Coronado Brewing Company’s Sales Director, Clinton Smith:

Developing & Executing Your Plan For Sales Innovation

Coronado Brewing Company’s Sales Director, Clinton Smith:

Developing & Executing Your Plan For Sales Innovation

“What’s more effective than an incentive is having a good plan and talking that plan through with your distributor.”

If you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail, but Clinton Smith is definitely a man with a plan. As the Sales Director at Coronado Brewing Company, Clinton has helped grow the company by 40,000 barrels in eight years. In this jam-packed interview, he drops a ton of useful tips on developing sales talent, incentives, distributor relationships, and innovation. The underlying current for it all: have a buttoned-up plan and make sure you’re being the partner your distributors deserve.

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The Interview:

Trey: When did you join Coronado and what position did you take when you first came on board?

Clinton: I joined Coronado Brewing Company in April of 2010. I had actually previously been working for the Boston Beer Company for almost four years. That was where I got my start in the beer business and it was an amazing company with incredible training and resources. I never had originally planned to come to Coronado Brewing Company. It was founded by my stepfather and his brother and was originally just a brewpub, even when I entered the company in 2010. So there really wasn’t that much beer to sell. But it was right around that point when I was leaving Sam Adams that Coronado Brewing Company was looking to expand its operations and get more into the distribution side of the business. So, at the time, when I entered Coronado in April 2010, I believe the brewery was doing about 6,000 barrels of beer annually. It was a microbrewery and it’s just really evolved over the years. But yeah, it’s been about 10 years. It’s been a fantastic ride, to be honest. It’s been a lot of fun to see where it’s all gone. And then, obviously, the industry has changed a lot since I entered with Coronado.

Why did they decide they wanted to go the distribution route around the time you joined?

You know, we constantly were running into situations where we had our distributor locally in San Diego hitting us up saying that we were leaving things on the table in terms of adding more customers. At the same time, we had a lot of retailers who were coming into our establishments and letting us know how much they enjoyed our beers and how much they would like to carry the products. So as that demand started to increase at the same time, local – which is very different now than it is today, at the time there was probably less than 30 local breweries and brewpubs combined in San Diego County – people were really getting into the idea of buying local, supporting local whether it was beer, produce, goods, etc.

So we were making great beers at the time, and we just recognized that there was an opportunity. If we expanded the operation more, we could still achieve what we set out to do –  make great beers in a family-friendly environment over on the island – but also we could expand our reach further into California and our own city. So we expanded and added about 5,000 square feet of brewing space at the original location on Coronado Island and from 2010 to 2011 we went from 6,000 to 9,000 barrels. In 2011 we signed an agreement for the current production facility that we’re in now, which is about 50,000 square feet. It’s perfect. It’s right next to the ocean. We’re all about the ocean here. Everyone who works at Coronado, most all of us enjoy going to the beach, and this is a stone’s throw away from the bay and the ocean. So we really lucked out with a good facility here and it’s really given us the capacity to take things to the next level and do what we want to be more creative.

Coronado’s Island Vibes on the beach taken from Coronado’s Instagram

So as the sales director, did you have to make a lot of hires to accommodate the expanded capacity?

Yeah. I mean the most important element is really the people, specifically for the sales side of the business. I took over as the sales director in 2016, I believe it was November, so I’m just about two years into the role and during that time the industry has continued to evolve with more breweries entering the space. Also, obviously, there has been a big change with big breweries also getting into craft. So, it’s been really important to not just find the right people, but also identify the great people that we have on our team and find ways to help them evolve their skill set so that they can be better as well. Actually, just recently in the past two months, we hired three new employees: one in Arizona, one in Los Angeles, and then we’ve also just hired somebody in Northern California. We’re actually posting for a fourth new sales position in NorCal just because we understand with the number of breweries nowadays, you have to be able to have people working in conjunction with your distributor to be effective in the markets.

“It’s been really important to not just find the right people, but also identify the great people that we have on our team and find ways to help them evolve their skill set so that they can be better as well.”

So you’re at about 40,000 barrels and 13 people on the sales team now. Are each of your reps responsible for maintaining the relationships with their distributors or do you guys have a process where you roll that all up to you?

So it’s more going to where our sales team members are really becoming the direct contacts for each of their distributors. We’re asking more of them to not just be people on the street, which is a key element, but also we want them to be able to go to a distributor and help them – whether it be planning items, ordering and production questions, or bigger questions – we want our people to be versed in all sides of the business. That’s really my objective for next year, just to elevate our team because I feel we have very bright people, very hungry people, who want to work hard but also want to evolve their careers. So, we feel that if we can get them to be direct contacts with the distributor, it just makes them stronger and they’ll understand the business better while also being effective at retail.

What are some of those best practices that you’re going to be coaching the team up on to make them more effective working with your distributors?

I think a big one is empathy. Understanding your distributors’ needs, understanding your distributors’ priorities, understanding your distributors’ constraints and the situations that they’re in. You know, me personally, I can say that there are many things that I want and I push for, but I have to remind myself that I’m one brewery of 50 or 60 for certain distributor houses. So, I think if we can do a better job with empathy, understanding our distributors’ priorities, how they work, and how to best navigate them, that makes us better. I think that’s something we can always be better at. I know it’s something I always find myself having to challenge myself to be better at.

“I think a big one is empathy. Understanding your distributors’ needs, understanding your distributors’ priorities, understanding your distributors’ constraints and the situations that they’re in.”

Then there is just being effective with them in planning. I mean, distributors are planners. There’s a lot of breweries that are effective and have increased sales because the organization and planning is great and distributors appreciate it. So, that’s another one that I think we have to challenge ourselves to continue to be better at. It’s just being better planners with them and thinking at least six months out so we know everything we’re working on. I know they appreciate it and it makes your time more effective with them.

Can you talk to me about some of those plans that you’ve got coming up for the next six months?

Yeah, so for example, our 2019 plans are pretty significant in terms of innovation. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve launched core year-round innovation and we’re actually going to get into the 16 ounce six-pack space, which is starting to grow out here in California. I really haven’t seen much of it in the eastern US, but it’s exciting. So we baked our plans back in June and we’ve been working on those. We’ve already been working with distributors for months on roll-out plans regarding how we’re going to execute, what kind of sales objectives we’re working towards together, kickoff meetings, incentives, and market activations. Not only are we having these things happen in Q4, we’re also getting into annual business plans where we’re laying out the entire foundation for next year, specifically what beers we’re rolling out to the market and strategically timing them to not overlap with other beers in our portfolio.

Coronado’s new 16 ounce cans taken from Lilypad Social Wall.

So making sure our calendar is well thought out all the way through next year. We know exactly every quarter and every month: What’s a priority brand? What’s a secondary focus that we’re working on? What’s a limited release that comes out at this time? There’s a lot going on with roll-outs, but we still have an existing portfolio. I think the important thing for us is to make sure that we’re working on the same things our distributors are. We want to make sure we sync our plans ahead of time with them so that together our teams work on the same things.

“I think the important thing for us is to make sure that we’re working on the same things our distributors are.”

That’s a great answer and there’s a lot I want to touch on there. Let’s start with incentives. When you mentioned incentives, were you talking about incentives for distributor reps or incentives for your internal team?

Actually a little of both. For distributor reps, there are different things that it could be. It could be merchandise. Like, we had a great incentive recently with a certain distributor that love these new hoodies we made. So we just put a goal out there to work collectively on and if we hit it, the team would get hoodies. You know, everybody’s motivated by different things, but they’re built in specifically to market objectives. So if the distributor is working on a market objective that goes into our market plan, if they execute on it, we see that as a big win. They have a lot of brands to work on so it’s not like you can have an incentive running all the time, but when you do have it, you make the most of that time with the mindshare and really work hard with the distributor on executing the plan.

Coronado incentive hoodie taken from the Coronado Shop

Then we actually just started doing some little things, more internal contest for our team. So some of those things that we’re working on are power rankers that we can pull through Lilypad. So for example, for a quarter, we’ll do something where it’s a power ranker of the sales reps. We’ll combine most placements executed for CEs with a combination of closing percentage, with a combination of most retail accounts visited. So, you rank from 1 to 10 and whoever wins the quarter then wins like a cash prize or wins some cool item that we have at the brewery. So we’ve been doing that for our team as well, and Lilypad gives us the ability to put some of those things out there and track them.

Learn more about Activty Management & Execution in Lilypad or Schedule a Demo.

We’re glad to be a part of that. Going back to incentivizing distributors: I had a conversation with another client about how it often feels like you’re bidding for attention with those incentives. Do you think incentives are something that breweries should really be focusing on? How do you view incentives in the hyper-competitive landscape?

I think it all depends on the market and what’s going on. What’s more effective than an incentive is having a good plan and talking that plan through with your distributor then both being mutually on board with the plan so that you’re working towards the same objective. The incentives are almost like an extra then. It’s true, there are a lot of incentives out there and I’m sure a lot of suppliers get the feeling like, “Okay, I’m on incentive, but I’m on an incentive with X amount of other breweries, it doesn’t mean I’m getting more mind-share.” So, one of the things you have to take into consideration is you might ask a distributor, “Hey, if we do an incentive during this time, what might prevent it from being effective?” For example, if I’m planning an incentive for April, when I’m at a distributor house that carries Mexican imports, there’s a pretty good chance that the focus during that time will be towards distributors getting ready for Cinco de Mayo – getting displays done and getting things ready for that first week of May. So maybe that’s not a good time for me. Maybe there might be a better month. So it’s kind of unique to every distributor, what brands they have, and how they run the incentives. But you just really have to ask those questions with your distributor and you gotta think it through and make sure that you both agree that you have a time slot where you’re going to get the attention you deserve. Then it’s really on you to help manage that expectation with them.

“What’s more effective than an incentive is having a good plan and talking that plan through with your distributor.”

That ties nicely back to the point about annual business plans. Are you guys sitting down with your distributors as the very first step of the annual business planning process?

What we like to do in the annual business plans is at least look at potential opportunities for incentives for the first half of the year. I think it’s hard to calendarize it all because things might change. So at least if you have your plans for incentives baked for the first half of the year – we like to strategically put them around major brand rollouts to give it some extra attention. Some distributors will just tell us that the roll-out is not going to conflict with anything and they don’t think we need to invest in an incentive. They’ll say we just need to have some target lists ready, we need to do a kickoff meeting, and we need to get the guys excited through the liquid just to make sure we’re prepared to go get it once the beer is out.

So, you don’t always need things like incentives to be effective and, again, I think it all comes back to just planning ahead. Aligning expectations and aligning your timing so that we feel both our teams can achieve the necessary things to get those objectives done that are in the annual business plan.

“Aligning expectations and aligning your timing so that we feel both our teams can achieve the necessary things to get those objectives done.”

So, now we’re just starting to present them. I think our first ABP meetings actually just took place two weeks ago in North Carolina. We’re rolling into most of our California business plans over the next four to five weeks. Most of our business is in California, I’d say about 80 percent of it. If you include Arizona and Nevada, it’s about 90 percent of our business. So those are the markets we generally have people in the market and those are also ones where we go live to the distributors and do the meetings in person.

Eastern US business is obviously not as big, but we make sure to still have plans in place. Those ones we generally will get done between late October to mid-November. Those are a little more difficult as we have somebody who manages those markets from abroad in San Diego. Really it’s being effective with communication and making sure that when you don’t have someone in the market, at least you can communicate well. I think that’s something we gotta do better next year. In those markets where we don’t have people, we need to look at the annual business plan and be more consistent with our communication so we have people keep an eye on everything and keep some mind-share at all times.

“We need to look at the annual business plan and be more consistent with our communication so we have people keep an eye on everything and keep some mind-share at all times.”

To go back to the theme of growth, you’ve been with the company since 6,000 barrels. Can you tell me a little bit about what some of the key priorities were when you were trying to get from 6,000 to 20,000 barrels and then how those priorities shifted once you went from 20,000 to 40,000?

Yeah, the biggest one was making sure our liquid was consistent and right. You know, you can move into a new brewery with a bigger system, but ultimately the most important thing – and it’s more important than ever – is having great liquid. So we had to push ourselves to make sure that we could translate going from a 10 barrel system to a 30 barrel system and then going from 20 barrel tanks all the way up to 240 barrel tanks of beer. I think one of the biggest things that we had to keep working on and working on was making sure our consistency was spot on. Making sure that every batch meets the quality standards and all the beer will taste the same every batch and that it would only get better and better. So I think that was the most important thing because during the time we were growing, the number of breweries was growing as well. That translated later on to a World Beer Cup Championship in 2014 and that really helped elevate things.

Coronado winning for mid-size brewery and brewmaster in 2014.

Understanding as a brewery what our priorities were for brands and then really focusing on those priority brands to make sure that our distributors were aligned was very important. Basically identifying our lead brands. So if I’m a distributor rep and I go into a store and they don’t have Coronado, the rep understands what the first brand they need to pitch is, and then the second, and the third. That was something that we needed to do and we got better at, aligning our internal priorities with our distributors. That really helped us grow. Also finding great people, not just on the brewing side, but on the sales side. People that could work together across departments to get the same objectives done.

“If I’m a distributor rep and I go into a store and they don’t have Coronado, the rep understands what the first brand they need to pitch is, and then the second, and the third.”

Marketing plays a big part in that. Logistics and planning, our accounts receivable and payable. Everybody in the company plays an important role in making growth happen. I think for us being more organized internally to sync our departments and make sure we were working well together helped us grow from 6,000 to 40,000 barrels. Again, I keep saying it, but just making sure that we’re getting better at planning. I think we can always be better at it. We hire people who have been in other organizations who bring great planning ideas to us and we try to implement what we think is best to ultimately push ourselves to become better as a brewery. Distributors rightfully deserve to have supplier partners who work well with them, and we need to find ways to be better so that we can work better with them.

You mentioned innovation in the beginning of the interview. I’m hoping you can tell me a little bit about how innovation has played a role on the sales side. Are there particular strategies you’re implementing across the sales team to innovate and does technology play a role in that?

Sure. For example, our sales team is coming into town this week and they’re all going to be presenting their Q4 plan. Earlier in September I told them what we need to get done as a team. I told them what we’re going to do collectively and then broke it out and sent individual goals to them that build into the team goals that align with what our distributors are working on. I asked them to put together a plan for their market and then present to me how they’re going to get it done. Based off that plan, we identified some opportunities and some best practices that we can share with the team. So, for example, one of those things is for me to get X amount of a New Wave Series 16 ounce six-packs, I need to execute a minimum of 600 account calls with 300 of those account calls in on-premise and 300 account calls in off-premise. Then I can load those into Lilypad and we can track it to make sure people are indexing their time appropriately across channels.

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They can look at their potential targets or the targets that they’ve uploaded into Lilypad and they can say, “For me to get 15 permanent handles of this new brand, I need to visit my target lists in Lilypad at a of minimum twice a month and I will route my day’s appointments around those targets.” So based on them having information in Lilypad that we can see, not only do I look at their Q4 plan and sign off on it, but I can say, “Hey, you own that plan. I like it. Your months should be planned based around what you’re doing for that quarter.” And with that vision I can say, “Hey, where’s the accountability of following your plan? Are you hitting your grocery chains enough?”

Coronado chain display taken from the Lilypad Social Wall.

That’s something in Lilypad we can see because as we’re rolling out innovation, we can’t forget that November and December are huge months for displays in grocery and just sales in general. Are we making sure we’re hitting our top grocery stores? Are we making sure that inventory is prepared as we head into key holidays? Are we asking for beer to go on the floor? So I think Lilypad gives us the ability to take our plans and look at our goals. We actually just started implementing goals into Lilypad where previously we were only doing things like account calls and ride-alongs. But now we actually have points of distribution goals and permanent handle goals so everything can be tracked in there. It just makes it easy for us to see and manage. So that’s the long answer.

Do you have any thoughts on best practices for building relationships with chains and how to break into those big brands that you’re sending your team after?

So we have a director of national accounts who calls on the major grocery chains and on-premise chains. He does a great job of getting us the authorizations or programs, but ultimately for everyday business, I think sometimes people can forget, especially craft breweries who might be our size – or heck, you can be a microbrewery with chain authorizations – but you forget that you can impact grocery. In San Diego County, between grocery and club stores, there are 300 locations out there. It’s hard to be impactful with all of them. But what I try to tell the guys is in your territory of 50 to 70 grocery chains, there’s about 20 to 25 that make up 75% of the business. You should definitely establish a relationship with that store and be visible.

“In your territory of 50 to 70 grocery chains, there’s about 20 to 25 that make up 75% of the business. You should definitely establish a relationship with that store.”

A big part of it is they’re data-driven, but we have the ability to look at sales. I mean, you can look at Lilypad and they can see what they’re doing on a weekly basis, monthly basis, and generally you’re going to be able to find a story where it makes sense for them to display your beer on the floor heading into a key holiday. They might give you a display just because you’ve built a good relationship with them and they appreciate your tenacity. Also just making sure that when you go into a store on a Friday that we’re not out of stock by that night. You’re watching that closely with your distributor and you guys are working on opportunities. So I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that you can impact grocery as a smaller craft brewery just by spending time in that channel. It’s the biggest opportunity. I mean, for us it’s been the fastest growing part of our business. For the long-term, to become successful, you do need to be successful in the grocery channel, especially as it becomes more competitive out there. You have to do more than just get the authorization and expect it to just sell itself off the shelf.

“You have to do more than just get the authorization and expect it to just sell itself off the shelf.”

Well, I’ve got one big question left. Every time I talk to somebody who’s been with the brewery from the very beginning, in your case 6,000 barrels all the way up to 40,000, I like to ask them if they could go back and tell themselves something at the earlier stages that they know now, what would it be?

Oh boy. There’s a lot of things. What would we have done differently? I would say that as a brewery, if I look at my experience, we waited for things to become trendy. I think it’s important nowadays for a brewery not to chase a trend so much. If you feel you got a good idea or if you feel you have some liquid that maybe is not the most popular style, stick to your guns. Go with what you believe in and don’t wait until it’s too late and someone else beats you to it. Especially when it’s this competitive. There are a few times I just think we waited too long to pull the trigger because we wanted to see how things shook out and I think you need to take risks in this business. Just believe in yourself. If you have a good team and you believe that you can produce great liquid and great packaging, stand behind your belief and be passionate about it.

“Go with what you believe in and don’t wait until it’s too late and someone else beats you to it.”

Spread that passion and excitement to a distributor. If you feel good about your plans and you’re confident about them, it’s infectious. They buy into it because you believe in it. So I would just say, going back to your question, I think take more risks but make sure they’re well thought out. It comes back to the thing I keep talking about over and over today, but just make sure that your planning is done well for any new ideas that you have or risks you take. Make sure they’re well planned and thought out.

Got it. So obviously you guys have your new six-packs coming out. Do you have any last things you want to share about the brewery that the people reading should look out for?

Yes. Coming October 2018 are Weekend Vibes and Never Better. Weekend Vibes is a 6.8% IPA in a six-pack 16 ounce can and draft. It’s got Mosaic, Citra, and Simcoe, three of my favorite hops. It is bone dry, tropical, juicy – it is so well done and the brewers have worked over a year on this beer. So you’ll see it out there in the market. It’s such a great beer, we’re so proud of it, so we want people to pick it up. The other one is Never Better. It’s a double IPA in six-pack 16 ounce cans. This is a highlight of Mosaic and Citra and it’s unfiltered. This double IPA, again, the brewers worked a year on this and we couldn’t be more proud of it. The package design is fantastic. You’ll see it out in the market and when you do, don’t hesitate to pick it up because we worked really hard on it. We’re proud of it and know the consumers will enjoy it.

Beautiful. Am I gonna be able to find any of that in Florida?

No, unfortunately not. No distribution in Florida. So we’re going to have to find some alternative methods to get you the beer. Yeah, because it does scream Florida vibes when you look at it. In fact, if you go to our website, coronadobrewing.com, you’ll see some imagery on the brands or if you follow our instagram, @coronadobrewing you’ll see a lot of things about these new beers. So actually the first sales to retail in San Diego County are happening today with our distributor, so we’re very excited for Weekend Vibes and Never Better to hit the market.

Well thanks so much for your time, Clinton. I think there’s a lot of useful information in here for people.

No problem. Thank you very much.

This article is part of the Lilypad Sales Leaders Interview Series.

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