By Tom Baril
Part of my thirty years in beverage alcohol sales for major suppliers included National Account Management. When I was first getting acclimated, technology was not what it is today. Significant advances over the years have greatly improved budgeting, pricing, compliance, and communication when engaging with National Accounts, to the relief of all involved.
Like any salesperson, I can quickly recall the most impactful deal of my career: The opportunity to be a part of the original Marriott Tiered Wine Program pilot. It’s evolved over the years to become the Marriott Gold Standard Program, but my participation early on as one of only three suppliers still procures fond memories to this day. The rewards were many, but it was a challenge to see how we would successfully execute, manage and add value to what would become a national program. I’ll explain more about it in the latter portion of this post, but first, let’s go over the evolving challenges and best practices of National Account Management as a whole.
National Account Management Challenges:
Distributor’s account level sales data (RAD) was hard to access, and never timely, making it difficult to estimate depletion allowances or price support spending in the budget process. If there were local activities required to activate a program, there was limited visibility to what was being executed and how much they cost. Additionally, there wasn’t transparency with Marketing or accountability with your Distributor partners on budgets vs actual spends.
Today’s Best Practices
Now, enterprise-level National Account Management solutions include budget planning against specific programs with visibility down to the market level with invoices and actual sales data as backup. Account Executives can plan spend against a program, secure budget approval for activities from Marketing, ensure Distributor partners and field reps are executing brand building activities – all while tracking invoices and total spend.
Pricing consistency across markets is always a challenge in the three tier system, and likely always will be. In fact, getting alignment on suggested pricing with all parties is the most inaccurate piece of the plan for every large national account program. Promises made on phone calls largely went unfulfilled without any systematic tracking of actual prices being paid.
Today’s Best Practices
With the increasing availability of daily invoice level detail, National Account Management solutions can now provide visibility to an accounts actual invoice product cost. Access to this data allows suppliers to instantly validate delivered product price against quoted pricing while responding quickly to discrepancies.
Compliance and Accountability
Compliance was a little difficult if you wanted a quick return of information. A mid-program email would need to be sent to request account-level sales data from your Distributor. Intelligent business reviews with the customer were nearly impossible to compile due to lagging distributor data.
Today’s Best Practices
Better technology has allowed for the connection between authorizations and account-level sales data, giving visibility to reports showing all mandated product sales in each outlet. Other advancements provide exception reporting, flagging non-compliance, so that sales teams can hold Accounts and Distributors accountable for distribution and promotions execution. Productive business reviews are now possible, thanks to timely and effective data organized in actionable reports and dashboards.
It was customary for initial announcements and ongoing communications to require a phone call or email with every Distributor rep AND local Supplier rep. Voicemails were common, which led to multiple threads of conversations, misunderstandings and confusion all around.
Today’s Best Practices
Modern communications summarize relevant compliance data by outlet. This includes product distribution, sales, and activities in one reporting dashboard. Summary reports can now be scheduled for delivery to the field, Distributor, and Trade Partners via email in Excel, PDF, or CSV formats.
Are you still relying on any of the thirty-year-old processes for National Account Management?
If you don’t currently use a National Account Management technology solution built specifically for the complexity of the three-tier beverage alcohol industry, GreatVines can help you achieve greater efficiency in the execution of national account programs. With the increase of compliance, you can ensure the maximum value of each program.
My Experience with Marriott
After the exuberance of finding out we were selected as one of only three supplier partners to participate, paranoia set in. We’d be delivering thousands of cases across every Marriott, in every state, serviced by dozens of distributors.
We also had to consider how we could continue to add value to our brands, Distributor partners, and Marriott. That in itself was a full time job which brought many rewards, but also left some bruises for those involved.
Origin of the Marriott Gold Standard Program
Marriott’s Gold Standard Program was developed almost three decades ago and continues to be the largest, most successful, and longest-running On-Premise beverage alcohol program in the industry. It originated as the brainchild of Marriott’s corporate F&B team to address product quality, selection, consistency, pricing, education, and property management effort and time.
A proof of concept was needed in order to support the idea. A major resort with diverse outlets and scale was selected: The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa. The resulting Tiered Wine Program pilot included four tiers selected from three core suppliers. This included an entry-level minimum price/quantity wine range, followed by three additional tiers of wines with increasingly higher price value/ranges. The pilot program was indeed a success and after the third year was flagged as the Gold Standard Beverage Program.
Marriott’s Specific Challenges
- The product quality and selection varied broadly amongst the existing enterprise for volume sales wine offerings. Some property’s selections were below standards.
- Product pricing lacked consistency and varied considerably between properties, even in the same geography.
- An excessive amount of property beverage and related managers’ time was being consumed by too many Supplier-Distributor engagements.
- Consistent educational and product support across the enterprise was sorely lacking. A focus on education vs. selection and the latest deal was needed to ensure increased sales and guest experience.
Despite our pain points of the time, we were able to succeed, not-ideally, by trial and error. In today’s environment, it’s become mandatory to have access to the technology and data to efficiently manage budget, pricing, compliance, and communication when working with National Accounts and Distributor Partners.