Because salespeople are on the “outside” in most companies, and everybody else is on the “inside,” there is a tendency to view the sales team as somehow separate from the office folks. This can be very counterproductive when it comes to brand building.
The inside vs outside physical division can lead to structural and cultural divides, misunderstandings, and misconceptions about the nature of the market, the needs of the customer, and the difficulty of making sales – and sustaining them. Oh sure, when there’s a big sale, everybody in the office is taking a bow. But when sales are down, it’s always the salespeople’s fault. Their physical separation from the office isolates and insulates office workers from the front lines. Most office workers never meet a real customer, especially the big ones.
Often times the lawyers, marketing, production, or accounting people will come up with a “great idea” to “improve” the brand image, packaging, pricing, or distribution. Because they are all on the inside and outnumber the salespeople on the outside, and because the decision makers are also on the inside, the office staff can simply “out vote” the salespeople. But it’s the salespeople and not the office people who talk to the customers every day. So you see how easily brand damaging decisions can be made by everybody in the office who thought it was a winner at the time!
At Barefoot Wines, as we grew larger, we began to see this problem emerging in our own company. We realized that there was only one way to give our office staff the perspective they needed to be more in touch with the market. They had to go there themselves! They had to meet the real boss – the customer. They had to witness our salespeople in action, winning and losing. They had to hear the objections, see the competition, and gain some appreciation for the sales process. They had to see what kind of service was required after the sale to maintain the sales – and what happened when it was missing.
Twice a year we paired up one of our office personnel with a salesperson for an entire day. When they returned to the office, they had a much more realistic perspective on the market. They had a much deeper appreciation for the salespeople. And they had a whole new view of how their job, no matter how apparently removed from sales, was in fact dependent on sales, and sales were dependent on their job. It closed the gap.
The comments we got from our office staff after one of these outings was nothing less than transformational; “Now that I understand more about what the salespeople do, I see that it’s pretty tough out there. They need our help!” The one we like the best was from a marketing assistant fresh out of college who said, “Wow! We’d better check with the salespeople before we design anything!”
This field education didn’t end there. Now they had made friends with a real salesperson and had compassion for their plight. They would continue to check in and see how presentations they made together developed, whether naysayers finally said yes, and if that salesperson met their goals. They got a chance to meet the real boss who was not inside the office at all, but outside. It was the customer!
Build your brand from within. Make sure everyone on your staff meets the real boss! Field trips worked for us. They can work for you. And your office staff will look forward to the next outing!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders