This is the second article in our three-part series on Best Practices of Highly Effective Sales Reps. Be sure to also read How to Develop and Communicate Product and Portfolio Knowledge and How Beverage Sales Reps Stay Motivated.
The day-to-day life of a distributor sales rep is fraught with chaotic moments. From traffic jams that delay crosstown appointments to the competing demands of clients, managers, and suppliers, reps are often confronted with organizational challenges. “While knocking on doors is the name of the game, being organized on the back end is just as important,” says Chris Johnson, a sales rep from North Berkeley Imports who has more than 10 years of experience.
SevenFifty wanted to learn about the tactics top sales reps use to manage their time and efforts with efficiency and poise. Here, three veteran reps from across the country share their tips on staying organized and providing consistent service every day.
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Managing Your Time
The sales rep role comes with a high degree of independence, and for many, this feature is a major part of the job’s appeal. But that freedom can also be challenging. Without a systematic way to approach appointments, manage inventory and client expectations, and stay ahead of sales quotas, the job can become overwhelming.
Jon Floody of Savannah Distributing Co. in Georgia sets a dedicated evening for office work, which allows him to get in a groove and stay focused. His weekly routine starts on Sunday night because, he notes, the relative quiet of the weekend’s waning moments is ideal for him. “I build out the following week” based on conversations with clients about new opportunities, Floody says. He looks for common interests that he can capitalize on to maximize appointments and minimize the “runaround.”
Liz Daneels, a sales representative with Natural Wine Company in Boulder, Colorado, also likes to make a schedule for the week ahead. She uses Monday mornings for office work, setting appointments for the remainder of the week, and works ahead to compensate for evening events that might sidetrack her workload. “On those days when I have an event,” she says, “I just know that admin stuff won’t get done until late at night.”
Meanwhile, Johnson of North Berkeley emphasizes the need to plan ahead. Some events, like rosé presales or OND programming, require a quarterly approach, while others may warrant a monthly plan. “Having a monthly perspective gives you a chance to step back and see what’s coming,” Johnson says. “For instance, we have a few containers coming later this month. I need to be thinking now, ‘Who wants to see those wines?’ With a monthly plan, you have a perfect amount of preparation time to be ready and to be professional for that appointment.”
Advance Planning for Sales Calls
Despite the every-day-is-different nature of the job, high-performing sales reps employ a variety of tactics to properly prepare for sales calls. Reviewing a customer’s previous tasting notes, studying the details of products to be presented, and establishing specific goals for each appointment are among such tactics.
Selecting products and matching them to a buyer’s needs is among the most important skills for a sales rep, requiring a heightened sense of organizational awareness, Johnson says. Before each appointment, he researches the products he’ll present in depth so he can go “off the page,” speaking on product attributes and producer backstories with confidence while keeping the buyer’s motivations and preferences in mind. “Reading off tech sheets tells me you don’t know the wines,” he says. “You have to really listen to your client,” and demonstrate that your products will work for their business.
Daneels emphasizes the importance of preparing a narrative for each product, and she enjoys presenting these stories to her customers. “You have to know your wines inside and out,” she says, “and especially at a small distributor, the wine is about the story. You become a steward of the company.”
Floody reviews his client’s account history in SevenFifty before each sales call so he can follow up on previous tastings and choose a selection of relevant samples to present. “Some accounts want to see me every week, but others want to see me once a quarter because they only change their menu four times a year,” he says. “They’ll like a spirit but not have a use for it until fall, for a cocktail. So I use SevenFifty to add reminders on things, like ‘Remind me on August 1 to revisit xyz account, taste them on this spirit,’ to get in on their fall cocktail menu.”
Floody also notes that for each sales appointment, he establishes a goal of introducing at least one new selection that the client could benefit from, particularly if it takes their program into new territory, such as presenting aloe liqueur instead of mezcal at a restaurant specializing in Mexican cuisine. Floody’s main objective, he says, is to show clients that he wants to help them elevate their beverage programs.
Johnson agrees that preparation and goal setting for each appointment are critical, but he stresses that those goals have to be tempered by a devotion to fostering the relationship. “Building a deeper rapport with the buyer is always my number one goal,” he says. “I believe you build that rapport by being diligently in tune to the buyer’s feedback.”
Johnson also says that it’s important to pay equal attention to nonverbal communication during appointments. “Take a hint!” he says. “If they are indifferent to a wine, there’s no point in trying to pressure them into featuring it on their by-the-glass program for the next six months.” Ultimately, he adds, your objective for each appointment should be to mold your offerings to their needs: “It’s our job to listen to their goals and plan accordingly.
Streamlining Workflow with SevenFifty
Technology has increasingly become a staple of the organized sales rep’s daily routine—particularly SevenFifty, an online marketplace and communications platform for the beverage alcohol industry.
Daneels has been able to provide customers with a consistent tasting format by using SevenFifty’s sample sheets, which are ready to print and present with just a few clicks. “We used to do that manually and it took forever,” she says. Daneels also uses SevenFifty to record the client’s reactions to each wine during an appointment, which allows her to follow up easily.
Johnson finds SevenFifty to be a powerful tool for understanding pricing. “SevenFifty lets me see and organize the competitive landscape,” he says. “For instance, I can compare the price of other Verdicchios in the market because other books are uploaded there.”
Johnson also uses SevenFifty’s account maps as he plans his sales calls; this allows him to see which of his accounts are nearby and possibly available for a pop-in appointment. “Working in the L.A. area,” he says of the feature, “I really have to rely on maps.”
Floody—who primarily works in beer and spirits distribution—says, “I use SevenFifty every single day. It makes looking through portfolios easier and much faster, and it streamlines everything I’m doing.”
Because of the platform’s expediency, Floody has encouraged several of his clients to join so they can have better access to his portfolio of products. He also saves time by importing his contacts into SevenFifty, which allows him to send technical product data and pricing info directly to clients during appointments. “There’s been a lot of times,” he says, “that clients are like, ‘Oh, you just emailed me the pricing. Great.’ I appreciate that convenience. For me, SevenFifty makes the job a lot easier.”
SevenFifty is an online marketplace and communications platform that helps importers, producers, distributors, and retail buyers connect with each other and do business in a modern world.