Jeffrey Meese
Jeffrey Meese
Founder, OrderEZ

Building a Launch Pad (What to do Before You Sell)

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Mise En Place: Building a Launch Pad (What to do Before You Sell)

Congratulations! You’ve ordered the bottles, designed the label, and even taste-tested your new brand. While you’re likely to have a good amount of alcohol on hand for celebratory purposes, you’d best reserve the festivities for later. Really, you’re just getting started.

Ideally, you’ll have a well-defined sales and marketing plan in place by the time you’ve established your brand identity, if not, relax, we’re here to help.

The logic behind having your sales and marketing plan intertwined with your brand identity is simply that it matters. Your brand is the face of your business. Every pitch you make and bottle you sell hinges on how well your audience resonates with what they see.  With that said, if you’re lucky enough to have people watching, give them a show. 

Setting Up for Sales

First things first, you’ll need to figure out a way to organize your sales efforts. A general recommendation here would be to invest in a Customer Relationship Management solution - but look before you leap! While CRM solutions can be costly (even when starting from free plans), that doesn’t mean you need to burn a lot of precious capital to find a great solution.

  • Google Sheets

    This is not an ideal solution, but it works. The number of Excel sheets that I’ve abused throughout my time working in distribution would make even my accountant shudder.  Google Sheets is not quite as robust as Excel and may take some getting used to for Excel power users but it’s a great alternative to paid software when you’ve very little capital to spare. Make sure you’re keeping track of open/closed opportunities, contact information, and any relevant information types. Definitely think ahead before you begin any outreach, mistakes or pivots in data collection early on can impede your sales velocity later as your team haplessly flips through bundles of oddly grouped sales filters to identify their targets. Yikes.

    Google Sheets/Excel may start off as a suitable solution, and Google Sheets even comes with a free CRM template in their “Template Gallery”, but as you scale you’ll get frustrated by slow page load times, nigh-inaccessible spreadsheets, and a cumbersome interface - after all, it was never really built for this use case. That said, “perfect is the enemy of good”, and if you’re just looking for a working solution until you can generate revenue to support better ones, this route is one I’ve walked before successfully.

  • Hubspot

    Hubspot is a very robust solution that can check a lot of the boxes when it comes to sales and marketing management. Better yet, they even offer a free version you can take advantage of before committing to a paid account.

    I want to focus on the good things about Hubspot, I really do. In conversations with Suppliers it’s a name that comes up fairly often as a working solution. If I’m honest though, I’m always scratching my head at how they’ve figured out a way to make it work.

    Here’s the thing - I like Hubspot a lot. I don’t like Hubspot a lot for F&B distribution.

    You don’t make a Black Velvet with apple juice and an IPA. At least not unless you’re feeling adventurous and desperate. There’s nothing wrong with IPAs or apple juice, in fact, I like both of them a lot - but they’re the wrong tools for the job. Hubspot is much the same. 

    From the marketing side, Hubspot has a lot of useful tools that make it a great fit if you can afford to unlock the bulk of their offerings. From a sales perspective though, Hubspot’s data management structure is complicated, and you’ll need to tie contacts, companies, and potential deals together manually or learn how to set it up yourself.

    What this means for you is 3x the records to deal with, and diverting precious time that should be spent on sales outreach instead spent digging around through Hubspot’s Support articles and labyrinthian settings in order to make it work. And did I mention how shockingly expensive it can get?

    If you’re a Hubspot power user you should be fine, but in the words of our Director of Marketing (and resident Hubspot expert), “Hubspot is not for the faint of heart.”

  • OrderEZ

Come on, did you really think I’d write this whole article and not include a sales pitch? Would you really trust me to provide sales advice if I didn’t?  Frankly, it’d be disingenuous of me not to.

I built OrderEZ off the experience that I cultivated from being in the exact position you likely are now - stressing and struggling to start and grow a successful alcohol distribution business. Just as I suggested above, I too kicked things off with Excel sheets for record-keeping but in short order realized I’d hit a wall with how far I could stretch Excel's capabilities for an “off label” use-case. 

Traditional CRMs are built for businesses like OrderEZ, not your distribution business. Distribution is almost two-thirds account management and one-third new customer acquisition with a high frequency of sales. Relying on sales people to update the CRM with every order (in addition to whatever you use for order management) just isn’t realistic.

Eventually, after a significant amount of head-scratching, soul searching, and coffee (or was it whiskey?) drinking I realized that there wasn’t a good way forward with what was out there. So we built it. OrderEZ is not a CRM in the typical sense, but it’s designed for all of the CRM functionality you actually need for alcohol distribution and none of the garbage that’s just a distraction. 

Seeing historical data, checking which customers are ordering or not (every month!), and keeping track of pricing tiers and discounts were major sources of frustration before, but now that information is organized automatically and presented easily in real-time. 

This is where it comes back to considering what you invest in a CRM solution. You’ll spend either money, time, or both and different solutions will require different amounts of each. While it can certainly seem self-serving to recommend OrderEZ here (and it is), it’s also honestly the only tool I’d recommend for the job. In addition to tracking orders and inventory, we streamline other processes such as accounting and sales expenses. While some functionality may be there before you need it, these aren’t just mentioned as value adds, these are real challenges you’ll have to figure out when you want to build a business. 

Ultimately the correct solution is the one that works. Remember this is your business and you can run it however you like. Think it through when it comes to making these major decisions, switching later can and will be a headache.  As you scale, you’ll hit these growing pains eventually but having a plan in place, and an understanding of what your business structure should look like in 3/9/18 months and so forth is important to making it as smooth and seamless as possible. 

Introducing “Bill” (Defining a Sales Persona)

If you thought we were done talking about branding you’re mistaken, your brand is the keystone for your business. Get used to talking about it exhaustively with the same enthusiasm you had when embarking this journey, you’re the captain of this ship and where you lead others will follow - ensure that you’re guiding the right people the right way with your approach. 

The next step towards your sales and marketing strategy is to answer two questions, “Who do we talk to?” and “How do we talk to them?” 

At this point the answers are less cut and dry. Are you trying to produce a minimal intervention natural wine? An artisanal craft gin that mixologists love? How about a robust, chocolatey stout that’ll rock your world? While there are certainly some folks that will love all three (guilty as charged!), really, they represent distinct audiences and lifestyles in their focus. You started a brand because you felt like something was missing in the market, put words to that sentiment and share it with the people you think will agree.  In short, play to your strengths. 

What we’re speaking about here is defining a target persona, or an avatar of your ideal customer. Conventional sales and marketing doctrine even recommends defining a named persona for your outreach, e.g. “What would Bill think of this pitch?” 

Figure out what Bill looks like for you. Is Bill the mixology-forward cocktail bar that’s all the rage on social media? Is Bill the spirits retail location that gets lots of foot traffic? Is Bill the distributor that pushes all your favorite brands? If it’s not clear already, you can be flexible with how you define Bill, and seeing as how different those versions are, you’ll likely have a Bill, Ted, Rufus, or Kelly, or maybe the whole band. Let’s stop for a beat to remember, this isn’t “fluffy” marketing talk that doesn’t translate into real impact, this make-believe is rooted in results. The mixology-forward cocktail bar will help signal future market trends as popular innovations take root. Don’t overlook that retail location either, while likely less Instagram-worthy, they can be the keystone for your early growth strategy. The distributor that carries your favorite brands? You’re potentially a good portfolio fit, and inking a distribution agreement could really help skyrocket your growth. They’re all important, and you have to think of how your approach will resonate with all of them. With the proper CRM (or other organization or management solution) and target personas in mind you’ve met your minimum requirements to develop your launch pad. This won’t guarantee you growth (in fairness, very few things will) but this will be the foundational groundwork needed for the next steps in the game. I’m a big believer in the old phrase, “How you start is how you’ll finish”. While you’re free to choose your own pathway forward, I recommend ensuring you’re well prepared with a proper system in place from the start. The importance of building a proper launch pad for your sales strategy cannot be understated. I’m speaking to my truth here - the lion’s share of OrderEZ’s solutions started as problems I had to deal with myself. Every feature and function match a former frustration, you can see why “easy” has been the focus from the start - with the grind of sales ahead, trust us, you’ll be thankful you did your homework.

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