What’s Brewing: Selling Skills and Effective Probing

Is local craft beer easier to sell than Regional or National brands? Not really.

Yes, it is true that to some retailers local is king and a blind squirrel could get the item sold in!  Getting it in the store may actually be the easiest part these days!

Just because a brand is local doesn’t mean their packages will immediately get placed in all the right stores, at the right time and in the right shelf position.

I recently spent a Coaching Day in the field with a sales rep from a local Craft brewery. It was good to be back at retail! Retail is where I started in Craft Beer back in 1993.

After a few calls it was clear to me that a good sales rep today is no different from those back then. Retailers are still retailers and as long as sales reps know the fundamentals of the selling process and how to ask the right questions they can achieve their goals for the call.

I firmly believe that effective probing skills are essential for any sales rep. Sadly, most reps I work with fail to probe effectively and as a result miss key opportunities to sell their brand. They simply have not been provided with the right training.

A great example is a recent call at a local liquor store. While surveying the store we found an opportunity to improve shelf positioning for the 6pks off the bottom, warm shelf.

I explained to the sales rep that a couple of well-timed probing questions could lead to a decision to improve the 6pk position:

* How are shelf placement decisions made?
*What is the criteria used to determine which packages gets placed in the cold box?

We did a quick role play before meeting with the buyer. It was clear early on that the rep did not know how to go after this opportunity. With no experience dealing with this issue, no training on how to deal with it and no guts to attack the situation the rep was struggling in the role play.

After some coaching and giving good examples of how to use effective probes the rep seemed more comfortable and was ready to meet the buyer.

We got the shelf position changed right away!

I know what happens to those bottom shelf brands because I have seen it during Category Management projects over the years. Those brands eventually get discontinued because they have no volume!

Eye level and in the cold box is where brands thrive and unless somebody asks for those shelf positions they will never get it!

You see new local Craft Breweries’ packages getting placed in stores every day. If you ask most of those Breweries they most likely have not developed merchandising standards which would include shelf positioning objectives.

It is safe to say that the biggest Craft Breweries do have a plan which is why they have the preferred shelf positions most of the time. No one wants to be on the bottom shelf!

So, if your brand is not where you think it will sell best, figure out what it takes to get it placed in the store where beer lovers can see it better.

Here are some guidelines and additional examples to help you become more proficient with effective probing:

Probing Guidelines:                                                                                                  

•       Use open ended questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How

•       Transition from general to specific

•       Encourage responses by listening and acknowledging

•       Be aware of pace and do not interrogate

Probing Examples:

•       Who is the decision maker?

•       What criteria do you use to decide which packages to place in the cold box?

•       What are your margin expectations?

•       How are display or draft decisions made?

•       How many Craft brands do you feature weekly/monthly?

•       What are your goals for the category?

•       When do you reset the shelves?

•       How do you decide which seasonals to carry?

•       When do shelf tags change?

•       How far in advance do you finalize monthly pricing?

•       What types of cross-merchandising programs have been successful this year?

•       What segment is showing the highest increase/decrease in sales?

•       What is driving those trends?

•       What information do you use to evaluate the category?

•       When are samplings/promo nights most effective?

•       Which pack sizes drive the highest share of profits?