I know a guy who works in booze. It seems like a pretty good life. He visits accounts, by day and hobnobs with the elite of the mixology and fine dining world by night. He started his distribution company with one spirit brand whose sole offering was four different kinds of infused vodka. In a little over five years, he has grown his distribution company into one of the go-to purveyors of niche spirits and wine.
But it wasn’t always like this.
My friend didn’t come from the food and beverage world. In fact, he’d been a quality assurance guy in tech for years, bouncing from startup to startup, before he decided that he wanted to turn his passion for spirits into a full-time job. He had no sales experience and had never been on the other side of the bar. This made him a total anomaly in the distribution world. Basically, when he began his company, he was starting from scratch.
He had to learn, and learn fast, how to understand better what he sold. When I asked him how he did it, he smiled and simply said, “RED.”
“Red? Like the color?” I responded, surprised. He then explained to me the three simple avenues to understanding what you sell: research, experience and dialog, or, more simply, the “RED Method.”
Okay, so he knew a bit about booze in so far as he knew what he liked—scotch, bourbon and anything else that had been in a barrel. But in a world of fifteen-dollar mixed drinks, he had to learn a little bit about what younger demographics were sipping.
Essentially, you need to be a detective. Don’t just skim the surface, but do the work. Like him, do the research. He dove into catalogs and magazines, bought passes to trade shows and talked to other distributors. He carried around a little notebook to make tasting notes when he went out, talked to the bartenders to figure out what was hot and what was out (hint: you’ve probably never heard of half this stuff) and spent untold amounts of money drinking everything on the menu.
This may seem like a lot of fun to the uninitiated (and it probably was) but that was only the tip of the iceberg. All of the booze he could drink in bars already had distribution representation so he had to dig around the county permit offices, trying to find new distilleries and wineries that were applying for permits. He became Colombo.
If you don’t understand what’s going on in the larger world of your product, you’ll be done before you even get out the door.
This can be a tough one for anybody. But for my buddy in booze and all the way over to the guy selling software from a desk, you’ll need experience with your product.
This became important for my friend once he’d opened his distribution center. Once he had his products, he delved deep into mixology. After a little while, he had a solid cache of recipes he could pull out at any moment if a bartender was flummoxed on what to do with a habanero infused vodka.
What was most informative, though, was when he went to see what his clients were doing themselves. By looking over their shoulders, he found all of the ways they had begun to get creative with his product.
For you, it might mean going further than just using your product within the context of your office. It’s great that you know how the product works as intended, but how are your current clients using it? Are they making any ad-hoc adjustments? Have they made improvements that perhaps your company hadn’t foreseen?
Being able to identify these aspects through true, experiential anecdotes and evidence will be invaluable in the field. When you can go beyond the bullet points, sales will become so much easier.
After reading everything you have about my friend, what would you say?
He did a lot of research.
He has a ton of experience.
His business is successful based on sales.
Okay, great, you’ve been paying attention. And, yes, all of that is true, but here’s the most important part: he became a part of a community.
He began a dialog with all of these distributors, bartenders and restaurateurs and the once tech-geek became an initiated member of the industry. It was important to him, and his business, to have clout. Creating and then maintaining a dialog can cause a lot of head scratching for newbie sales people but it’s maybe one of the most important parts of the sales matrix.
Even if what you’re selling is less tangible than spirits and wine, talk to the people that could be buying or using your product, figure out how this is going to better their business or life and don’t drop the dialog when the sale is made. If applicable, drop a line now and again to make sure the product still works satisfactorily. If it does, great, you can rest easy. If it’s not, perhaps you can fix it, and you may have just saved them from walking away without your knowing.
As you probably already know, there are no short cuts to sales success. The RED Method exists to help you do what you already know—be knowledgeable, know your product and become part of a community. If you do these three things, you might just become a little bit like