**HELP** Best practices for sales for a wine/spirit distributor

Hello Everyone, 

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to take on the role of Sommelier/ Director of Fine Wine at a mid-tier boutique distributor. We have a growing list of fine wines from all over the world (America, France, Italy, Australia, etc) which I'm super proud of. I want to take our sales/ team to the next level this in 2020 and  I would love if I could get some direction and expert advice from those who have forged a trail before me. I am relatively new to this and would REALLY appreciate any help.  
I am working on my strategic plan for 2020 and would love any advice on:
  • Best practices for maximizing sales, getting new customers etc 
  • Strategic sales plan for our sales team (how to plan routes, follow up schedules, tools, CRM, etc)
  • How to effectively get appointments with clients and get them to buy
  • Strategic plan to move old/ discontinued product 
We service both on and off premise accounts. 
  • Casinos
  • Resorts
  • Fine dining restaurants 
  • etc.
  • Chain liquor retail (Total wine, Lees Liquor etc)
  • Chain retail (Whole Foods, 7-11, Kroger, Albertsons etc)
  • Sports stadiums
  • etc
I would love to hear what has worked for you! Thank you in advance for your help!
  • For me, it’s just doing the simple, right things consistently

    Look at your accounts, rank them if you want. They are all important of course, but make sure you and your team don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on accounts that don’t have potential. 

    Show relevant products. If you don’t take the time to understand your accounts and their programs and show applicable products they won’t think that you care about what they want to do. 

    follow up. Follow up. Follow up. Did I mention follow up? Just showing products isn’t enough. You have to do diligent follow up. 

    Don’t try and open 50 accounts at once. Target five, identify their needs and see them once a week, more or less depending on the situation, and build the relationship. People buy from people.  Move on from there. 

    people buy from people!!! There are a lot of wines out there and your portfolio might be great, but don’t worry, if someone doesn’t like you or your sales person, they can find another wine from someone else.

    Be honest. Buyers will tire quickly of a sales rep who won’t admit that maybe one of their wines isn’t awesome. When something isn’t showing well, say it, and while you might not make that sale, the buyer might trust your opinion more and buy more from you in the future because they think you are actually tasting the wines instead of just regurgitating information you heard at the last sales meeting. 

    be pleasant. You don’t have to be their best friend and hang out on weekends but just having consistent, pleasant interactions will raise your standing in the account. 

    BTW don’t call your customers accounts, while we may do it in the business, buyers don’t want to be called accounts. 

    know who you are. You mentioned that you are a boutique distributor, and also mention that you call on 7-11. Is that a good fit for your business? 

    how to get appointments? Understand that everyone is busy, and be pleasantly persistent. No one wants to be badgered, but if you take every “no” as a closed door it’s hard to be successful. 

    Realize that opening a wine and showing it isn’t a complete sales call. Are you knowledgeable in the product? Do you have pricing with you? Do you have a “leave behind”? If you expect the buyer to just remember the wines you taste you are setting yourself up for failure. 

    well, with out belaboring the point further, if you were to do this things, I find it hard to believe that you won’t have success. 

    Hope that was at least 1% helpful. 

  • Print Blake's response, and read it about 14 times. Once you think you've memorized exactly what he's getting at, read it another 14. It's gold. 

    The secret trick is....there is no secret, and there is no trick. Listen, show relevant products, be honest, answer your phone/email promptly, be nice, follow up. Grinders get paid, dudes looking for quick placements/easy commissions get...another line of work. 

  • Blake: Thank you so much for the thought out reply, that means a lot to me!

    I really try to go above and beyond. Example, when an F&B manager at one of my accounts had a dog that was sick (and clearly upset by it), I went and got a "get well" card and had the whole office sign it and delivered it the next week. I understand the business is very relational and try to be authentic when building relationships. 

    Can you unpack "following up" and some of the methods you use to track accounts, how often you follow up, and how (email, phone, visits etc). I'm curious to know what has worked for you. I think this is where everyone struggles. 

  • As a buyer who gets regularly approached by newer distributors, let me add a couple of thoughts:

    - Few things frustrate me more than reps who don't understand their own market. While it can be hard to get intel if you don't have any connections, try to get a look at some of the other books in town: understand what else is available in the categories you're operating in, and if at all possible try to taste those wines. All the time I have reps come to me talking about how this is the best glass-pour priced X, and in fact I've tried two or three other wines in the same category and price range that are better. Obviously it's harder for them to taste all those wines than it is for me, but make the attempt.

    - When you approach me asking for an appointment, have a few specific wines that you think would fit and explain to me what they'd replace. Obviously you should have some sense of what kind of wines I carry: check the wine list online, or come in person and look at it, but just saying "I think this is a good fit for your program" doesn't do a ton for me. Tell me why it's better than the wines I currently carry: if you make a good point, you're most of the way to a sale.

    - Be humble: about yourself, your book, and your relationship with the people you're calling on. Don't assume that the buyer is familiar with any of the wines you carry, and definitely don't talk down to any buyer: you never know how much someone does or does not know, and being condescending is a great way to lose out on a bunch of sales.

    Anyhow, best of luck!

  • A note on following up - it’s purely a case by case basis. Cards are great as Blake mentioned for the personal touch, but other than that old school buyers prefer in person and over the phone follow ups while the new generation love emails and even more so texts are a preferred method for many.

    Find out how your buyer operates. When I first started I sent a few emails to an old school buyer and they never got back to me. I made it in to see them the next week and they bought more from me. Now I call or show up and they prefer that. That extends to uncovering their schedule and preferred meeting times, ways to communicate about wine, etc. If you’ve worked the floor it’s similar as you tailor your spiel to what they want (sales pitch - is the Napa Cab big, bold, yet seamless OR did x amount of barrel aging in y barrels with maceration lasting xyz and the pH of blank at picking? Both appeal to different buyers/guests and in different depths of info.)

    I realize that turned into a bit of a rant. Hope it helped!

  • show up at your accounts and your ahead of most people. consistency is key

  • Re: Follow up

    When you get in front of a buyer for the first time, it's less about selling and more about how they like to be sold to. Just ask if they prefer email, text, phone or in person. What time is best to see you?

    On the next visit, after you show products, ask what were some favorites of line up? So then when you follow up don't say "is there anything you want that we tasted last week?? but rather "You really liked the sancerre we tasted last week, is there a time I can come in a do a staff tasting with you?" Its far more targeted and shows that you listened and you're also offering your time to show products and help train the staff, because many places don't have a somm on staff and if the servers are giving the opportunity to taste the wines and hear the stories directly, they're more likely to be able to sell your wines confidently on the floor.

    To the same point, for retail when you show wines have POS with you and ask when you can do an in store store tasting event? Making the sale is one thing, the retailer selling the wine is another. Also, you will show that you are a partner in the transaction not only through the the sale to the buyer but also to to the end user. When the consumer has the opportunity to experience the story, its more likely they become repeat buyers.

    Also, for retail, it is IMPERATIVE that you see where the wine is placed in the store and ask for a decent placement. If you sell in a placement of wine and its on the floor level you might as well put in in the back room and get your duster ready. What can you do to get it eye-level or on display?

    Is that helpful?

  • There's tons of great advice in this entire thread.  The fact that you are reaching out for advice speaks volumes.  I'm a 20-year sales veteran working in technical sales, biotech sales, and wine sales on the floor of a restaurant, and I can tell you that the advice on this thread is gold.  Read it 100 times.

    In my career I've found that the best performers are constantly trying to improve themselves.  They never rest on their laurels.  Sales is a mindset.

    A few books that discuss the mindsets of selling are below:

    The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy

    The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need by Anthony Iannarino

    How to Win at he Sport of Business by Mark Cuban

    Zero to One by Peter Thiel ---especially chapter 11 entitled, "If You Build It, Will they Come?"  

    All are available as audiobooks to listen to between account visits.

    Good luck!