Sales Strategies: John Doolan, Heineken USA

Westchester’s sales experts share their sales-boosting advice.



Going out for a beer may be a spontaneous event, but selling beer is not, according to John Doolan, vice president, Northeast Sales for Heineken USA in White Plains. “Sales success starts with planning,” he says, noting that every employee in Heineken USA’s sales group is responsible for daily, monthly, and annual sales plans. “If you don’t have a plan of attack—based on knowing your customer, what they need, and how they operate—you will be dead in the water,” he warns.

The “plan of attack” Doolan advocates includes a few basic elements: knowing your brand, viewing customers as partners, and carefully analyzing successes and failures. It’s a formula that has worked for Doolan since he began in the adult beverage business 16 years ago, selling Guinness Extra Stout bottles in Brooklyn.

Today, the Iona College grad and former Eastchester resident espouses these sales tactics to a team of 85 people across the Northeast territory, which includes the New York region—the biggest US market for the Heineken brand. Under Doolan’s Stewardship, Heineken’s beverage lineup reached an impressive distribution level of 93 percent in 2012 (meaning only 7 percent of potential retail outlets were not carrying Heineken products) in the Northeast—a region in which roughly 25 million cases of Heineken products are sold annually. Doolan also helped to successfully fold Dos Equis into the Heineken USA portfolio, growing the brand by more than 20 percent over the last four years.

While Doolan admits it is a salesperson’s nature to want to do all the talking, he believes listening is a far more effective tool. “If you sit back and listen to your customers talk about their challenges and opportunities, they’ll think of you as a partner—and it gives you time to connect the dots in terms of the brand, the plan, and what you want to bring to that specific account,” he explains.

Heading into a Mamaroneck Avenue restaurant with the singular goal of selling a Heineken draft line, for example, may not be the right approach if the bar already has five lager-style beers on tap. By instead recommending an amber like Dos Equis, you can save the sale and prove that you want to be an asset to their business, he explains. “If your customers feel that you are a true partner and you want to make them successful via your brand, you’re going to be in a really good spot,” Doolan says.

Part of Doolan’s ongoing success in sales comes from examining his results, both favorable and not. “One of the biggest things we focus on is recapping,” he says. “You can add a lot of value when you understand what went well and what went wrong during a sales call. Then you can tailor your approach so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

Sometimes, however, even the best salesperson gets a “no.” But that isn’t the end of the line, Doolan insists. “It’s okay to get a ‘no,’” he says, “but if you have it in your plans to follow up and listen effectively on why you got that ‘no,’ you should have the ability to figure out what went wrong and then go back with a different approach.”

Who wouldn’t drink to that?

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