A prevalent myth about graduating from the B2C or from a crowd-funding campaign is to think that the wholesale effort of putting products into stores is simply “more of the same”. Listening to Michael Houlihan, who with Bonnie Harvey created Barefoot Cellars wine, he articulated the challenge as he observed it through his development of the brand.
Mr. Houlihan got into the “wine” business and was certain that if he made a good wine, everything else would take care of itself because consumers would like his products. Therefore, he began to shape an awareness that selling to the consumer was the top priority.
As Barefoot started to expand past the enthusiasm of the people who drank the wine and liked it enough to give it an award or two, what Mr. Houlihan came to learn was that there were quite a few layers of selling that needed to go on and without selling to each layer, his brand would evaporate quickly no matter how many awards his brand earned.
What Mr. Houlihan articulated so wonderfully was the need to “sell” his own people on his vision of the business and the future, so they would all go out in the same direction. Then, he needed to sell the management of the Distributor on carrying the brand (and why). Then, he needed to sell the distributor sales manager and the sales people on selling the brand (and how). Then, he needed to sell the management of a retailer on carrying the brand in the store (and why). Then, he needed to sell the sales people in the store on selling the brand once it was in the store (and how).
Each of these participants in getting the product to the consumer had a different reason to move forward. The distributor carries a product for strategic reasons. The distributor sales people sell it for personal reasons (making money). The retailers buy it for the fit into the other products being carried and for the strength of the merchandising support that comes with the brand. The store staff sells the product because it creates happy consumers.
In a B2C world, meeting the simple product delivery expectation of the end user/consumer is all that it takes to make happy customers. Once in the wholesale channel, there a number of other places that the brand must succeed in convincing others that the promulgation of the brand is in their interest.
Once Mr. Houlihan realized this sequence, they reassessed their entire business model and stopped seeking asset acquisition in production equipment or real estate, etc., and came to focus on the fact that their real business was “distribution management” which by his definition was all about sales at these different levels.
The sales effort is the doorway to success. Skip any levels of the process in sales and it is like trying to skip a few levels in a video game. You can’t. You have to earn it. Make the calls. Mold the presentation into what is in it for the person on the other side. Don’t skip the sales people of the distributor or retailer. Then figure out how to do it to the scale that you want to achieve.
Every store has plenty of inventory right now and does not truly need your new product at all. But, if you can make your compelling presentation to all the parties along the way as to why it should be your product, you’ll get some space. When everyone can make money selling your product, that’s what wins the day.