Internal Distributor Onboarding | NBWA: America's Beer and Beverage Distributors

Perhaps the most significant determining factor in whether or not an online solution will be successful is how you prepare internally for a transition to an online ordering system. New roles and responsibilities are going to be required. Sales personnel need to be communicated to early and sold on the fact that an online solution is being implemented to complement their efforts and not to replace them. Data in your back-end system needs to be cleaned to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date. And finally, the entire sales staff needs to be trained on the new solution since, in most cases, they will be the ones called upon to train and work with retailers who are being onboarded. Below please find some suggestions, best practices and samples to assist in your internal onboarding efforts.

Cleaning Item Data and Retail Account Information

Distributors have grown accustomed to their back-end systems and current ways of taking orders. However, since the content in your back-end systems will be used to populate a retail ordering website, the data must be accurate and complete. Solution providers will assist you with this, but it will also take a lot of work with your back-office staff. The same holds true with your retail account information. If you ask an account to start placing online orders, you better make sure you have all of their information correct in your system, so their order links to the correct account.

Hopefully, one tool that will help a great deal regarding item information and imagery is the recently launched BIECC Master Product Catalog (MPC). The MPC's goal is to serve as a single source of accurate, up-to-date brand information and imagery for all brewers' brands. Access to the MPC is freely available to distributors, retailers, vendors and other industry stakeholders. The aim is to keep numerous individual industry members from keeping and maintaining their own item catalogs that may or may not be fully accurate.

  • Cleansing/Preparing Product Data

    • Make sure product statuses are accurate in your system (seasonal, discontinued, active, etc.)
    • RAS/ERP file maintenance needs to be scrubbed:

      • Fresh images that "pop"on a web ordering platform
      • Pricing/promotionsneed to be accurate for all products
      • Sell dates must be accurate
      • "Live" inventory if possible. You want retailers only to see in-stock and available products
      • Readable product descriptions

        • Sometimes product descriptions make sense in a back-end system, but not to a potential buyer. Make sure readable and attractive product descriptions are available for all brands.
        • Include as many "value add" product attributes such as ABV, style, tasting notes, etc.
        • Reach out to suppliers directly for any data fields that are not available from the Master Product Catalogue (MPC)
      • Retail Account information

        • Makes sure you have correct names/DBA's of all your accounts in the system
        • Make sure liquor license information is updated
        • Collect all of the relevant names, email addresses and contact numbers for individuals who will be placing online orders from your retailers
        • Order minimums and delivery quantities 
      • Be sure to set up your product territories – especially if your footprint is not the same for every brand you sell. You do not want retailers to see brands they cannot order from you.

Communicating with and Training Employees

Securing the buy-in of employees is imperative to making the transition to online ordering successful. This includes sharing the benefits of a new solution with your sales team and identifying early on what new roles and responsibilities need to be filled in the back office. Below please find some suggestions and examples of employee communications around online ordering. 

Another sometimes successful tactic in securing buy-in is offering employee incentives to adopt the new solution. When considering any possible employee or retailer incentives, please first consult your legal counsel or state associations to determine whether you are able to offer such incentives in your state. 

  • How to communicate with and prepare employees for the transition:

    • Distributors will often create presentations or even tutorial videos to share with their team to prepare them for the transition to an online ordering platform. Here is an example of a presentation one distributor shared with their sales team as part of an online ordering system rollout.
    • How do you re-train/educate your sales representatives?
    • Business-to-business (B2B) does not replace the sales team but is an INVESTMENT by the company to make the sales team more effective.

      • More time to sell and discuss more value-added opportunities with the retailer
      • Opportunities for direct marketing to retailers
      • Simplifies administrative tasks (invoices, past orders, etc.)
      • Customers can order on their schedules 
      • The sales team still reviews orders and are imperative to the process!
  • Incentives:

    • Employee incentives to sign up accounts –
    • Some distributors have begun offering incentives to sales representatives for each account they sign up that places orders through the online ordering system. A common number seems to be $3.00 per account. But keep in mind, it's important not just to reward sign-ups if those accounts never start using the platform.
    • The sales team still gets a full commission on online sales
  • What new responsibilities are needed? Roles and responsibilities to consider when starting B2B:

    • A "captain" to connect all of the pieces and manage the overall implementation

      • You must establish a main point of contact for both internal and external inquiries
      • The "captain" needs a skill set with technical expertise as well as firsthand knowledge of sales and operations and strong communication skills
      • IT or technical staff must ensure all elements are working correctly once a solution is rolled out (RAS integration – discounts, items, etc.)
      • Implementation is only the beginning. There will be continued refinement of B2B tools
    • All sales personnel will need to continue recruitment of accounts and usage. This is not a one-month promotion only and must continue with all new accounts that open in your market.
    • The need to have full-time management of product statuses in your RAS will be more important than ever (discontinued and new products, seasonal products, etc.)
    • Customer service will be critical, especially during the launch, to do onboarding demonstrations and address technical issues for both internal team members and retail customers.

Whether it's a new product rollout or the transition to new software, employee buy-in is critical. Employees will have questions about online ordering systems, and there will be new roles and responsibilities needed in the office for it to be a success. Preparing staff early, investing in educating your team and communicating frequently can help make the transition smoother.

What Solutions are Available?
Retailer Interaction
Goal Setting & Analytics
Internal Distributor Onboarding