How do you maximize each and every selling opportunity? I’m just back from Expo West where this was a subject that I was asked about a lot, especially by new and emerging brands.

Your entire sales team needs to be in lockstep and they need to communicate your selling story with a unified and consistent voice. This includes both your internal and external sales team. Several years ago I wrote an article about maximizing broker effectiveness. It led to me being a regular New Hope and Whole Foods Magazine contributor, speaker at the Natural Products Expo and many other events. With over 400 articles published in almost all of the leading trade publications, my popular podcasts, weekly newsletter, online mini-courses and free resources have become an invaluable resource for brands and retailers seeking to grow sales and gain a sustainable competitive advantage.

This is a topic I focus on a lot. The reason for this is that I get asked a lot about this topic when I mentor and work with brands, including on our recent episode of the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcasts Secrets 89, The Importance Of Having A Solid Digital Brand Selling Story with Madeline Hayden of Nutpods. You’re told you need a broker, but do you really know how to work with them to get the best results for your brand?

In that article, I focused on leveraging your broker as an extension of your sales team and then holding them accountable for achieving results, same as you would any employee. When I started in this industry decades ago, large brands had a direct sales force. They did everything to drive sales, including all merchandising, sales calls, category management, demos, etc. This is very expensive, so many of those brands adopted a blended model where the brands made the key sales calls and the broker handled the merchandising. In many cases today, brokers do just about everything for the brand they represent. I continually hear from brands about the love-hate relationship that they have with their brokers. Most of these issues are due to a lack of clear communication and expectations from the brand. This podcast is about helping you maximize that relationship with your broker to help you get more out of that relationship to help you grow sales. 

Most brands really don’t understand what the broker can do for them.  Unfortunately some brokers over promise. This is why having clear and well-defined guidelines and boundaries make so much sense. Let me explain why. The brands that have the most difficulty with brokers essentially hand their keys over to them, expecting the broker to work miracles on their behalf. They are then disappointed when their expectations are not met, when in fact those expectations are unrealistic and not well-defined. 

Brokers represent a lot of brands, not just yours.  Like any profession, there are good and bad brokers just like there are good and bad consultants, doctors, mechanics, and so on. For this reason, I believe that every brand needs to remain firmly in charge of their brand strategy and remain the captain of their own ship. 

Think about it. You’ve worked hard to build a product that consumers love. Your passion, your enthusiasm, and your dedication have propelled your success thus far. The best path forward is to have everyone on your sales team share your passion, your enthusiasm, and your commitment in the same voice as the founder. I am a firm believer that every brand needs to remain fully engaged in their success and every aspect of their sales strategy. 

You’ve poured everything you have into an amazing product, right? Why wouldn’t you put the same love and attention into getting your products into more retail shelves and into the hands of more shoppers? Shouldn’t you apply the same love of creativity and passion to your selling strategy? Brands need to have simple solutions to maximize broker effectiveness and accelerate sales growth.

When I started in this industry, almost every brand had a direct sales force. They had their own sales team that went to every single store, merchandised every new product and put on the tags. They built all the displays, sold new products into the store manager and educated the store about the new products and what kind of consumer would buy their products. Things in mainstream were very similar to the way they are natural today, but let’s face it, having a direct sales force is extremely expensive and most brands can’t afford that luxury.

We typically had a direct sales force of people that were hired by Unilever and Kimberly-Clark to go into each and every store and merchandise their products. Our team took care of everything that a broker would do. We all went through the same training to learn everything about the brand and the consumer that shops our product. We were on the same page and we had the same incentive to grow sales and work as a team. We were typically responsible for about 20 to 40 items at most. I remember at one point while working for Kimberly-Clark, we were the leader in every single category that we competed in. 

When we switched from a direct model to where people were working with us to an indirect model where we hired brokers, we lost share in several key categories that we competed in. This was due to the fact that the sales reps working for their brokers sometimes had more than a hundred items that they needed to manage in the same amount of time.  Additionally, they weren’t rewarded the same way as our direct sales force was and they weren’t trained in the same manner that we were. 

 

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Hiring an outside sales force through the broker does save money, however, you may need to lower your expectations. Now, this is not intended to be in any way, shape, or form a dig against brokers. Brokers can be a tremendous asset, but you need to understand that you’re not going to get people with the same passion, enthusiasm as your team has, as the founder does. These are the things you need to consider when you hire a broker or agency to sell products on your behalf. 

I share this because I want to assure you that you’re not alone. A lot of brands struggle with this important relationship. It can make or break your brand. It all begins with you remaining the captain of your ship. This means having a key role in every aspect of your sales strategy and then leveraging your relationship with your broker partner, emphasis on the word partner, to maximize those opportunities at retail.

The shopper journey has changed today and you need to help the retailer understand what’s unique about your product and how your consumer, your shopper buys their product that’s different than other consumers, than your competitor. The point is this, brokers want and need your help to assist them in selling your product on your behalf. This means giving them all the tools necessary to help them succeed, to help them make the sales calls, educate the retailers to make sure that your products are properly merchandised and so on. 

This is why I continually stress that you should never just hand your keys over to a broker, distributor, or agency. You need to remain fully in charge and you need to develop a sustainable sales strategy. Do you have out of stocks? How well is your product merchandised? How well do you support promotions at retail?

Everything from the consumer’s perspective is a reflection of how well you execute your brand strategy. 

This is your brand with your name on it.

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