Insights | November 4, 2020

Selling to Sellers: Retail Distribution

Most food processors and manufacturers believe they have a great product. The crucial step is to get listings at the retail level so consumers can purchase it.

By Braden Douglas

Instead of using their own salespeople, the best route for many companies is finding a broker who sells directly into the national head office, then deploys a team at the local level to help monitor in-store displays and manage growth.

The cost is usually a monthly flat fee until sales reach a specific annual, then a percentage of gross sales that ranges from three to six percent.

“First and foremost, it’s all about fit,” [Bosch] says. “You should approach hiring a brokerage firm the same way as you would a key employee. Do they share similar values? Would they fit and represent your company culture in the right way? Do they have the right business acumen, experience and competence to get results?”

As a Marketing Partner, CREW has had a hand in introducing clients like Hardbite to brokers and coming up with channel strategies for various products and SKUs. It’s how we met Stuart Bosch, Executive Vice President at Concord National, one of Canada’s leading brokerage firms. With over 30 years in Consumer Packaged Goods, he offers some advice.

Finding the Right Firm For You

If you are not sure where to start when looking for a broker, here are three things Bosch says to keep in mind:

  1. CATEGORY EXPERIENCE
    Not all categories are equal and the strategies to grow a brand can vary wildly. For example, strategies for the dairy category are very different than bakery or salty snacks. Ensure their sales team has prior experience in your specific category and have them show you their results.
  2. THE RIGHT TOOLS AND DATA
    Progressive sales management is all about managing category data and having the proper technical reporting systems to ensure accuracy (Nielsen, Aztec, Retail Link or SPINS). Some brokers rely too heavily on relationships or soft skills to get results, but real progress and growth come from balancing the discipline of data with knowledge and charisma.
  3. STRONG RETENTION
    There is a learning curve at the beginning of any broker relationship where the teams learn about your products and growth plans. For consistent results, it’s important to have the same people on your business. When interviewing brokerages, ask how long the core team has been around. Firms who invest in their people and have a well-defined HR strategy will have higher employee retention.

Making the Most of Your Relationship

Once you have found the right brokerage firm for your business, remember: this is a relationship like any other, and as such, requires some attention.

Bosch had five tips for making the most of this unique working relationship:

  1. DEVELOP EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION & MEETING RHYTHMS
    The best relationships are built on effective communication and like many of us now, a brokerage firm works remotely – meaning there is a greater need to ensure that good communication is in place. Start by agreeing on the long-term goals for the next three to five years. Establish annual sales objectives to make sure that clear targets are created. Break these objectives into monthly or quarterly goals and review them in regular meetings with the senior team. Ensure weekly update meetings are happening to get alignment on the activities and tactical details needed to achieve results.
  2. ESTABLISH A TRUE PARTNERSHIP
    It might sound easy but too often companies keep their brokers at arm’s length. Remember this is a partnership, which means you are on the same team. That means sharing confidential information, participating in decision-making, and planning and brainstorming on new products, sales techniques and market direction.
  3. GET INVOLVED IN THE MARKET TOGETHER
    Believe it or not, brokers want their clients to be engaged in the realities of what is occurring at the retail level. This ensures everyone is on the same page and has a shared reference for strategy and execution challenges. Plan a quarterly market visit with different sales reps in different regions and join a key account manager for major customer presentations when the opportunity arises.
  4. CONDUCT ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
    Feedback and accountability are the best tools to make sure clear expectations are set while allowing for improvements. Even though feedback should be given and received on a regular basis, having a specific time once a year where you evaluate the relationship is key. Relationships and partnerships take effort, so don’t be afraid to express concerns or points of frustration; this is a great venue to work through them. Then, together, establish goals and measures to ensure continued success.
  5. HAVE FUN
    Sales teams are usually built on extroverts who love having a good time. Think of fun ways to reward exceptional performance and recognize individuals or regions that go ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty). Get to know key individuals on a personal level through social settings, when possible. Friends will always go the extra mile.

Stuart Bosch is Executive Vice President at Concord National, one of Canada’s leading brokerage firms. He has over thirty years of experience in Consumer Packaged Goods, in Senior Sales and Management roles. This post originally appeared in CREW’s Marketing Strategy magazine: Food Issue.