A successful beverage business is the product of coordinated collaboration between numerous partners. No matter how experienced or skilled you are, you will need to rely on other people to carry out major aspects of your business plan. From formulating and developing your idea to producing and distributing your final product, it is impossible to go it alone.
So how do you manage and build all of the connections you need to be successful? We asked experts in sales, sourcing, and compliance to share some of the strategies they use to build, grow, and maintain the relationships they need to help beverage businesses thrive.
Strategy 1: Know All the Players
Everyone we talked to mentioned some form of map or list that they use to strategically organize who they know and need to know to be effective in their role.
Rob Curtis, Senior Buyer at BevSource, actively maintains a list of more than 300 suppliers, organized by the ingredients they produce as well as notes on their pricing, certifications, customer service, minimum order quantities, and other details he’s learned from research and interactions. Within that list, he has a directory of the strategic partnerships he’s developed.
On the compliance side, Alex Cunningham, Compliance Lead Specialist, maintains a list of the specific government employees and lawyers he can reach out to when he has a question or needs to clarify something in the State or Federal guidelines.
“After I’ve gone through the main line and made contact with an individual, I make sure to take down their name and contact information, so I know who to go to directly with a similar question next time,” says Cunningham. “It saves a lot of time and allows me to start to build relationships with people I can reach out to when something new comes up that is in their area of expertise.”
From a sales perspective, Dan Macri, EVP Sales and Marketing at BevSource, focuses on knowing everyone who might help solve problems for his customers.
“I want to be able to provide connections and value to everyone I talk to, whether they work with us or not,” Macri says. “At the end of our conversation, I want them to know they are valued and that I will find them a solution, whether it is someone else to reach out to or something to look into.”
Knowing all of the players and taking a strategic approach to building and organizing your network will help you build the relationships that add value to your beverage business.
Strategy 2: Stay Up-to-date on the Landscape
Studying the news and trends that affect the people you work with goes a long way in building relationships.
Before approaching a supplier, Curtis develops an understanding of how the market of an ingredient works and what the supplier expectations and requirements are. Using this research helps build trust and ensures his asks are reasonable and that he provides the necessary information.
Cunningham tracks a lot of information about processing times and studies the government websites to stay in the know on what he might be up against when diving into a new compliance project. The background and monitoring help him lead the conversation and provide context and specificity to his questions. He also tracks federal holidays and legislative sessions that impact government agencies and might affect the timelines of his projects.
Macri focuses on tuning in to the evolving needs of his partners and customers based on trends and the information he gathers from each individual.
“I listen to know what the challenges are, and I strive to find where the answers might be,” says Macri. “I’m constantly learning and trying to connect the dots for people.”
Coming to the table as an informed and proactive partner earns respect and demonstrates that you value the other person’s time and objectives.
Strategy 3: Be an Open Book
Honesty and transparency are valuable currency in relationships. Curtis puts them at the center of his approach with suppliers. One example is his policy about switching out an ingredient in a product.
“The right thing to do is to check with your current supplier first to see if they can find the ingredient or match the specs you’re looking for,” says Curtis. “You can’t go behind people’s backs. Everyone values an open discussion and an opportunity to make a relationship work by honoring loyalty and honesty.”
Macri also subscribes to honesty as the best policy, and he acknowledges that ownership and accountability are a big part of why people trust him.
“I always say the easiest way to keep track of your stories is to tell the truth,” says Macri. “Be real. Be True. Do everything with integrity. That is the best way to build a relationship.”
Whether it’s proactively providing forecasts to suppliers or laying out your goals and intentions in a sales meeting, transparency and honesty are the foundation of all of the best relationships.
Strategy 4: Show That You Care
Sometimes it’s the small things that matter the most. Little actions or practices that show that you care about the person you’re interacting with and what matters to them can form the foundation of a successful relationship.
Curtis builds in touchpoints with suppliers that show he cares and is paying attention.
“I always make sure they know when they’re doing a good job or when someone on their team has gone above and beyond,” says Curtis. “If there is a hurricane in their area, I’m going to check in with them to make sure everyone’s ok. I want them to know that I care about them and value them as people first,” he says.
Macri blocks out the time to spend interacting with people whenever he can.
“I go out of my way to say hi when I see people I’ve met at shows. I do routine check-ins. I see, visit, and talk to people regularly. I try to treat everybody in a way that reflects how valuable they are. I treat everyone as if they were gold.”
At the state agencies where employees are dealing with a long line of requests and demands, Cunningham tries to brighten people’s days by being kind, personable, and positive in all of his communication and always saying thank you.
Taking the time to go the extra mile and show that you care, even in small ways, makes a memorable impression that serves to reinforce strong relationships.
Building, managing, and maintaining the connections you need to make your beverage successful requires dedication, planning, and investment. The result is a strong, healthy, sustainable business that is prepared to compete in the complex and competitive beverage industry.