One of my old bosses used to call me up and ask me random questions, like what my brand manager’s children were named and how old they were, or what featured wineries were on the pre-recorded promo tape that played on XYZ Distributor’s phone line while you were on hold. If I didn’t know the answer, he’d accuse me of being out of touch, and therefore on thin ice with my territory’s sales. I was so paranoid that I started getting into the habit of randomly calling up my brand managers just to say hello so I could check the box. I literally would ring them up and ask them, “So… how’s it going?” And then I would wait for the awkward pause because I had no agenda or any real business to discuss with them, and we’d shoot the breeze for a few minutes before the whole uncomfortable phone call was over. But at the time, I just knew I was supposed to be getting “mind share” from my brand manager and that was how I thought you did it.
If you know me, you know I am obsessed with reading Wine Industry business publications, and something I have been thinking about a lot lately is a picture I saw in the September 2017 issue of Wines&Vines.
If you sell wine for a small or mid-sized family winery, you are already painfully aware of this – competing for attention not just from your brand manager, but with distributor sales reps AND accounts, up against hundreds of other wineries in the same portfolio.
Obviously as someone who works on the wholesale side of the (fine wine) business, I believe in the need for wholesalers – the ones who do it well are partners with their wineries and believe in the stories they have to tell and the value it adds to everyone’s business. But the three-tier system is harder than ever to navigate. Consolidation is happening everywhere, and getting time and attention from anyone at a distributor is a challenge. With hundreds of brands in books, and managers stretched thin, time with a distributor brand manager is critical, but how do you make it count? As one friend who works for a winery recently asked me, “How often should I be reaching out to my distributor, and when I do, what do they want to hear?”
On average, wholesalers should be getting monthly emailed updates about inventory and any pertinent vintage changes/releases/personnel news you have going on at the winery. Depending on how much wine you sell in a given market, you may speak to your brand manager once a week, or two times a year. Any time you reach out, you should be adding value to the business relationship by providing useful information in a timely, expedient manner.
To that end:
- If you are emailing, keep it short and sweet. The sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words. Otherwise it’s TL;DR. If you have extra information you just HAVE to share, like a story about the inception of a new wine, or something like that, include it as an attached PDF.
- If you are calling, have an agenda and be prepared. Distributors send you depletion data that takes a lot of energy to compile. Please use it and familiarize yourself with the market you are calling about instead of asking them to do it again for you. For example, if you are emailed monthly depletion reports by account, you probably shouldn’t call up your brand manager to ask what restaurants are good supporters so you know where to dine when you visit their market in x amount of days. Just look at the reports.
- Call with good news occasionally. Use that depletion data to say, “Hey, I noticed that you made 8 new placements of our Red Blend in restaurants last month. That’s fantastic!” Sometimes brand managers don’t have time to look at data that granular on a daily basis, so being reminded of specific successes helps keep certain wines at the front of their mind and can lead to further sales. Also, most of the time wineries call to complain or push for more business. I am a firm believer that you catch more flies with honey. Recognizing when things are working well often is inspiring enough to get people to continue doing what they are doing, and do more of it!
- If you are sending excel files, please for the love of god – format them correctly so they are easy to read. The formatting should be uniform and pages should be optimized for printing (headers repeat across pages, formulas line up. My biggest pet peeve is #DIV/O!. If you don’t know how to fix this, use Google to find out how, or just take a few online tutorials. Excel is the greatest business tool in the world, but only if you use it right. I love when winery reps send me beautiful spreadsheets.
- Never call just to ask, “So, how’s it going?” Your job is to know your business – if it’s up or down, and you’re not sure why after going over depletions and IRI/Nielsen data (if you buy it – if you don’t, this is a great resource to look at trends around the country), ask them about specifics. Brand managers appreciate when wineries take the time to learn about their market and understand their business – it feels like a partnership when wineries are familiar with the market, it’s laws, quirks and customers/key players.
- Don’t send important business information in a text message. Send it in an email. Otherwise it will be forgotten/ignored/misplaced.