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Now, that, there are over 6,000 different breweries in the United States, it’s perhaps not surprising that beer sales reps are finding it harder than ever before to make their sales numbers each quarter. Not only is there direct competition locally (and sometimes right down the street), but also competition from out-of-state craft beer brands looking to expand regionally and nationally.
So what are some of the steps that craft beer sales reps can take to expand sales in a competitive marketplace?
Craft Beer sales reps can be on the road a lot, covering a lot of geographic territory while interacting with wholesalers and retailers on a constant basis. One way to keep up with the demands of the marketplace is to tell stories about your craft beer brand – how it got started, why it got started, and why this beer is better than any other beer in the marketplace. Stories – even more so than facts or statistics – are what resonate with people, and what might convince a wholesaler or retailer to take a chance on you.
Craft Beer sales reps are essentially the “face of the brand” when in the field, and it’s important that they convey the values of that brand, whether it’s at a music festival or at an industry event. Over time, the grind of the everyday sale can catch up to you, so it’s important to be passionate about your beer brand.
That’s wise advice for beer sales directors looking to make new hires – rather than simply focusing on industry experience or prior job responsibilities, they should check that there is a real culture fit with the company in the first place. This is perhaps the best guarantee that a beer sales rep will be motivated in the field, 365 days a year.
While stories are important, they also have to be supported by numbers and data. This data can be used in a variety of different ways, aside from simply checking how your beer is selling during a certain time period. For example, some beer sales reps use data to analyze trends, such as the beer drinking habits of young millennials. They can then use that data as part of sales pitches to retailers, restaurants and bars.
One thing that is especially prized in the sales industry is proprietary data, or data that nobody else has except you. If you can alert a retailer of a key trend before anyone else, or if you have the numbers to prove that a potentially speculative purchase is really going to pay off, you will have a client for life.
What’s really powerful, say beer sales reps, is being able to combine both local and national-level data in order to make predictions about a particular geographic region. If you’re willing to share some of this proprietary data with prospects, you can get a leg up on the competition.
At the end of the day, sales prospects want to be able to take you at your word – but they also want assurances that everything you are telling them is based in reality. And that’s where data and information become so important – they provide a quantitative framework for everything you are telling a potential client.
On a related note, you will also need to make sure that you know as much about your target sales market as you possibly can. This may sound obvious, but some beers sales reps transition into the industry without really understanding how it works, or what types of incentives will prove most valuable. As a result, a surprising number of beer sales reps actually work in beer bars or bottle shops before getting into sales. That gives them a really detailed view of how the industry works, and also what customers are really looking for.
In really competitive craft beer markets, such as the Pacific Northwest, it can be invaluable to pursue official certifications or other qualifications in order to boost your knowledge of the market. One certification program mentioned by many beer sales reps is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), which is a very thorough program dedicated to beer styles and categories. You’ll be able to explain exactly why your beer is a leader in the marketplace, as well as the specific brewing practices that result in certain flavor and aroma profiles.
One salient fact about the craft beer market these days is that it is getting harder and harder for out-of-state brands to crack into a local market. After all, part of the appeal of craft beers is their local, community-based feel. Many restaurants and bars offer local craft beers as a way to support the local “craft” community, and also because that’s what customers want. So what do you do if you’re a brand trying to crack into an entirely new market?
One answer is to embrace events such as food and music festivals, and then apply your own unique geographic spin on the event. For example, some beer sales reps partner with other vendors in their state in order to build up a greater presence at these events. For example, say that you are a craft brewer in Colorado trying to expand to the super-competitive Florida craft beer market.
You might partner with Colorado food vendors or Colorado lifestyle brands in order to bring “a little bit of Colorado” to Florida. Even better, you might be able to partner with your state’s tourism bureau to pitch the event as an introduction to food and wine tourism within your home state. You never know – people might not be willing to listen to a single out-of-state vendor selling beer, but if there is a regional “craft story” to check out, you might attract a much bigger crowd.
At the end of the day, simply having a flavorful, high-quality beer is a necessary – but not sufficient – condition for success in the craft beer market. But if you can combine a great product with passion, brand stories, proprietary data and market education, then that might just be an unbeatable combination of factors as you build out sales for your craft beer brand.