Why Connection and Culture are the Key to Sales
Feb 13, 2020
Written By: Melinda Johnson
Category: Beer Sales Best Practices

1: Managing Dispersed Teams

Lilypad Beer Sales Best Practices Series

This is the first article in the Lilypad Beer Sales Best Practices Series and Ebook curated from conversations with industry pros. The first five chapters have been released on the Lilypad blog and the next five chapters were released in an ebook in April 2020. 

It’s no secret that developing and tracking reps in the beer industry can be difficult. Directing and scaling a team into an effective sales force that is in line with your vision can feel borderline impossible, especially when sales reps turn over more often than most of us see our dentist. The unfortunate fact is, the love of working in the alcohol industry doesn’t always translate to success in a market with 7000 suppliers competing for the same dollars.

So, what can you do to make the impossible possible? What tools or techniques can help you scale and successfully manage a dispersed team?

We wanted answers too. So at our CBC Panel this year we asked some of the best in the business to tell us how they keep their dispersed sales teams moving forward. Jason Ingram, National Sales Director, from Left Hand Brewing and Meghan Zachry, Director of Sales, from Two Roads Brewing rose to the challenge. Between their two brands, they have nationwide distribution and over 60 reps. The advice from both these seasoned sales managers can be summed up into one simple phrase:

“Make sure they’re not on an island.”
Meghan Zachry, Director of Sales, Two Roads Brewing

The “they” being referenced above? Your reps! Jason and Meghan emphasized that all too often the disconnected and lonely nature of being a sales rep is what is overlooked by companies and managers when considering how to effectively manage a dispersed team. Reps are expected to be stewards of the brand, but often spend the vast majority of their time out in the market with little access to the wisdom of others or the culture of the organization.

“Sometimes the reps get caught only communicating with the manager, the next person above them, or maybe someone in logistics, and that’s it. You start to lose what it’s like to work for that company you’ve invested in.”
Jason Ingram, National Sales Director, Left Hand Brewing

Being aware of this disconnect is a key part of the growth process and is why Left Hand has established their own way of ramping their new reps.  One of the things they’ve tried to do to combat this disconnect is ensure their employee onboarding process has SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). All the reps that join the brewery are trained in what are called the “Four Disciplines,” which consist of technology, brewery information, field work, and time management. As a result of this training, a certain standard is naturally established so that everyone is “graduating” with a  great baseline of knowledge.

Left Hand needed a way to deliver these SOPs to their reps, which is where Lilypad comes in. Lilypad offers a feature known as the Resource Center, which enables managers to upload and store documents in one location so reps can easily access them from their phone. By taking advantage of this feature, Left Hand’s Four Disciplines can be utilized as a reference tool for their reps in the market any time they need it. With that said, having SOPs and utilizing the “Resource Center” only tackles one of the obstacles surrounding disconnect and growth. Once you get past on-boarding your new rep, Jason believes that the biggest obstacle to growth is maintaining culture. The true difficulty he describes is finding ways to grow without ultimately sacrificing the culture that makes your company great.

In 2015, Left Hand converted to a majority employee owned company. Taken from Westword

Before we dive further into Jason’s statement, let’s first define the word “culture,” a bit more. In his article for the Harvard Business Review, Tim Schwartz (President and CEO of The Energy Project and author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working) defines culture as “simply the collection of beliefs upon which people build their behavior.” This sounds easy enough; however, Tim goes on to draw a distinction between cultures based on performance and cultures based on growth. The research shows that cultures based on growth make for more sustainable organizations, and in order for sustainable cultural growth to occur “a sense of community that makes people feel safe needs to be created through virtues such as accountability, transparency, and support.”

The mistake companies too often make is focusing solely on the “easy” part of what makes a culture, a baseline knowledge of the business, while ignoring the deeper issues of community and shared beliefs that ultimately drive behavior. Tim’s summarized conclusion is that the collection of beliefs that make up your company’s culture must be built with not only shared knowledge, but also with a connection to how people feel and behave, and a sense of community that people feel safe to contribute to and be a part of.

So, as previously mentioned, Jason believes maintaining culture is one of the biggest obstacles to growth. If you are a brewery, distillery, or winery interested in growth, then you must evaluate and be aware of the importance of your organization’s culture. You must take the time to ensure that your culture is built on a focused combination of all the research factors: knowledge and expertise, connection to how people feel and behave, and a sense of community. By ingraining all these factors within the framework of your organization you create space for cultural growth, which in turn drives the behavior that supports business growth. Ultimately, you should view culture as the proverbial “why” that motivates your reps in the market to be a contributing part of your overall success.

In our panel discussion, Jason and Meghan shared that it was this  evaluation and awareness of culture within their organizations that led them to partner with Lilypad. They both recognized the challenge that managing a dispersed team posed to maintaining culture. As a result of Lilypad’s Social Wall feature, Jason and Meghan have the ability to foster their team culture at their fingertips. If the Lilypad Resource Center is how you enable baseline knowledge, the Social Wall is how you build community and connection. This feature, which is the homepage of Lilypad CRM, creates a shared space for dispersed teams to connect and collaborate freely. On any given day on the Left Hand or Two Roads’ Social Walls you’ll find pictures from team members across the country, celebrations of market success, some friendly smack-talk, and even homemade memes. This social space fosters a sense of community that reps feel safe to contribute to and be a part of, which, as we’ve learned, enables meaningful cultural growth.

“So, the social aspect of Lilypad has been a huge thing for bringing the teams together. How do you make an out of state person — or even in-state, because they’re still out there by themselves — how do you make them feel like they are truly a part of it? That’s been a huge challenge and a lot of what we’ve been able to accomplish with Lilypad has helped that tremendously.”
Jason Ingram, National Sales Director, Left Hand Brewing

Meghan highlighted this point too and added that understanding the disconnect and maintaining your culture goes beyond Lilypad features. The features are only as good as the managers that choose to go the extra mile to use them. More importantly, the reps are only as good as the managers that make that extra effort to build them up. So, she emphasised that building up your reps requires active and consistent engagement. Some ways shes does that with her reps are hitting the road with them, implementing weekly sales calls to provide them the opportunities to share their stories with one another, and organizing quarterly sales meetings at the brewery to make everyone feel connected and part of the story you’re trying to tell.

“I think getting on the road with your sales team is really important. Learn how they sell and how they are contributing to your growth. Give them feedback and make sure they feel connected.”
Meghan Zachry, Director of Sales, Two Roads Brewing

Yes, if you asked Jason and Meghan, they’d tell you that it’s never going to be easy to manage your team and finding ways to grow in the increasingly competitive market remains an ongoing struggle. But they’d also tell you that you CAN make the impossible possible. You can choose to value your reps, choose to take the time to understand their struggles, and create plans to actively engage with them in meaningful ways that reinforce why they got started in this industry. Use tactics and tools that connect them back to your story and make that story feel like their own. That way, the culture and passion of your organization is with them in the market and felt by your customers every single day.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Create SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) to train reps so there is a consistent baseline of knowledge established from the start.
  • Make supporting your sales team the highest priority.
  • Go the extra mile to actively engage by getting on the road with your reps.
  • Take time to learn your reps’ sales strengths and weaknesses in order to provide better feedback on how to grow.
  • Implement weekly sales calls to provide reps the opportunities to share their stories with one another.
  • Make sure your reps know your history, your story, and feel a part of your culture.
  • Connect, connect, connect: at the end of the day, if your reps are feeling like they’re on an island, you’re probably doing something wrong.

More Blogs From Lilypad: