Adrienne Alterman recently sat down with our CEO, Joel, for a live discussion of her 10+ year career so far. The theme of the webinar was “What I Wish I Knew Then,” and she shared many lessons from her time in sales at premium audio brands like YG Acoustics and Bowers & Wilkins.
You can now view a recording of the session on demand, but for those short on time, we’ve summarized some of the top takeaways in this post.
Lesson #1 Focus
One of Adrienne’s first “lessons,” which she learned the hard way, was the importance of where she focused her time and how it drove the growth of her business. When she was a Regional Sales Manager at a distributor, she started out dividing her time equally between all her customers, across ten different states. She quickly exhausted herself, and what’s worse, her business was not seeing the impact of all the hours she was putting in.
When Adrienne changed her strategy to focus primarily on the customers that were growing, things changed. Benefiting from the additional support she provided, those customers that were on a good trajectory really took off. While she didn’t completely ignore the customers that weren’t growing, she was really able to take her business to the next level by prioritizing where she spent her time.
Bonus: she had to spend less time on the road, too.
Lesson #2 Focusing isn’t as easy as it sounds
The consumer electronics industry keeps changing at a rapid pace. Every few years there are massive shifts, whether it’s who your competitors are, the channel and distribution landscape, your company ownership, or another factor outside your control.
It’s important to set your expectations accordingly, so you can stay focused on your goals as each of those changes pushes you and your company in a different direction. For example, when Adrienne was working with McIntosh, the company changed owners three times in four years. Each time, the new management had new ideas about how they should go-to-market, what programs to provide to dealers, and where they should be distributed. Amidst all that, Adrienne had to work hard to create a bubble around herself, so she could tune the noise out and focus on making sure that her customers were taken care of.
Lesson #3 It all goes back to the numbers
Analytics and reporting played a big part in helping Adrienne focus and successfully run her business, whether that was tracking orders, product sell-through, or where inventory was. As the saying goes, the “state of sales is the state of the warehouse,” and being able to integrate and understand the various numbers was critical.
For example, if Adrienne was trying to drive consumer sales of Bowers & Wilkins headphones in Best Buy, she needed to understand how much was selling-through so she could get the correct amount sold-in, manage where that inventory went, and track how ads affected the sell-through for both the promoted product and other products, so she could adjust her strategy accordingly.
The key metrics could look very different depending on the customer, too. For Best Buy, it was all about out-of-stock percentage, and for Amazon, is was on-time delivery date, because at the end of the day, you had chargebacks with Best Buy and got dinged with Amazon. And of course, you'd be losing sales if you didn't have the right stock at the right place.
Lesson #4 Embrace new technology to your advantage
Adrienne credits her early adoption of technology with helping her advance in her career. The iPhone, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and other social media technologies were all introduced over the course of her career, and she was typically one of the first in her company to take advantage of them.
Some of the creative ways Adrienne has used technology to build buyer relationships and promote her brand include:
- Creating Facebook groups with the sales team at specific stores, where they could discuss what happened with a deal or just congratulate the team on a big sale, helping maintain engagement with priority customers
- Launching a YouTube series interviewing manufacturer reps to teach people about a brand and share knowledge you could previously only get from talking to a sales rep in a store
- Training staff virtually when it doesn’t make sense to visit in person given her current focus (see Lesson #1)
- Using Snapchat to get quick feedback from a buyer on a planogram change, when he wasn’t responding to calls, texts, or emails
Especially as Adrienne progressed to work with increasingly large national retailers, whose buyers were younger and more tech-savvy but often dealing with older brands that had not fully embraced new technologies, this really helped her stand out.
Lesson #5 Buyer relationships are built on trust
In addition to using available social media tools to connect with buyers, building relationships with retailers requires a partnership mindset. Instead of just selling in as much as possible, sales managers should focus on adding value to the conversation by highlighting the business questions that are going to drive business strategy.
Surprising a buyer by saying something like, “Stop, wait, we didn't do the sell through that we thought we were going to do last month - I think we need to lower our order this month,” goes a long way in building trust. If you have too many products in store at the end of the quarter or the holiday season, you’re going to have to do markdowns anyway, so catching the issue earlier both benefits your bottom line and helps show your buyer you can be a trusted business partner.
It also means building business cases and presenting numbers that buyers can trust. Going to them with a proposal for doing a Black Friday sale? It's great if they say they're going to buy 2,000 extra units, but if they don't sell through it and you don’t have a fully focused plan to support it, it’s not going to build that relationship.
Adrienne believes it’s important to be really honest with your buyer about where your business is, and if they see you coming to them, time and again, with information that’s correct and telling a story, that counts for a lot. Whether your business is growing or shrinking, if you create a plan backed by data, you’ll earn your buyer’s trust and attention.
Helping people “see the light”
With such a successful track record in sales at consumer electronics brands, what made Adrienne want to join Alloy? In her own words:
“I think the pain point in several of my positions was dealing with data. So when I saw what Alloy was doing - how you're doing a lot of the backend work and automating it, and then providing this beautiful interface to be able to get down to the business questions in a very fast and easy way, and really enable a salesperson like myself to go out and drive the business and not be stressing about whether the number is correct - that's what got me so excited about Alloy.
I know that I can help so many people 'see the light,' as you say. What the technology is doing is really enabling people that were in my position, or myself if I was still in that position - other National Sales Managers or Directors or VPs - to drive their business in a whole different way.”