Improving brewery rep efficiency and effectiveness

Authored by Jason McMackins

Reprinted courtesy of Beverage Master. To read the full issue, click here. 

Ways to improve brewery rep efficiency and effectiveness:

Brewery reps are typically the largest investment in sales support amongst craft beer suppliers. Most distributors require feet on the street as part of the market plan prior to taking on new suppliers. It is one of the most important resources to build brands if done correctly, but is often under-utilized. Especially as the craft industry evolves, with growth decelerating and the supplier count continuing to increase, brewery reps are proving to be increasingly vital. How do you sharpen and strengthen this investment? Consider the following tips to tap further into your current resources:

  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Ensure your training and education plans evaluate and address the needs of your team
  • Establish a structured sales process
  • Implement a framework to collect information on each sales call
  • Develop a strategic approach to ensure the rep is getting the highest ROI on their time
  • Set monthly targets that align with priorities and the business plan
  • Support monthly targets with monthly bonus compensation, weekly meetings and performance updates

Define roles and responsibilities:

Most breweries are small businesses, employing less than 50 people, and often times do not take the time to define roles and responsibilities for each person. This can create confusion, inefficiencies, duplicated efforts and a culture that lacks accountability and direction. What retail accounts are the brewery reps responsible for calling on? When should they call on them? With what frequency should they call on them? What is the objective of each call? These are all important questions that need to be understood when building out the roles and responsibilities of each brewery rep. Defining the geographies, roles and responsibilities, monthly call frequencies and activities for each rep are all the foundation for improving brewery rep efficiency and effectiveness.

Ensure your training and education plans evaluate and address the needs of your team:

How well are your reps trained versus your competition? Are they experts on ingredients and beer styles? Do they know margin versus markup? How organized are they? Are they strong communicators? Most will possess strengths and weaknesses depending on the category. Identifying a baseline in each area will allow you to build a plan that addresses their gaps and enhances their overall approach. Evolving your sales team from being a professional visitor or order taker to a valued business partner or advisor should be the primary objective of your training and education program.

Establish a structured sales process:                            

Now that you have defined the accounts they should visit, the frequency and time they should call on them, what are they supposed to do on each call? Do they walk into the account and just wing it, or is there a strategic approach taken to make the most of the sales call?

Most would agree that having a strategic approach to the sales call is the better option. What is the best way to do this? We suggest creating an acronym that is easy to remember that allows the reps to easily retrieve the critical steps of the sales call. Ex: PLANS: Prepare the objectives for the call. Listen to the customers’ needs. Address the needs with your proposal. Navigate through objections. Surpass expectations. The example is generic, but provides a starting point for you to develop an acronym that fits the culture of your brewery and sequentially outlines the critical steps of the sales call.


Implement a framework to collect information on each sales call:

Having a tool that allows your sales team to collect, share and retain notes for each account visit or sales call is critical to improving your rep’s efficiency, and more importantly, effectiveness. The benefits to the rep alone of using some sort of technology to capture notes, photos, follow up and other relevant information from the sales call are worth the investment. However, there are many additional benefits that come from using a tool like this, including streamlining your business and providing accountability checks on your sales team as it relates to adherence to their roles and responsibilities. Additionally, maintaining an updated customer relationship management (CRM) tool and notes could prove invaluable in case there is turnover on your team and you need to get someone up to speed quickly without your accounts feeling any disruption in service.

Develop a strategic approach to ensure each rep is getting the highest ROI on their time:

Take a step back and look at how many accounts roll up to each rep, is it 100, 500, 1,000? Should they hit all of the accounts that they are assigned evenly? Spreading their time like peanut butter doesn’t usually make sense and neither does focusing on the same top 25 accounts over and over again, usually fighting for the same rotating lines. What is the best allocation of time across the entire account base to optimize results? Usually, we find that most reps spend their time in the craft taste-maker and select high volume retailers. This creates a crowded pool in just a few accounts. We don’t recommend neglecting these accounts by any means, but instead of the reps spending 100 percent of their time in them, we suggest a balanced approach. If the craft taste-maker and high volume retailer accounts represent 50 percent of the total volume, spend 50 percent of the time on them. Then allocate the remaining 50 percent of the time developing new business or visiting accounts that are less frequented by competitive brewery reps.

Set monthly targets that align with priorities and the business plan:

Define success for your team by setting monthly targets that align with your business plan and focus for each monthly period. We suggest keeping the plan simple and actionable by breaking this into three categories:

  1. Volume goals
  2. Distribution goals
  3. Activity goals

How do you establish these goals you might ask? First, you will need access to your sales information. Second, you will need to define the sales territory for each rep, by distributor, city, zip code, distributor route or another method that enables you to understand historical and current performance results for volume and distribution. Next, you will want to understand how the reps performed during this period last year, how they are currently tracking, what’s in the business plan and what you believe is realistic for them to achieve with hard work, focus and effectiveness.

Support monthly targets with monthly bonus compensation, weekly meetings and performance updates:

Put your money where your mouth is and reward top performers for achieving the targets that are set each month. Incentivizing your team to follow the plan will make their buy-in to the plan much easier. If done properly, your team will have clear targets, clear understanding of how they are tracking, motivation to achieve more and will ultimately deliver a return on your investment. Develop a routine to communicate results versus target. Providing visibility will assist them in understanding if they are close to reaching their goals and push them to connect on those goals. Create a system that pays for partial achievement at some level, while also paying for over-achievement to encourage them to keep going. Utilize the weekly sales meetings to review sales, coach, train, educate and deliver tactics and strategies to assist them in their efforts at retail. Provide your reps with a platform to communicate weekly wins, and leave them with the priorities for the week. Remember to keep in mind, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

A superb product is only able to get you so far, but a great brewery rep can take even a mediocre product and make it a market leader. Taking the time to cultivate this position within your brewery staff is essential to long-term brand success. Detailing clear goals and expectations will allow you to assess the impact of your brewery reps and provide them with specific tactics to ensure mutual success.

For more information on these topics, or to learn how Baker Tilly craft brewery specialists can help, contact our team.