David Grant has enjoyed a long career in the beer and pub industry, and was managing director of Moorhouse’s Brewery for 14 years before moving into consultancy. Here he looks at the role of the brewery sales person in the modern world.

David Grant

Some things don’t change in the ever-changing brewing industry — beer duty is still the largest expense on the profit and loss, closely followed by staff costs, particularly sales staff.

I was having a pub lunch recently and noticed a fresh-faced individual loitering around the bar, laptop in hand, trying to attract the attention of the staff and proudly announcing to all that he was the “brand ambassador” for a major brewing company. He asked to speak with the licensee, who, of course, was not available.

This brief encounter catapulted me back to when I was introduced to my two-strong salesforce, employed to generate income for the brewery that I had been appointed to run. The two individuals were the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. They were immaculately dressed, had a knowledge of the company, its brands, and some of its customers. Nevertheless, my first trade visit with them started alarm bells ringing, when one of them told me that he had the best job in the world, visiting country pubs, having a coffee, and talking about beer.

What they didn’t do was sell beer, and it was not their fault. They had little training, if any, and very little direction. They were doing what they thought was right. They would get up in the morning, jump in the company car, and go wherever the wind was blowing, arriving at their first call at 11ish. If they were lucky enough to meet a decision maker and run the risk of selling, they would inevitably give something away. I always remember one of them saying to a customer that he only traded with new customers on a FOC (free of charge) basis. A slip of the tongue. What he actually meant to say was COD (cash on delivery), but unfortunately beer was being ‘sold’ FOC most of the time.

When I got to know my sales team it became apparent that they were not as happy as they first declared. They realised their shortcomings. They had a desire to do better. We agreed that the cappuccino calls would be avoided, with every visit having a purpose and a clear objective.

As the two became more structured, accountable, and focused they started to be more successful; their days became more rewarding, longer, and they became motivated to achieve profitable sales, and started to really enjoy what they were doing.

With their success, more customers were gained and additional sales staff were recruited to service the increasing customer base. The geographical sales areas were reduced, putting more customers in a smaller area, improving sales productivity, reducing transport costs, and improving the brewery’s carbon footprint.

‘In this very challenging market, when supply outstrips demand, only the best will survive’

As for the original sales staff, they worked within larger sale teams, had greater job satisfaction, were more fulfilled, and never gave beer away again. They also stopped “popping in” to avoid the wasted call, with better planning, and both enjoyed long and successful careers.

The unprecedented growth in small craft brewers has given the discerning drinker much more choice and diversity of products than ever before. It also gives the retailer the most competitive market in any sector, along the way removing loyalty for brand or brewer, with price being the main driver.

It is times like these when a well-trained, motivated, and structured sales team makes the biggest difference. A sales team will either compete on price, giving away margin and eventually driving the business to bankruptcy, or increase profitable sales for both the brewer and customer with the use of professional salesmanship, service, passion and enthusiasm.

In this very challenging market, when supply outstrips demand, only the best will survive. The quality of the product is, of course, paramount, but you still need to get the beer onto the bar. Tele-selling is brilliant when it works well, but licensees get so many phone calls every day that often there is no apparent difference to them.

Yes, field sales staff are very expensive. However, a well-trained, structured, controlled, and motivated field sales team will put your beer on the bar, week after week, and ensure the fridges and shelves are full of your bottles or cans. It will keep your competitors out.

Whatever you call your sales people, ask yourself “are they making cappuccino calls?” For the survival of your business I hope they are not.

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