Selling The Sales Team: Acosta Buys Ignite Sales & Marketing

Ignite Sales & Marketing founder Kent Pilakowski has made it something of a point over the years to serve as a consigliere to many of the brands his firm has serviced, helping them understand different growth points and assess the capabilities of company leadership.

That’s always been Ignite’s mission — to assess a company’s capabilities — and come up with a plan for augmenting them. Often that involves helping CEOs and founders figure out what their core competencies are, and then helping them evolve their role to best fit a growing company.

IMage_970It’s worked well — starting from scratch in 2007, he’s managed to turn Ignite, whose stock-in-trade has been as a mercenary sales and marketing force for growing brands, into a strong in-store advocate for companies like Talenti ice cream, Essentia water, Goodbelly, Hail Merry, and Saffron Road, among others.

Because it was working with emerging brands, Ignite has always been something of a quiet partner for its clients. Once they reach a large enough scale, in fact, they tend to either build their own capabilities or become the property of a larger company that has its own teams to fulfill the mission. But in the past few years, a lot of the companies that Ignite worked with had become entities in their own right, and word had gotten out.

“We flew under the radar a little bit,” Pilakowski said. “But we were pushed in the last couple of years more to the forefront. We built the brand just by doing good work — but as we did the work, people started to promote what we were doing.”

So when Pilakowski started to assess his own business and its ability to grow and deepen its services to his customers, it wasn’t that hard for him to see that he, too, needed to augment its capabilities. But the solution that appeared in this case wasn’t an outsourcing maneuver; in fact, Pilakowski made the decision that the best way to grow the company’s capabilities was to sell it.

Which is why, last week, Acosta, one of the largest grocery brokers in the world, announced that it had acquired Ignite, following a sales process run by Whipstitch capital. The purchase brings a high-touch set of account managers who foster the growth of mid-sized businesses into a brokerage and sales strategy firm that deals with the largest companies in the world.

“It’s about our ability to give a better level of service to our customers,” Pilakowski told BevNET after the sale became public. “My goal is continue to evolve our service offerings and continue to be better every day.”

With more than 30,000 employees, heavy data analytic capabilities, and the ability to configure shipments and sales between all classes of trade, the larger company will give Ignite the chance to augment its own work. And since many of Ignite’s clients are also Acosta clients, the service level should deepen.

“When we’re involved, usually our clients are able to scale faster than they ordinarily would,” Pilakowski added. “[Acosta] is commission based, so to have a team help emerging brands grow faster means that their commissions grow as well.”

Under the terms of the sale (financial details weren’t revealed) the entire Ignite team will remain together in some form or another. Ignite’s two smaller units, an in-house analytics group and a smaller brand incubator, have been spun off, intact, to smaller outsource firm Velocity Sales Management, a new company with a similar mission to Ignite’s.

Keeping the team together was one of two keys to any sale for Pilakowski; the other was protecting clients. He said his Ignite team will continue to work as a separate unit for Acosta, only with the bigger company signing the checks instead of Ignite.

“The secret sauce to Ignite has always been our people,” he said. “And nothing changes for our people. We’ve always been able to deliver results, and now we have better stuff to deliver results with.”