Salesman in Winter

The booze business, at least when Seagram was alive and kicking, was about stories. Here is one of my favorites.

A salesman for one of the Seagram sales companies (or perhaps it was a distributor sales rep) called on bars in Wisconsin in the dead of winter. His main objective was to get Kessler Blended Whiskey placed. His mission, his bonus and perhaps even his job depended on sufficient sales of the brand. Not easy, since Wisconsin was (and still is) a market cluttered with whiskies and brandies.

He would park his car out front, walk into the bar, engage the owner/manager and talk about the virtues of Kessler. Invariably the bar owner would tell him that he already had enough whiskies and no room or interest in a new one.

To overcome the owner/manager resistance, his spiel was always the same. “Listen, this brand is so distinctive and stands out from other whiskies that I’ll bet you I can pick Kessler out of a line up of whatever whiskies you care to test it against. I’ll get a bottle and you can pour a shot of it and any other whiskies and I’ll always be able to pick the Kessler.”

Now baited, the owner would likely say, “What’s the bet?” The salesman’s answer would be something like “50 bucks if I can’t pick it and you buy 3 bottles if I can.” Hardly anyone turned him down.

He would go out to his car, bring in a bottle, give to the owner and turn his back. The owner would pour shot glasses for the ‘taste test’ including any number of brands plus a shot of Kessler.

The salesman would then turn around and take a sip of each whiskey and very quickly point to the shot of Kessler and say, “that’s it.” He was never wrong. Always got the sale, up and down the state of Wisconsin.

How did he do it?

Since it had just come from the trunk of his car, it was the only one that was cold.

To this day Kessler is still a very strong Blended Whiskey brand whose main strength is in Wisconsin.

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What makes a brand successful? — Part 2

The last posting dealt with what success is not about. Let’s turn to the positive side.

In my experience it’s three “buckets” in the following order – the manufacturer, the trade and the consumer.

Oh yes, in the booze business, before you get to market/sell a brand to consumers, you’ve got to pass through the first two gates.

Corporations/manufacturers ‘talk the talk’ about brand investment and new product development. But unless there is vision at the top, strong senior management support, tolerance for out of the box thinking and, of course, willingness to take risk – nothing will happen.

The people on the street can make or break a brand, even more than consumers. Sure, it’s about incentives but it’s also about involvement, managing expectations and re-orders not just placement.

Consider this:

A salesperson sells two cases of a new brand and the retailer moves 6 bottles in a few weeks. Chances are he/she will see the brand as a slow mover because there is a case and a half left. If the retailer had bought one case and 6 were left after a few weeks, the retailer thinks the product is “flying off the shelves”.

So far as the consumer is concerned — and by no means am I minimizing their importance – it’s about the trade influence, brand uniqueness and relevance. Line up all three of these pieces and you can actually hear the crack of the bat.

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