace of fifty sales calls a week from this point, so make sure you’re prepared with enough target accounts to support a steady churn and burn of outreach. You’ll get wrong numbers. Stay the course. You’ll get told to come back another day. Stay the course. You’ll even get people that seem interested only to flake when it comes time to actually do business. At the risk of sounding repetitive here - stay the course.
Again, the sales process is usually referred to as a “grind” for a reason. I’m here to tell you that it can be rough, it can mess with your confidence, but above all else, stay the course. Calls and drop bys 1 through 589 may be duds, and but call 590 secures the deal that pays for your expansion. Sales are fickle, but it’s a numbers game, and it’s important to have a system to fall back on. Despite the previous weeks’ successes or failures, each week you start anew with 50 sales calls or drop bys. New accounts, existing accounts, old dormant accounts, 50 a week is the number that I hear repeated again and again when talking to people in the industry.
Who Are You Targeting?
You’ve got your buyer personas, you have a view of them in your minds-eye but part of the problem will be that there are more than a couple “someones” that you’re going to be selling to. Depending where you are the mix between on-premise and off-premise consumption is going to have a big impact on your sales efforts.
Not every one of your customers will operate the same way, in fact almost none of them will. When you’re first starting off you’ll want to mix up your efforts, with some focus put on the “whales” and some on the fish that will feed you today. A good example are the big grocery or bottle shop chains. There’s a good chance that these folks have a structured schedule when they’re evaluating new products and actually bring on new brands. You’ll want to start learning those key dates as soon as possible, but it’s unlikely to help you put runs on the board immediately. Personally, I love the idea of starting off with 80/20 rule weighted towards today.
Each of these customer types is going to expect different things from you and until you’ve had your first 50 or 100 conversations you’re not really going to know how everyone operates. Are bars going to expect you to provide merchandise (aka “merch”), branded taps, kegerators, pint glasses, or even umbrellas for the patio? Maybe the big box guys are going be asking for listing fees (I’ve heard numbers in the five digits) and if you don’t have the cash to pay it right now do you even want to be going after it?
Running & Scaling Your Sales Effort
There are few things as good as hearing a “yes” when it comes to sales, when a deal is teetering between won or lost and ultimately lands in the win column there’s no other feeling like it in the world. It makes your day, there’s a little skip in your step, the sun seems extra shiny but only pleasantly warm, and the birds have flown in out of season to chirp around you. The natural laws of the universe can wait, for one satisfying moment you achieve validation. All the shared drinks with bar managers, the tastings you’ve hosted, the hours over the phone securing meetings, these are the moments that make it worthwhile. Now how do you grow so you’re hearing that magical “Yes”, every day? The problem then becomes that your sales effort stops the moment you do, so what’s next? Bringing on a team.
It’s important to pause for a moment to mention that before bringing in a team you should have a solid understanding of what works and what doesn’t work for your sales effort. If your problem is figuring out what works with sales, adding more sales staff will likely just give you a bigger problem, not a solution. Reserve this step until you’ve at least identified a single channel or sales persona that a competent sales person can independently chase and close. This will free your bandwidth up to handle everything else that comes with launching a brand, as well as afford you some much needed peace of mind knowing that the sales cycle continues.
Initially, when you’re running a solo sales effort, it’s relatively easy to keep track of what your pipeline looks like. Afterall, at the start you’re likely leveraging personal relationships and handling the entire process yourself, so naturally you’ll feel pretty plugged into the routine of things. With a sales team in place (start small with a single hire and you’ve increased the team by 100%!) you’ll see orders come in from names you do not know, which is both exciting and a bit scary. You also won’t know where your reps are spending their time or chasing orders at all times, and you won’t know whether newly signed accounts have ordered or not. While this can sound scary, with a proper system in place you’ll be able to track your team’s progress and output the right way - not via micromanaging mechanisms that kill productivity instead of saving time. Set them on their task (50 calls or drop bys a week! PS - emails don’t count!), keep track of account activity, and direct your team accordingly.
Previously, we talked about the importance of a CRM-like mechanism for tracking your sales efforts. As you work to and through this step, you’ll really start to feel the importance for yourself. Tracking account ordering status every week or month, seeing new accounts opening, pending orders, delivered orders, standing orders, variable pricing across the board, sales expenses and more is a tall ask. With OrderEZ we’ve built our platform to easily navigate this information, which is driven more by user and less about data entry. Whether you’re looking to solve these problems with OrderEZ or you can identify another solution out there, this is something every business needs to have a solid grasp on. How you start is how you finish, so I highly recommend you find a worthwhile solution that you can grow with, otherwise you’ll face a nightmare pivot down the road.
Exploring Your Options
Success in the alcohol space has largely been defined as, “Come up with a great product, get a distributor to sell it, profit” which beyond being an oversimplification (I advocate for self-distribution whenever possible) is also a narrow-minded view of what constitutes success in the game these days.
For example, have you considered selling directly to consumers? With a strong digital presence and the right e-commerce platform and tools (naturally, we do that too) you can establish an online store from your website, and open your products to the world - or at least the locales that allow for shipping of alcoholic beverages. Leverage some third-party logistics and the success you have in your home market when you expand.
Alternatively, when your brand grows big enough, how about an onsite taproom or bar? With the right locale, design, and brand, you can eventually build a destination that can host tours, tastings, and serve as the testing ground for experimental new flavors. What’s more is that when done properly, you’re looking at a significant revenue stream that reinforces the other components of your business (wholesale and e-commerce).
My final piece of advice (for now!) is to simply enjoy the ebbs and flows of the process, keep your eye on the prize (stay the course!), and to remember that how you spend your time is an investment. Take the time to ensure you’ve done the research, built the necessary systems, and tracked your team’s efforts. What’s easy to overlook or set aside is easy to regret, and an investment in how you start will pay dividends in how you finish.