One of the most controversial topics in the Drinks Industry is the relationship between Regional HQ and Local Markets. Having spent years in both types of roles, it's a very dear topic on which I changed my mind. It relates to the relationship between Marketing and Sales or simply between people in the office and people in the field.
Today, I will discuss the most typical manifestation: the trade visit, aka the safari in which a local sales team usually takes out visitors. They show them the city, the bars, and how the brand is showcased and sold in those. It would be pretty straightforward if it weren't for the fact that the visitor is often not familiar with how bars and restaurants work nowadays. They are stuck in a time when brands could dictate, and bars would follow blindly. They visit them from an Ivory tower perspective and expectations rather than a bottom-up approach.
Let me share a personal story: I was a Marketing Manager, and we had one of those presidential visits where the Regional Managing Director was coming to see the wonders of his brand in that market. I decided to make it spotless.
I flew in 2 days in advance to make sure everything was perfect. I felt like a Navy Seal parachuting behind enemy lines. I went out with the local sales team to set up a spotless execution in the On-trade. We spoke to bar owners; we placed point-of-sale material in the outlets and learned the rate of sale in each of those outlets. The bar owners were briefed to show their love for their brand.
The Managing Director was happy. Mission accomplished. The issue was what happened later. He asked for more. I had not foreseen that he could not just say: well done, keep doing what you are doing. Instead, he went: good. How can you go from good to great?
It was then I realized the mistake I had made. I had set up a Truman Show. A fake reality that was already impossible to maintain. Imagine if I could improve it.
That was a hard lesson for me, and when I became the senior person traveling to a market for a visit, my brief was to show me the reality. I didn't want any presidential tours or made-up stores.
I remember a visit to South America a few years ago. The trade visit was an absolute disaster: items out-of-stock, fridges without our product, and complaining owners. The Sales team was desperate. Someone even felt sick. I could have complained, playing the Ivory tower textbook. Instead, I told them I was happy with the visit. While the results were terrible, I now had a clear picture of the reality of the brand in the city. I did not fly for 17 hours to see a Truman Show. I wanted to see the truth.
What's important in a market visit is to see "a day in the life of" your home on a random week, not how your home looks during a birthday party.
If Senior Leaders realized how such visits stop the everyday business for a week to polish things up, they would probably agree with me.
Why do they have such wrongly set high expectations? It's simple. Their people often feed them lies. They travel around witnessing spotless executions. It's usuall in markets in which they have big muscles. They build a compound self-confidence that makes their expectations higher and higher after each visit.
It's your choice: set up a trade visit for them or show them the market reality.
I know very well the pressure coming from a Management trade visit. I am not naive, and I know that there are still a lot of Senior Leaders that are old school in a military-like approach to business. You have to learn how to manage them.
I've been there, done that. They often change their mind and make you frustrated. Instead, it would be best to learn about talking facts, not opinions, and bring them back to what you have agreed in writing.
Giving them a sugar-coated picture of reality will raise the bar for the next visit. I am not saying it is easy to manage expectations, but it's certainly more manageable if you face reality. Otherwise, you are kicking the can down the road until the next visit. Relationships are about trust.
Here are my three tips for managing your next trade visit.