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« What would you do for a billion dollars? | Main | More on the 3rd grader »

Sales Manager or 3rd Grade Teacher?

As sales management do you ever feel like a 3rd grade teacher?  Holding up a piece of paper in front of the class and repeating (sometimes repeatedly) what is written on it.  And have you poor sales reps ever felt like you’re being treated like a rather dull 3rd grader?... with apologies to all those dull 3rd graders out there ;-)


I have a solution… stop the madness now!  Far, far too many sales meetings – and for that matter meetings of all types – are not only a waste of time but insulting on top it off.  Here’s a thought… how about treating people not only as adults but as professionals.


Meetings should be to highlight an important point or two… communicating and informing a group in ways which can’t be done in writing… to motivate… to celebrate successes and to train and learn.  When was the last time you actually learned some useful sales skill in a sales meeting?  When was the last time you actually left a meeting of any type motivated?  Fired- up and ready to go out and kick butt and take names?


As I have said many times before, the essence of change is just that… change.  This industry is filled with great sales folks… put those skills to use in your meetings.  Quit wasting everyone’s time by reading information which is readily available to your sales team… demand your suppliers do the same.  Whether MillerCoors or ABI, each of you have more than a couple programs going on at any time… do you really want to spend your time reading to the class what each of them says?  Holding their hands and blowing their noses for them too? 


Demand your people act like professionals - or replace them with those who will.  This is a two way street – this requires your sales folks (or people anywhere in your org) to individually actually read, comprehend, and act upon information which is sent to them.  In this electronic age an incredible amount of information can quickly and easily be delivered to your people.  It is their responsibility to take ownership of this info… if they want to stop being treated like 3rd graders; they have to stop acting like 3rd graders. 


And don’t let the lowest common denominator drive this… don’t make the 90% who are professional in effect be punished by the 10% who aren’t.  Guess what… those 10% are the ones who aren’t paying attention to your 3rd grade presentation anyhow.  Either change their behavior or get rid of them.  Trust me, it will only take one to be shown the door to put a whole new motivation in the rest.  And trust me again, those who are professional will thank you for not wasting their time anymore in dealing with those 3rd graders.


I find a useful analogy to describe a lot of the changes confronting distributors is football.  Just because you might be a high school football star doesn’t mean you can play college ball… all those college players were high school stars too.  And just because you are a college star doesn’t mean you can play pro ball… all those pro players were college stars too.  Distributors are walking this same path and so are their employees.  And unlike football, you and your organizations are going to walk this path whether you like it or not. 


If you and your people are professionals, then act like it in all aspects of your business.  A good place to take action and drive change is in how we manage and interact with our teams… how about starting by being the motivational college professor rather than the 3rd grade teacher.  Now there is nothing wrong with 3rd grade teachers, they have a valuable role to play… just not in your business.  Just a thought.


And on a completely different subject… and one on which I should probably keep my mouth shut (I’ve never been too good at that)… the recent fights around brewers owning and running distributors.  As any reader of this blog knows, I’ve taken more than a few swings at the brewers.  It’s not that I’ve got anything for or against them, they are our partners but I only work with distributors so that’s the team I play for.  Nothing personal, it’s just business.


But as I read in Benj and Harry, I fear wholesalers are again making foolish and short-term decisions in this fight.  I first wrote about this insanity in a gently worded piece titled “Have Some Out There Lost Their Minds?”  You can find it by clicking here.  Now I hear the same thing in Illinois as they make their case why it will be the end of the world as we know it if ABI can purchase the remaining shares of a distributor they already partially own.  I’ve worked in Chicagoland… A-B has had a branch there for a long freaking time.  I understand the fear of Brito versus the 3rd or 4th (and I think that fear is well founded), but that’s something we have to deal with in an intellectually sound manner.


In a recent post I noted I would race to my state legislature to help pass laws to ensure ABI (and by extension MillerCoors and all brewers) could not own distributorships.  I understand the issue quite well.  But once again, when OUR industry has to resort to sounding like a freaking neo-prohibitionist zealot, we have to pull back and ask ourselves what the hell are we doing. 


Why does it seem almost every time the beer distribution industry faces some challenge we run to arguments which would make a neo-prohibitionist proud?  Is our argument so weak, so pitiful that we have to wail that if ABI owns a distributorship (which they already own and operate more than a few), society as we know it will end and drunks will take over the streets, raping and pillaging with abandon… OK, that’s a little embellishment on my part ;-)


I have a difficult time seeing this as anything but penny wise and pound foolish.  How do we in the future go talk to these same legislatures and not have our own words thrown back at us?  Do we have to act like whores who will do and say anything to support our narrow interests?  Regardless of where this might lead?  We can make a strong case for our side without throwing away all integrity… I know wholesalers VERY well and I don’t think most of this is coming from them, it’s coming from their “advisors”… but don’t let the freaking single minded (and short-term) attorneys drive this process.  They do believe in winning at any cost.  They don’t care about anything but that.  Hopefully we do care about a little more than this.  Deep in your hearts do you really believe that we’ll race back to pre-prohibition days if ABI continues to own a distributorship in Chicago?  Or Louisiana… or wherever?


How can we as an industry on one hand make the case that lower prices are extremely bad (that’s one of the arguments on what supplier owned branches will lead to) yet at the same time argue that the federal excise tax should be lowered?  If lower prices are bad, then aren’t higher prices good?  Then why not RAISE taxes… is it only that beer wholesalers want to pocket the money rather than the government?  These are dangerous arguments which carry very real long-term peril. 


I recently spoke to Craig in DC, right after my Slaughterhouse piece came out, and he was telling me how distributors were cheering me… he also honestly noted to some of these same folks that a couple years back they were cursing me as I was busting their (NBWA’s) chops.  Please note, I am an equal opportunity chops-buster.  If you want to read what got some NBWA board members in a tiff… the first one’s titled “Political Soapbox – 1 (Oh no!  He’s numbering them!) which can be found by clicking here.  The second titled “Political Soapbox - 2 (digging the whole deeper) can be found by clicking here.  Noting these posts again will probably cost me business, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.  We must stop this foolishness.  Beer wholesalers have great relationships with their state and federal-level governments.  For the vast majority of the folks in the legislatures and up on the hill we are known as pretty good folks – and it is true! … long-term family businesses, not short-term opportunists.  Let’s not forever damage this by our short-sighted arguments… I agree with the cause but there is a better way.  Now all those who want to shoot the messenger please form a line over here…


And don’t forget, there was some useful business advice at the beginning of this thing too.



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