The cost of recruiting and retaining new salespeople was bleeding Martin Miller’s Gin company dry. That is, until two and a half years ago when CEO Jacob Ehrenkrona had a bright idea for tapping into a new part-time salesforce.
Ehrenkrona realized that young musicians would make the perfect salespeople for his product. For one thing, they’re already in the places where he wants his gin to be — such as clubs, trendy bars, and hip restaurants. Musicians add the cool factor that Martin Miller’s needed to inject into their product in order to attract the next generation of consumers.
Then, there are transferrable skills: he finds musicians to be organized, educated, authentic, and intentional in their focus. There’s no “pretending” to be a successful musician. And like a good salesperson, a good musician needs a certain amount of hustle to get gigs. “I’ve been a hustler since the beginning, so that
is nothing new to me,” musician-salesperson Jake Pinto said. “To be a hustler is to live on that edge between being obnoxious and doing what it takes to make it happen.”
The shift in recruitment is working. Rather than the typical six to seven months — and the significant financial investment — that it was taking for a conventional recruitment company to suss out a candidate’s success, Ehrenkrona knew within one or two weeks if a new musician recruit would make it as a salesperson. “We uncap the most important asset that the person already possesses,” Ehrenkrona told me in a recent interview, namely, their network of venues and contacts behind the scenes. New recruits find their footing as salespeople in their local neighborhoods, and many branch out from there. Often they also recruit other salespeople from within their network; Ehrenkrona established a relationship with his first musician salesperson, and it set off a chain reaction.
For a young musician, working as part-time salesperson can be a boon to the budget and to a fledgling music career. The schedule is flexible, and musicians can devote as little or as much time to it as they want. Since most musicians’ gigs are at night, they have some flexibility with their schedule during the day and can call on accounts when bar managers are available — usually from about 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. “Some get an adrenaline kick from selling,” Ehrenkrona said, “and they can make quite a lot of money.” They’re also making connections in the business they set out to be in, and most really enjoy and believe in the product.
Dallas Kalmar, a singer, has found that being a salesperson has, in fact, boosted her music career. “Lots of artists have bar-hopped, trying to get a gig,” she said. “It’s like I’m bar-hopping with the purpose of selling gin, and that’s how the relationship starts. From there, I can do my own PR, and land more singing gigs. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”
Martin Miller’s approach seems obvious and logical once it’s pointed out, and is not that different from other companies’ attempts to recruit a part-time workforce (such as Lyft or UberX). But there are some subtle points of execution that made their strategy successful, which can apply to similar efforts beyond the food and beverage industry.
Fitting in, and mirroring your audience, is part of it. “It’s important that I don’t look like a salesperson,” Pinto said. “I just wear what I normally wear, which is how the people I’m talking to are dressed, as well. Beverage managers are generally young people who aren’t impressed by a suit.”
In addition to dressing the dress, Martin Miller’s sales team literally walks the walk — of the neighborhood and venues the company wants to reach, that is. “We build on our relationships with great music venues,” Pinto said. “We’ve played there, and now they’re clients. They appreciate that I’m coming to them as an artist who also has a great product.” The company has developed a Gin & Jazz series to help build that bridge: the musicians play, and the bar lists Martin Miller’s on the menu, sometimes for up to a year or more. Salespeople host the series, often at no cost, to help boost the relationship, drive sales, generate revenue, and promote the gig via social media.
Reinvigorating a salesforce, as Martin Miller’s has shown, may mean recruiting candidates that seem unlikely at first. But look for proximity to the product — and a personal investment in that proximity — to shift their inherent value in your favor.