How to Run a Successful ABP Meeting
2020 gave the beer industry its fair share of challenges, but innovation has been an unexpected gift. Whether it’s a move to packaging, alignment with a distributor, launching e-commerce, or DTC sales, our industry as a whole has evolved into a mature consumer packaged goods industry. With this movement forward, many beer brands that have taken on the challenge of distribution in the wholesale channel are facing the elusive ABP or Annual Brand Planning meeting with their wholesaler.
A practice that surfaces every Q4 like pumpkin beers and gift packs, this important distributor ritual is usually shrouded in mystery, and the brands that navigate them successfully keep their secrets close to their chest. Well, I’m going to blow the lid off of this enigma. Why? Because we all need help right now, so grab your popcorn and keep reading.
ABP does not stand for “another beer party”
This meeting should be well organized and focused on one thing — improving sales in the wholesale channel in conjunction with your specific distributors. Remember, your relationship with your wholesaler is a partnership, which means you’ve got to give what you want to get out of that relationship. If you want to increase sales, you’ve got to be willing to put in the hard work to make it happen. Just because you’re aligned with a distributor, doesn’t mean your sales will magically skyrocket in auto-pilot without some effort on your part.
Your ABP meeting should include:
detailed sales data analyses,
specific and measurable goals for the upcoming sales year,
how your brand performed historically in the last sales year,
purchase order trends,
plans to work with their marketing team and sales team,
an outline of product launches,
promotional opportunities and programs,
an overview of marketing and sales assets you bring to the table, and
how you will work together to achieve common goals.
Your ABP meeting should NOT be a happy hour type environment where you show up on Zoom in your pajamas and don’t have a structured agenda. It should not include the phrase, “let’s just sell more liquid,” followed by an awkward silence where you expect your wholesaler to detail out plans for blowing up your brand this year.
If you’re concerned at this point that you don’t have the proper systems in place to generate those essential elements of the meeting that I’ve listed out for you, it’s time to make that happen.
Questions to ask yourself include:
How am I tracking my outside sales data?
How am I using that sales data to come up with strategic sales plans?
Do I know what’s working and what’s not working when it comes to SKUs, classes of trade, points of distribution, and market segmentation?
I would suggest making sure that you’re using an advanced ERP system and CRM to help you answer these tough questions.
Technically you should have already completed your ABP with your distributors at this point, but don’t give up hope! Some wholesalers don’t take meetings until Q1 or are willing to make some adjustments early in the sales year. Your extensive sales plans are not moot just because they might be a little late.
Try this old fashioned trick: Ask them if they want to see your sales plans for the upcoming year. Mind-blowing right? You might be surprised to know that they will most likely appreciate your effort to start the year off on a forward-thinking note and that you’ve taken the time or personalized strategic plans just for them.
Sales strategy should be at the forefront of your mind when starting a brewery. This is the phase where you graduate from homebrewer and humble beer fan to a licensed brewery owner and/or operator. You can produce some of the best beers in the world, but in order to make your beer your business, you must know how to sell your products.
A thorough understanding of the science behind successful selling will help you along the path towards profitability. Selling is more than just handing out samples and rattling off attributes like ABV and malt variants. Successful salespeople understand the essence of a brand, can identify and communicate their unique value propositions, and work hard to build long term relationships with customers. Selling is about providing the right product solution for the right customer. When you learn how to make a successful brand connection with your target customer and continue to provide valuable solutions for their needs, you establish long term brand loyalty that will continuously fuel demand for your products.
Sales can also take many forms - onsite from your taproom, self-distribution in the retail market segment, or mass distribution in the wholesale channel. In addition to making plans on where you will be selling your beer, you also need a definitive sales strategy to compliment your overall business goals. With the crowded nature of today’s craft beer market, a well-structured sales plan will give you a competitive edge over other brands that skip this step.
As your brand presence grows and demand increases, your sales plans will evolve as well. You should create short and long term sales plans, with specific timelines for expansion into various market segments. In your sales plans, you should take into consideration a timeline for market expansion, necessary sales personnel, the cost of sales materials, how you will formulate annual sales projections, and how to track your sales data.
When you plan an extended trip somewhere, very few people just hit the road without any knowledge of their destination or how to get there. If you didn't, chances are that you will get lost or drive around in circles without any direction. To avoid this, you need a clear destination and assistance from tools that will route your best path, like a map or GPS. You should apply this same concept to selling your beer. Your Sales Vision Plan will be the guiding force to keep you from getting lost in the wholesale channel. This plan provides you with a destination, as well as details along the route, like who will be selling your
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