8 Ways New Belgium’s Sales Org Competes like a Cycling Team

If your logo features a stocky bicycle and your flagship product is called Fat Tire, you obviously aren’t shy about your relationship to the cycling community. New Belgium Brewing Company, the maker of Fat Tire and a large selection of fine craft brews, even awards employees with a custom bike upon their one-year anniversary. Despite the brewery’s cheeky events like the Tour de Fat Slow Ride “race” (in which participants pedal as slowly as they possibly can), my conversation with VP of Sales Joe Menetre reveals that the sales team operates more like a serious, well-trained cycling team. Here’s how:

1. They control their own destiny

Menetre’s sales organization clocks in at more than 250 people, and many of the reps cover very large territories all by themselves. If they’re anything like Menetre, they wouldn’t have it any other way; they like being self-powered machines. “For me, cycling was always a release,” he says. “Being able to just get out and go anywhere you wanted to. When you go out for a ride, it’s your opportunity to either go out for a nice little pedal or lay the hammer down. It’s right there at your control.”

2. They’re hungry to win

The competitive nature of its salespeople is undoubtedly part of how New Belgium became the fourth-largest craft brewery in the United States. “We’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. ‘No’ might mean ‘no, not right now’ or ‘no, not today,’ but at some point for a salesperson you have to have the wherewithal, the integrity to get back out there and fight another day. I think we’re all competitive at a certain level,” Menetre says.

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3. They know there’s no “I” in “team”

In any sales organization, a CSO will likely face the challenge of losing a stellar employee. Menetre recalls one example of a bittersweet departure—a division director left to head up the sales force at a rival brewery—and how it put the spotlight on the strength of his bench. “Literally as that guy left, we ended up promoting about 12 people on the West Coast,” he says.

“When you’ve done as much as we’ve done with respect to growing the company, putting in systems, making sure that folks are ready for their next challenge,” he continues, “as hard as it was to watch somebody leave, it was super-rewarding that we were able to keep moving on and really not skip a beat with respect to sales.”

4. They challenge themselves (within reason)

Menetre’s philosophy on goal setting is a simple one: set your employees up for success. “I think when quotas are too high and they’re unattainable—at least from a salesperson’s perspective—it can be a demotivator,” he explains. “So we’re always trying to set goals that we think may be hard goals to reach but are certainly attainable. And the typical goals we put out there ask the individual to more or less control the controllables. We outline a set of activities and behaviors that, given what we know about our product and the market, should result in the growth we want and expect.”

5. They are accountable to one another

Much has been written about how New Belgium is 100% employee owned, but the connection Menetre sees between the employee ownership and sales performance is an interesting one. “There’s so much passion within the brewery and out in the market just because of that employee ownership and the striving for excellence. Every day you need to be able to look your coworker in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, I did my best today.’”

Menetre reveals that, while New Belgium’s sales organization uses minigames and is currently experimenting with a bonus program, sales reps aren’t on commission. “I think a lot of people are blown away by that because they see the passion our reps have in the market,” he says. “Really it’s because they’re an employee owner and they know that there’s a lot of people counting on them. I think that goes a long way.”

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6. They demonstrate leadership through service

Menetre describes his management philosophy as “that whole leading-by-example thing”: he won’t ask somebody to do something that he’s not willing to do. He recalls his early days with the company, managing distribution in Fort Collins, Colorado, and handling New Belgium’s marketing efforts. “We had two drivers, two trucks, and a draft tech. But when somebody got hurt or was sick or couldn’t show up for work, I’d throw my steel-toed boots on and go out and deliver beer for the day.”

This isn’t just a nice-guy routine. “For me, it’s a great way to learn the business and it’s also a way to be more understanding of what your coworkers are going through. I think we’ve always been like that. When you see somebody that needs help, you jump in there and help them. That’s just the right thing to do.”

7. They train hard because they want to train hard

At New Belgium, area managers really have two functions, according to Menetre: “one is to grow the market and the other is to grow their folks.” Training is at the root of his successful sales organization—not just because it makes team members more knowledgeable, but because they see the investment being made in them and want to make good. “When you are so focused on growing and training and mentoring the folks that are out there trying to win every day, I think it goes a long way with respect to trying to keep folks motivated.”

Menetre sees the company’s focus on mentoring and development as reciprocity. “It’s critical that we devote as much time and energy to an individual as that individual devotes to supporting his or her fellow coworkers.”

8. They support one another no matter what

New Belgium’s advertising has played off the notion of the buddy system in the past (in one ad, a literal Ranger pops up repeatedly to smooth out one young beer fan’s social life), but the buddy system is not just a visual gag—it’s central to the sales organization, too. “Our salespeople are called Beer Rangers,” says Menetre, “and we have this motto: ‘No Beer Ranger left behind.’ Whether or not somebody’s struggling with a skill set or struggling with getting a sale, we’re always there to help and try to help ’em through any sort of tough time that they’re going through.” This support doesn’t come from only the top, either. “There’s a lot of sharing among the coworkers, and I think that goes a long way to keep people’s spirits high when we’re going through tougher times.”

If New Belgium’s ever-increasing sales numbers are any indication, tough times aren’t really an issue for this collaborative, driven sales team. The brewing company’s continued expansion (its beer is now sold in 38 states and a second brewery will be open in North Carolina by early 2016) can be attributed in no small part to a sales process heavily focused on supporting and developing people—hundreds of individual achievers working together for a common goal. That’s how New Belgium breaks away from the pack.