I am often asked about how to choose the right team. 99% of the time, I have the feeling that there is no clear idea of what those team members should do apart from “selling”. Are you sure that you have everything in place to start selling? Most of the time, I usually recommend that: do not hire a sales team yet.
Because your brand needs first to create demand. Only after you can capture it.
If you hire a sales team when you haven't created a demand for your product:
- They will be busy being busy, walking the streets hunting what they think is a cool bar. Instead, they should focus on the right bar for your brand in that city
- You’ll set them up for disaster, putting them in front of bar owners who do not want to buy
- They will start asking for tactical tools that won’t solve their problem (e.g. listing fees, POS material, etc.)
If your drinks brand lacks demand, it’s useless to build up a sales team that nobody wants to speak with
Easier said than done, right? Yes, and part of it is that there is a lot of confusion about what “Demand” is. People mistake it with:
- brand awareness (a blurry term used by marketing to explain activities they can’t measure)
- lead generation (getting contact details of prospects that don't want to speak to you).
The best way to understand it is the definition by Chris Walker, in one of his podcast episodes. I quote him:
“Demand is the precursor to revenue by driving a desire in your target market to want to buy or use your product. Not to collect their email address, not to book a meeting with them. If you don't have demand, your revenue system becomes very inefficient. You're trying to convince people to buy something that they don't want to buy right now. A ton of companies think they have a sales problem but what they actually have is they have a demand problem. There are not enough people in the market that want (or want to use) their product. And they can't generate that in a repeatable way to achieve their revenue targets.”
I listen to his podcast almost daily. His thinking has helped me put into words what’s wrong with our industry. In fact, in the last decade, the world of drinks has changed.
It’s not how big the sales team is, it’s about the system you use. Most brands can't afford big teams but they dream of having one to scale. I’ve been guilty myself. When I worked in sales, I was thinking that the more, the better. Like many founders and sales leaders, I thought that to hit volume targets we should:
- have the right people with the right connections
- sales teams should do more visits per day
- have a bigger sales team in a city
The experience proved me wrong so I started digging into the matter. I realized that this thinking belongs to the last century.
The assumption that “more visits = more leads = more closed deals” is obsolete. It’s all about having a system in place. Having a big team running around busy being busy doesn’t work.
- How much time does your sales team spend doing brand presentations for people that do not want to buy?
- How many times do they get bounced in bars? Time spent trying to get the phone and email of the right decision maker in bars you think you should get into.
- How many unanswered calls do they make to reach people that don’t want to talk to them, anyway?
You have those answers and your P&L can't afford such inefficiencies. You can't afford a team that gets rejected 80% of the time. A day in trade for a salesperson is quite expensive if you think about it. There's a reason why bar owners don't want to talk to them: the lack of brand demand.
The digitalization of word of mouth has changed the game
Until 10 years ago, bar owners didn’t have much access to information. Sales teams from big brands drove around, and inform them about the magical wonders that they sold. They were explaining their product(s), creating the need, and then capturing it by closing the deal. Happy times. Not anymore.
Now bar owners travel to international fairs, and interact on social media. They attend masterclasses. They visit brand sites and social media. They get inspired by other owners. They are curators of back bars, not mere publicans. They trust their contacts more than salespeople they’ve never seen before. If they haven’t heard of your brand when you knock at their door, it’s already a bad sign. The sales cycle is going to be uphill and long.
So how should you approach it? I recommend using a 4-step approach: