The ongoing talent drain at AB, as discussed in last week’s post, has additional ramifications for other beer companies. In a recent visit with a senior leader of a large MC distributor, this leader commented that when asked by his vendors to do a ride-with, he typically refused, under the assumption that he would not learn anything from a sales rep. After decades of leadership roles in various beer companies, he saw no upside to working with a vendor sales rep.
When InBev took over AB 10 years ago, and opened the gates for AB wholesalers to pursue new products, many of these AB houses promoted from within to handle to job of managing the new vendors. The upside to this model was that these employees knew the market and their company. The downside is that, as we now all know you cannot sell crafts or imports using the same techniques as selling AB products. There was a learning curve for all of these people and beer companies, and unfortunately, it has taken much longer to learn the needed skill sets than anticipated. Fortunately, however, the AB houses have had the resources to enable their staff the needed time to learn and grow.
That curve has now cycled through. What the industry is currently experiencing is the next generation of craft managers who are moving into leadership roles and managing various portfolios. At the moment, the typical career path to a vendor-manager requires promotion to a sales rep. A number of these sales reps come from the on-premise retail, typically employed as a craft server or manager. They have a passion for the industry and a good knowledge of craft beers which makes them desirable for the wholesalers to acquire these reps. It makes sense.
The question becomes: are these craft-passionate young people qualified to lead a wholesaler’s portfolio? Where the senior MC executive saw no reason to ride with an inexperienced sales rep, perhaps the reverse applies to an experienced team of successful beer people. Those working to develop a brewery’s brand could be assigned an inexperienced manager as the wholesaler. This is a disconnect.
It is imperative that a wholesaler not only educate their young employees in regards to the dynamics of the three-tier-system, they must also assign portfolios accordingly. In other words, putting a young inexperienced, or limited experienced, manager against a vendor whose team is highly experienced with a proven track record, is going to cause problems. The reverse is also true. Managing a portfolio means managing a vendor. A vendor does not need to manage the portfolio manager.
When a vendor, at the request of the wholesaler, sets up tastings or samplings, the wholesaler must execute. Vendors, when setting up a sampling must be in the position to also execute. This includes carrying the right product and having ample inventory. Many of you see this as a basic function, yet time and time again, someone drops the ball and the retailer loses.
Vendors and wholesalers need to communicate who, what, when, where, and how to manage and execute a vendor’s portfolio from the beginning. This is not one sided, either parties must execute or both parties will lose.
Change is the end result of all true learning…