Frothy insights

Author: 
Paul Nolan

I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating. Craft brewers reported a 13 percent increase in volume in 2015, the eighth consecutive year of double-digit growth. With more than 4,250 microbreweries nationwide — more than ever before — the craft beer industry now represents 12 percent market share of the total beer market, according to the trade group Brewers Association.

So I was excited to read “Quench Your Own Thirst” by Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Co., and a pioneer of the craft beer industry. I was even more excited to have the opportunity to speak with him for this issue’s Closers Q&A (page 34).

Koch’s book is subtitled “Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two.” I admit I had some skepticism as I began reading. Autobiographies by well-known figures — particularly business leaders who still have products to sell — are only as interesting as the author’s willingness to be candid. But Koch does not disappoint.

Among other things, he exposes his biggest mistakes en route to becoming the second-largest craft brewer in the U.S., and shares a painful disagreement he had with his first business partner, Rhonda Kallman, that ultimately led to her leaving the company after more than a decade of growing the business together.

Koch tells how he and Kallman built their business one bar or restaurant account at a time through old-fashioned, in-person cold calls. It’s a customer maintenance strategy that he says his sales team is trained on to this day.

Another message Koch reinforces throughout the book is his belief that a company is only as good as the people who work there. He emphasizes the importance of hiring smart and keeping your team happy and challenged. By all accounts, he walks his talk.

Koch has recruited top-notch, yet often unconventional talent. Kallman, who he tapped as his initial business partner, was in her early 20s, an administrative assistant at Boston Consulting Group who had no college degree and no formal business training. “Talent comes in all kinds of packages,” he says.

It’s comforting to hear a guy who has grown a startup into a company with a $2 billion valuation reinforce many of the practices we routinely tout in this magazine: a heavy investment in sales training, an openness to creative ideas from your entire work force and regular recognition of high performers. As always, a lot of great insights from our Q&A didn’t make it into the print version, so be sure to check out the full interview with Koch online at SalesandMarketing.com/Closers.