Planning Meetings

It’s January, so for a salesperson at a small winery, that means distributor planning meetings. I think for a lot of people on both sides, distributor and winery personnel alike, these meetings are a waste of time; winery reps often come unprepared, and they don’t have a clear picture of what they want to accomplish. I also think it’s hard for many winery reps to clearly express what their expectations are, 1) because they actually don’t know what their expectations are, beyond the vague wish to sell more and/or 2) they have unrealistic goals and no plan of how to accomplish them. Then you have the weird winery/wholesaler dynamic: the wholesaler is both a customer and also your winery representative in that given state—it’s awkward to be like, “Pretty please buy more wine and also your depletions and number of accounts sold are so bad it’s embarrassing.”

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can be more successful in my job, and the New Year is always a good time to reflect on the past year’s successes and failures. Success in wine sales means not only meeting and exceeding case volume and dollar goals, but also doing it in a way that is sustainable, and can help me build better relationships with my distributor partners and account base. If a distributor has a clear idea of what I expect from them, and we have a plan of how we’re going to get to a mutually agreed upon goal, much of my work is just keeping the ball rolling. Everybody can be happy. My goal is always, always, always to be PROACTIVE vs. Reactive. Obviously it’s not realistic to expect this 100% of the time—sometimes a wine just needs extra help, or you get a good score and the wine sells out, but it’s the ultimate goal.

A crucial piece of information in my proactive plan is the FOB/Availability matrix that I send out to my distributors once a month. I have been working on this format for the past couple of years and this is the newest iteration. It includes a number of key items, which are incredibly useful and make the spreadsheet an awesome reference tool not just for distributors, but for me too. I’m all about transparency so I put LOTS of info on the spreadsheets. I’ve revamped my matrix for 2012 a little bit and I wanted to share this because I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and think it could help my other supplier friends.

This essentially includes all information about the wines, both currently available and upcoming releases. If it’s on the matrix, distributors often include the info on their website or price books. Often wineries do not update their tech sheets regularly so it’s good to at least if you have the wine info here. Always include:


  • Wine name
  • Varietal breakdown (e.g. 100% Cabernet),
  • AVA and/or vineyard
  • Pertinent farming info (e.g. natural, organic, biodynamic, etc.)
  • Amount produced. I know a lot of small wineries are reluctant to include this number because they either worry that their status as a “boutique” winery will be lost when people find out that they make 12,000 cases of their “reserve” pinot. Additionally, you may have distributors that get angry because they don’t get what they feel is their fair share of the wine. If you don’t contextualize it, sometimes that number either seems way too small, or way too big. Which is why I always include the next item…
  • Availability schedule. This means I have a column for the following things: release date, projected sell-out date or sell-through cycle, and how much I have left.
  • Allocation/goal. I try to update this as much as I can, but sometimes it’s tough with 35-45 distributors to do on a monthly basis. At the very least you can put in projected goals or allocations for your planning meeting and then update them once a quarter.
  • Billback policy. I get hundreds of billbacks every month it seems, and there is always confusion about it. Our policy is a flat 2% off the top of every invoice, but I’m constantly getting invoices for 50/50. I just like to have it in there as a reminder.
  • Finally, I always like to add important technical details like
    • FOB
    • UPC
    • Case Size
    • Alcohol percentage
    • Cases per pallet
    • Suggested Retail Price

Hopefully this will make your year more successful!


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