Getting Out of Your Own Way

So, I was at IPNC this past weekend and ran into a bunch of awesome industry friends I hadn’t seen in ages because, obviously, I haven’t been traveling for work. One of the things that kept popping up in conversation was how I’ve not kept up on my blog, and that I should post something new. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it, because I have, but I have been busy f#cking around doing house projects (please remind me to tell you about them some day—I have an INSANE story about my relatively recent experience buying a home in foreclosure), hanging out with my friends and family and getting utterly addicted to Burncycle. Essentially I just haven’t made the time.

This is the view from one of my many "projects." If you could see the kitchen you would vomit/your eyes would be bleeding.

This is the view from one of my many “projects.” If you could see the kitchen you would vomit/your eyes would be bleeding.

This was taken at Blackberry Farm, the greatest resort ever. Disneyland for foodies. I will write about it soon!

Taken recently at Blackberry Farm, the greatest place ever and a place I did NOT blog from–I was too busy playing with their Truffle puppies and eating gravy. It’s Disneyland for foodies./winos  & I will write about it soon!

There has been something I have been ruminating on a lot lately because I’ve recently been asked for informational interviews with young people who want to talk about getting into sales. I often think that wine salespeople are their own worst enemy. Every day I hear another one of them saying something that has me shaking my head and asking if I am “living in opposite world.”

So here’s a story about one such occasion, and how I think reps can learn to get out of their own way.

The other day, I was waiting in line to taste with a buyer who was looking for a new wine to pour by the glass. The salesperson in front of me pulled out a bottle of a well-known, well-made and well-priced wine and began describing it. I thought for sure that he’d close the deal—the buyer was totally into it. But then, just as she was about to commit to the glass pour, the guy started going on about how, “I know this wine is in a ton of grocery stores and a lot of people don’t want to use it because it’s everywhere. But it’s everywhere for a reason! Because it’s a great wine!” I cringed as I saw the buyer basically go from a solid “yes” in her mind to a pretty wobbly “let me think about it.” (Actually, I think it could be best described as fontrum) He continued on at length about how most people at restaurants do not want to pour this particular wine because of it’s strong retail presence, and possibly listed a few other reasons why people object to carrying it before essentially digging himself a hole he couldn’t get out of. I checked back a couple weeks later and sure enough, the wine was not anywhere to be found on that restaurant’s list.

This situation is a classic example of two of the easiest things you can do to avoid losing a sale. So what did he do wrong?

Don’t offer objections before your buyer does

I’m reminded of a line from Inception, wherein one character explains the idea behind “inception”:

Arthur: I say: don’t think about elephants. What are you thinking about?
Saito: Elephants?

Don't think of grocery stores when thinking of this wine... wait... that came out wrong...

Don’t think of grocery stores when thinking of this wine… wait… that came out wrong…

Arthur is referencing something called Ironic Process Theory. Basically, deliberately attempting to suppress certain thoughts (in your own mind, or in your buyer’s) makes those thoughts MORE likely to surface. Talk all day long about the features and benefits, but don’t offer objections or say what you wine ISN’T. If there’s a common objection about one of the features of your wine (price, style, market penetration, etc) it’s good to have responses lined up so that you can answer the objections, but don’t offer them before the buyer does. And never assume the objections of one buyer will be the same for all.

Don’t talk too much

I recently re-read Death of A Salesman (I heard a tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman on NPR a few months ago and he spoke at length about his experience playing Willy Loman, so out of morbid curiousity, I went down the internet k-hole and spent way too long learning about his tenure in the play, which inevitably led to me re-reading it). I found the play to be disquieting when I first read it in my high school teacher Mr. LeBeau’s English class, but as an adult with a long history of working in sales, it really was particularly meaningful the second time around–I have to say one of my biggest fears as a salesperson is the idea of becoming obsolete and reading about Willy’s breakdown was highly unsettling. There’s a line where Willy, fully in the throes of his breakdown, philosophizes to his wife Linda about why he’s having trouble selling:
Willy: I don’t know why – I can’t stop myself – I talk too much. A man oughta come in with a few words. Charlie’s a man of few words, and they respect him.

I thought about all the sales people I have listened to over the years, and it’s too bad that Willy couldn’t have overheard some of the long-winded spiels and useless chatter I have—maybe he wouldn’t have ended up the way he did.

But seriously—I see this happen all the time. As I have said before, selling wine is about having a conversation with your customer. If you’re spending all your time talking, you won’t be able to listen to what your buyer wants and consequently be able to address their needs. It’s especially common among young sales reps who are nervous—silence equals the unknown, and that’s particularly scary to some reps who lack the confidence and experience of selling.

I have also seen a lot of reps chatter/small talk their way out of a sale. Instead of taking the buying signals and asking questions like, “so it seems like there may be a spot for this wine on your list,” or “it looks like you may have room for this wine,” reps change the subject and talk about their weekend plans, the weather, anything that will get them off the topic of selling the wine they have poured in their buyer’s glass.

cool story bro

Take notes and follow up

Finally, contrary to Blake’s famous line in Glengarry Glen Ross, these days closing means taking notes, following up with your buyer and consistently checking in on their needs. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that, should I? Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Getting Out of Your Own Way

  1. Merritt! Great to see you’re blogging again! I love your insights and candid commentary on this biz we work in… I look forward to future posts and good luck with the house!

  2. Merritt, so happy to see your new post! I heartily agree on this topic, and have been guilty of talking too much myself…the lessons we learn, right? Keep the blog going, it’s always a pleasure to read. And best wishes on the new house and projects!

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