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July–AuGust 2012 reprinT r1207J

The View from The Field
Six leaders offer their perspectives on sales success. by Jim Koch, James Farley, Susan Silbermann, Duncan Mac Naughton, Phil Guido, and Suresh Goklaney

Spotlight on Smarter SaleS

Spotlight on SMARTER SALES

FoR ARTicLE REpRinTS cALL 800-988-0886 oR 617-783-7500, oR viSiT
artwork Chad wys, Gentleman with AColor Test, 2009, chromogenic print 22.5" x 30"


The View from The Field
Six leaders offer their perspectives on sales success.
July–august 2012 Harvard Business Review 2

Spotlight on SMARTER SALES

Jim KOcH fOundeR And cHAiRmAn Of BOstOn BeeR cOmpAny

1984 840 $513 million
emplOyees 2011 Revenue

yeAR fOunded

How One entrepreneur learned to sell (in a Barroom)

WpHoTogRApH By kELvin MA

hen I started Boston Beer it. It offered some good ideas, but a lot Company, in 1984, I had three of it seemed cheesy and manipulative. I degrees from Harvard and read about opening, objection handling, seven years of management consulting and closing. Finally, I walked into a bar experience, and I saw sales as a slightly and tried to make my first sale. I’m not aquestionable act that involved separat- “natural salesman,” no one had ever heard ing people from their money. No self- of my beer, it cost more than any other respecting Ivy League graduate aspired to brand, and it tasted different. I was scared be a salesman. When I left Harvard Busi- to death. ness School, I became a consultant. Early on, when I made sales calls, I’d I come from a family ofbrewmasters, introduce myself as the owner of a new and over time I became committed to brewery that was making Samuel Adams brewing great beer in America again. I Boston Lager, which tasted unlike anyknew brewing and business, but nothing thing bars were selling. I’d end my halfabout selling. When every distributor in minute opening with a question: “Have Boston turned me down, the only way I you heardof it?” When the person said no, could get my beer into bars and stores I’d pull out a couple of articles that had was to sell it myself. I went to a bookstore, been written about us, because I had read bought the only sales book I could find, that third-party recommendations give How to Master the Art of Selling, and read you credibility. Then I would produce
copyRigHT © 2012 HARvARd BuSinESSScHooL puBLiSHing coRpoRATion. ALL RigHTS RESERvEd.

3 Harvard Business Review July–august 2012

FoR ARTicLE REpRinTS cALL 800-988-0886 oR 617-783-7500, oR viSiT

a cold six-pack and some cups from my briefcase and ask if he wanted to taste it. I learned that if I could persuade a person to taste my beer, I had a good shot at making a sale. On that first try the owner tasted the beerand agreed to buy it for his bar. I was so excited that I left without asking how many cases he wanted. I had to go back the next day to get the actual order. I’ve been walking into bars and selling my beer ever since. Today my company is 28 years old with more than $500 million in revenues and 320 salespeople, but I still spend more time on sales calls than on any other activity except brewing.From my years at Boston Consulting Group, I know how to interpret data on a spreadsheet, but that can’t compare with the knowledge I get from being in the market talking to customers. Most of our ideas for new products come during sales calls. For example, a year ago I noticed that retailers were carrying more hard cider. I began asking customers who was buying it, what brands, and why. Over four orfive days in a few cities, I had 40 good conversations about the growing cider market. Statistically, that’s not a lot of data points; but in my experience, if you listen to 40 smart customers, you learn more than you would from any consultants’ study. On the basis of those conversations, we tasted the existing ciders, improved on them, and came up with a new brand: Angry Orchard. I’ve come to...
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