When I started working as a sales representative for a small, family-owned winery almost ten years ago, all I had was my college degree and a passion for wine. I had no formal training in sales, and no clue what I was doing. I’m still learning every day! The one thing that I’ve never been able to find is a website or blog that is solely focused on the ins-and-outs of selling wine for an independent, small/medium winery. So many people love wine and get into the business of selling it, but they have absolutely no idea how to do it. People like to joke that wine sales is not rocket science, but there are a lot of things I wish I had known from the beginning—it would have saved me a LOT of time.
There’s a giant network of people who are on the road hundreds of days a year trying to spread the gospel of small and medium family wineries, but so many times (myself included) I hear about people getting burned out or getting frustrated by roadblocks on a constantly changing world of wine sales. I get teased a lot for asking too many questions—just yesterday on a ride-with, a rep said, “When you’re done, it’s going to be my turn to ask YOU 20 questions!” But it’s my way of figuring out how to do a better job as a winery sales rep.
I’m by no means and expert, but I want to share some of the tools that have been useful (and not so useful), and the experiences that have been instructive in my job. I think that we need to do more to help out our colleagues in the indie wine scene so that we can all succeed and take back that piece of the pie that the mega-wineries and corporate conglomerates have been trying to wrench from our purple fists.
To start, I’d like to share my personal objectives for being a good wine sales person:
- Integrity—I have a hard time selling wines I don’t believe in. Sure, I’ve done it. I think most of us have—I mean, we all have to start somewhere. But for the most part, the reason I get out of bed every day is because I have a passion for the wines (and the region) I am selling. Integrity goes beyond just believing in the product I sell. It also means doing what I say I am going to do. Showing up when I make plans, following through on promises, and being responsive in correspondence. I try really hard to return emails or phone calls within a few hours, or 24 hours at most. Good relationships are built on integrity, and those are the core of my business.
- Efficiency—I really believe that working smart is more important than working hard, although I admit do both. What’s with this thing where suppliers like to brag about how little sleep they get and how many hours a day they log in at work? A big red flag and huge alarm bells go off in my mind when I hear people say this. Managing your time and prioritizing your tasks are crucial to success in wine sales. You can’t be effective if you’re constantly tired. You become less interesting, you don’t think as well analytically, and in general you don’t put your best foot forward. As the face of the winery, working smart is one of the best things you can do for your job and your life.
- Transparency—I don’t keep secrets from my distributors. I’m a believer that knowledge is power and if you treat your distributors as partners, you’ll want to make sure they know as much as they can about your winery. They are the face of the winery in your absence and you want them to represent you well. If you’re honest and upfront, they can be your biggest supporter and strongest ally.
- Proactivity—I’m pretty sure that’s not a real word, but you know what I mean by it. The thing I absolutely LOATHE about sales is the reactive sale. How many times do we hear about the d-bags in ill-fitting suits at the evil empire calling up accounts at the end of the month offering 2-for-1 deals and loading up accounts with garbage wine, stuff they’ll be sitting on for a year and eventually close out because it won’t move, all because they had volume goals from mega-corporate wineries who only care about “moving boxes.” Our job and our hope is that we work with our distributor partners to build brands that have a network of sales wherein sell-through always happens. If we do our homework and are proactive, we’ll never have to load up distributors and accounts with wine they don’t need and can’t sell. I hate cleaning up messes and prefer to lay the groundwork via the first three objectives so that I never have to be reactive.
I really hope you like what I share, and I hope that I get feedback from you about whether or not these same tools and experiences have worked for you.