The Distracted Buyer

Last week, I was in Chicago and Minneapolis for a few days of ride-withs and a sales meeting. My family lives in Chicago, so I stayed with them (as I always do when I’m in town). I have probably visited them ten times in the last couple years. Somehow, though, my parents still can’t quite conceive of what it is that I spend my days doing when I am in town for work.  Nearly every time I visit, I will explain that I am working with a rep all day, say goodbye for the day after breakfast, and sure enough, at about 11:15, I will get a text from one of them asking, “Interested in meeting up for lunch today?”


Wait, I thought we were gonna meet at Blackbird for lunch? What’s a ride with??? Now I’m really sad!

I decided this trip that I should probably outline what exactly goes on during a ride-with so that there is no further confusion on their end. In case you’re new to the business (or you’re my parents), I will give a quick primer. The wine business is a three-tiered industry: You have wineries, who make the product; they sell to distributors, who purchase wine from many different wineries to create a portfolio of wines (that often encompasses many different styles, regions and price-points); the distributors then employ a team of sales reps, who are each assigned to a set list of accounts (either restaurants, retail or both), who must make a living selling their portfolio of wine to said accounts.


A totally average infographic of the three-tier system

A ride-with/ride-along/work-with is an industry term to describe a day where a winery (sometimes called a “supplier rep”) spends a proscribed amount of time (typically from about 9/10 in the morning till about 6 in the evening) riding in the passenger seat of a distributor sales rep’s car, visiting their list of accounts, usually with set appointments at stops where the wines would be appropriate (though this doesn’t always happen). I have written about this before, here, and here.

Now that we’ve established this basic concept, let’s talk about one of the most common pitfalls of the ride-with: the distracted buyer. I was in an account recently and during my visit, I could hardly get a word in edgewise. Between the phone ringing, the buyer checking his text message/email pings, deliveries going in and out, and the rep randomly regaling him with totally debaucherous tales from the previous weekend (completely distracting the buyer from my sales presentation) I felt reduced to little more than an annoying mosquito buzzing in the ear of the buyer.

Look, I get that everyone is busy. Successfully running a business (whether it’s your own or someone else’s) is hard work. Add to that a constant stream of reps and suppliers coming through all day (sometimes with the most ridiculous talking points—the other day I heard a woman “sell” her wine by saying, with no trace of irony, “well, this beauty is 84% Cab, and 20% Merlot, 65% new FRENCH oak. I mean, it goes great with fish, what a great summer sipper! Plus, the winery is next to insert name of famous California winery here.”). Buyers are bound to be a little distracted.

But it’s also my job to get my message across to the person in the buying position. I read a book recently called, The Charisma Myth, to help me in my quest to be the best sales person I can be (I love my job, my company and my career and want to stay with my current company for as long as they’ll have me, so I am always working on improving my skills). I like to think of charisma as interchangeable with the ability to sell—when you get people’s attention and get them to buy what you’re selling, whether it’s ideas or wine, that’s charisma.

The author talks about how charisma is not an innate “gift,” but rather something that can be learned. A few of the key takeaway points I gathered from the book that have really helped me when I’m on sales calls are below. I’m totally not the kind of person that recommends self-help sales manuals, and I often read such books with intense scrutiny, but this is definitely one of the most interesting and useful reads I’ve seen in my career as a rep for independent wineries.

  • Studies done at the media lab at MIT examined how critical body language is to one’s effectiveness, and they were able to predict, with 87% accuracy, the outcome of a sales call by looking at facial expressions and analyzing to voice fluctuations (they did much of this with the sound turned OFF). Turns out we can’t “fake” charismatic body language. Inner thoughts will show up in micro-facial expressions, and even if they’re as short as 17-32 milliseconds, people will be able to detect them.
  • You can’t control your body language—you literally have to think positive thoughts which will be reflected in your outward demeanor.
  • You must have three core elements to be truly successful in a sales pitch: presence, warmth and power.
    • Presence: pay attention to what’s going on in the moment—people around you will feel respected and valued
    • Power: knowing your product well, and having a sense of authority about it (and you yourself believing that you know and have authority on the subject) will come across in your words and body language
    • Warmth: expressing yourself with kindness

When a distracted buyer appears to be only half listening, try to remember the points listed above and see if you can’t turn the situation around to one that’s in your favor. So far, I am seeing some good results. I’d be interested to hear from other people who have read the book and had similar (or different) experiences.

Now I just have to get my parents to remember what a ride-with is and I’ll be set!


4 thoughts on “The Distracted Buyer

  1. And should I remember to tie my shoes? If the buyer is getting ready for a big night, that might include selling some wine, does he really need your neady face in his grill demanding time? Blame you lame rep, not the buyer.

    • Kurt–I agree completely with you–my point was that buyers are understandably busy and often have a lot going on (like running their business), so learning how to get their attention and make the visit worth their time and energy is something I am always interested in.

  2. Hey Merritt – I just bought this book and will lyk what I think. Seems really interesting. Thanks for your blog – as a fellow wine salesperson, I really enjoy it!

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