Creating Sales & Marketing Cohesiveness Between Wholesaler & Your Brand

In such a dynamic landscape such as the brewing industry, establishing a seamless and mutually beneficial relationship between your wholesaler and brewery is imperative for sustained success. Crafting a robust sales and marketing strategy becomes the cornerstone of this collaboration, serving as the nexus where the unique flavors of your brewery meet the expansive reach of wholesalers.

The connection between these two elements is pivotal in navigating channels of distribution while amplifying the visibility and desirability of your brand. Creating a narrative that positions the values of your brewery with the strategy of a wholesaler is key to fostering cohesiveness and unlocking new avenues for growth.

First, and foremost, it begins with your side.

“If you don’t take the time to understand how your distributor makes money, you’re gonna struggle,” said Crooked Hammock Head of Brewing Operations, Larry Horwitz. “It’s thinking about and asking your distributor how can we best work together to help you help me help you?”

Horwitz said a wholesaler is going to expect a level of professionalism out of you as a brewery.

“My opinion? It’s not their job to teach us how to do our jobs,” he said. “If you want to look like a brand that a distributor wants to pay attention to, have your ducks in a row.”

It starts with knowing you will have annual planning and regularly scheduled check-ins, explained Jack’s Abby VP of Marketing, Rob Day.

“It cannot end with the annual plan,” he said. “You each need to come to the table and look at the list of things you said you would do, who actually did what, what were the results, how do you tweak the next steps.”

Setting the tone for your sales staff needs to be coupled with what the wholesaler’s program is trying to do and Day said it should be a healthy mix.

“No one party has all of the best ideas. We should work together to try ideas,” he said. “The key to this is always in the objective evaluation of any programming. Did it work? It’s ok if not; just move on to the next idea.”

Starting with the strategy, Day said they define “air game” and “ground game” tactics to create an integrated marketing communications plan.

“I always want my media (paid or organic) to be leading the messaging charge that is supported by the physical placement, merchandising, pricing, and POS at the store level,” he said. “That is all laid out in advance of the year and feeds that process of checking in throughout the year.”

The brand and product positioning need to be clearly defined in advance, he added.

“Marketing has to understand the why of each product and how it fits into the why of the brand,” Day said. “From that point, you can design effective campaigns throughout the year that are consistent for every consumer touchpoint. Some programs call for traditional paid media, and some are more guerilla. There is not one answer.”

Horwitz is a huge advocate of direct incentives for your own reps based on volume.

“Salary for a sales rep is important because they need a predictable income,” he said. “But this is a direct sales job and I think you would be remiss to not put some performance base pay on your reps.”

He explained it by saying there are two buckets.

The first is activity-based.

“Sometimes we want our reps to do things, be involved in programming, or get signage placed,” he said. “All those activities are designed to drive case sales. We want to be rewarding things that ultimately lead to or directly lead to sales. So I do a little bit of that.

“But we do focus the majority of our bonus base or at-risk pay on cases for lots of reasons. It’s also a whole lot easier for me to justify to my chain, when one of my bosses says to me, how are we rewarding our sales reps? And I can say we’re rewarding our sales rep based on incremental sales. We’re not paying out a bonus for the most part unless we’ve taken in money for it and I think that’s important.”

As far as incentivizing distributors’ reps. First, know your state laws and then figure out, where’s the availability inside of your distributor’s calendar for that kind of incentive? And what’s it going to cost.

“I mean, let’s pick a number like $1 per case,” Horwitz said. “If you want to sell 82,000 cases, and you want to incentivize a buck a case, that’s 80 grand you got to make a budget for. And that’s for a sales incentive that does not include out-of-code buybacks or other marketing.

“The other part of that is everybody’s trying to get the same access at the distributor. So I always think it’s really important to talk to your distributor and say, we want to be involved in an incentive program with your staff, but I don’t want to be up against somebody else. So that means there are going to be relatively narrow windows in which your incentives are likely to pay off. If you can get the distributor to agree to a program like that, it’s usually valuable in my experience. It’s not cheap, but it is valuable.”

Making sure that your distributor understands your brand is a stepping stone to solidifying growth as well.

“Knowledge is power and if you know just a little bit more about our brand, it’s gonna sell better for you,” Horwitz explained. “Creating a trust relationship with your brand manager, and the reps in the trades, so that they’re at least transparent with you, when you’re up against somebody else, at a time of year where your product is not going to sell.”

One of the biggest challenges that Horwitz said he has had with distributors is getting to the honesty around a number.

“I don’t think it’s malicious, because everybody wants to sell more beer,” he said. “But I’ve had to have a conversation in a not-so-distant past, where I’m like, listen, we’re gonna commit tens of thousands of dollars of our limited resources to manufacture this product if you tell us you’re gonna sell it, or you believe there’s an opportunity for us to sell it together. But what we can’t have a situation where we say, yeah, we’re gonna sell 10,000 cases, and then we get down the road on the promotion, and we’ve sold a half or a quarter of that. And everybody’s just kind of staring at the desk. We would be better off if they said, we’re gonna sell 400 cases. I would like to get painful honesty out of those relationships.

“It’s always better to know she doesn’t want to date you than to get married and get divorced.”

Day said Jack’s uses the pronoun “we” a lot in marketing and many campaigns, Day points out that speaks directly to the consumer with action verbs putting them at the center of the story.

“Inviting the consumer into creating the story is the best path to success,” he said.

Over the past five years, Jack’s Abby has moved into a point of balance between social validation techniques and category authority when it comes to marketing campaigns.

“We’ve also shifted the scales away from product-heavy material and more into occasions and feelings,” Day said. “Consumers aren’t out there buying liquid in a can, they are buying into an experience, a promise, a community.

“Our goal is to define and communicate those details.”

And avoiding these being gimmicky matters as well. That means going into any campaign and asking yourself questions.

“Why should this matter to my consumer? Does this fit my brand? Are we advancing the brand story,” Day said. “Is this unique to us? Is this compelling in the current environmental context?”

Photo courtesy Jack’s Abby

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