Reader Mail Bag: Help A Newly-Minted Sales Rep

Vinted on September 2, 2015 binned in learning wine, wine tips

1WD reader Robert has written in to yours truly, with an interesting double-barreled challenge. I think that we need the collective wisdom of the insanely-intelligent, hyper-attractive, overly-inebriated, and mega-hyphenated 1WD readership to help this guy. Also, I’m in Champagne this week collecting vinous memories that will make you all jealous, so I could use a little help here as I can’t effectively type with one hand while the other is busy raising glasses of amazing bubbly to my face.

Here’s Robert’s request:

I am brand new to the world of wine, sure I drank my share but now want to get serious in the industry of selling, sampling and the tastings of all types of wine.  I just took on a sales rep position with a small fine wine importer/distributor and want to learn on best ways to succeed. Any advice on what baby steps to take or where to begin as a sales rep would be very much appreciated.

Notice that Robert has a dual challenge here, in that he simultaneously needs to learn the fine wine ropes (primarily, I’m guessing, through tasting, which – lucky for him – has already been touched on in Reader Mailbag form here), and in learning the fine wine sales rep ropes.

Now, I know that there is no shortage of the wine sales rep populace reading 1WD, so I’m asking you folks to help brother Robert!

Shout it out loud in the comments, people: what advice would you give to a newly-minted wine sales rep?

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • lizbarrett


    This may go without saying, but clearly I’m saying it: sign up for two things: the Society of Wine Education’s CSW course (in the midst of it now) and download their free Wine Quiz app from iTunes. And of course – taste your head off! Every day, every night! Good luck!

    • Robert


      Thanks Liz, also this Wine Tasting Guide from 1WineDude is a Great Read. So much to learn in this business and enjoying every minute.

      • 1WineDude


        Robert, thanks for the kind comments on the tasting guide!

    • Robert


      I need help trying to get potential customers to try my wines from Turkey. Restaurants, Liquor Stores, Wine Bars and Cocktail Lounges…once they hear the wines are from Turkey, turn the page and go on to Greece, Spain or Chile anything but Turkey. The Turkish wines taste great and if they do taste them they agree, price point ain’t bad either but they say they won’t sell. What can I do?

      -Robert

      • 1WineDude


        Robert – tough call there. Having tasted Turkish wines over the last few years, I personally have been amazed at how quickly they have improved. If you can convince someone to taste them blind, you might get a convert. Maybe BTG pours it might be a slightly easier sell?

        • Robert


          Those BTG pours would have to be in the evening, don’t know too many of my customers who like to get a “half a bag on” late morning/early afternoon. Any suggestions on any email invitations to offer potential new customers a private wine tasting with a few fine wines from Turkey (or better not to mention Turkey at all and blind taste it?).

          • 1WineDude


            If it were me, and it the target wasn’t more esoteric wine lists, etc., then I’d mention that there are surprises in the blind tasting, but not mention Turkey until the reveal.

      • MyrddinGwin


        While I, personally, would be interested in buying Turkish wines, I know a lot of people wouldn’t buy them because they’re unfamiliar. Some consumers are rather adventurous in their tastes and prefer novelty; many (I’d feel safe in saying “more”) prefer things they’ve at least heard of before. Trying new things is a gamble, and going with something almost completely unknown is seen as a bigger gamble.

        If the Turkish wines you’re selling are all from indigenous varieties, it comes down to relationships and trust with your clients. Since you’re still starting out, at this point that might be a tad difficult. This is where otherwise extremely well-known varieties of grape are useful; this is the perfect situation for common grape varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. If there’s at least one thing familiar about the wine (like a grape variety), then people often are more willing to take a bit of a risk. Since it’s from a place people are unfamiliar with, you’d still need not only a fantastic quality, but a really low price to further encourage them to try it. Your clients need to feel that the risk is very low for buying the wine. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, restaurants (and also wine bars and cocktail lounges, and for that matter, liquor stores) are in the business of selling wine, not just cellaring it.

        Good luck!

        • Robert


          Thanks for the advice, I will try and push the lower end priced Turkish wines first. Maybe if I start at the same comparable price-point as the Italian and French wines? Also if I do more blind tasting or put the Turkish wines side by side with the others (at the same price) maybe then more sales may take place.

          • MyrddinGwin


            It’s not just lower-end I was trying to emphasise. It’s extremely fantastic wines at Two-Buck Chuck prices. That bar is nearly impossible to reach most of the time. What I’m saying is that in order to sell that Turkish wine, it not only needs to blow the (established) competition out of the water, but it needs to do so at a far lower price-point. With the “familiar” grape varieties thing I mentioned, tasting it side by side (and blind), it needs to out-perform the well-established competition. It can’t be simply a decent wine, or even a good wine. It needs to be a superlatively fantastic wine, and yet still cheap to get people to buy it.

            If you’ve ever seen the film “Bottle Shock”, you’d might be aware of the “Judgement of Paris” tasting. To sell that Turkish wine, you’d essentially have to do the same thing on a smaller scale if you’re doing a blind tasting. Even if it goes perfectly, you’ll still have a lot of resistance–some people will, after learning which one is the Turkish wine, retroactively say they liked the French or California or whatever wine better (even if they panned it a few minutes before). They might claim there were other factors, or that you switched the bottles around or something. There are lots of people who still won’t buy it. However, that method might get two or three people out of a thousand interested in buying that wine. Those few people who you would’ve converted will probably be your best customers. Treat them well, and you’d have their loyalty forever. They’ll probably trust you for more than just Turkish wine in the future.

            I think Michael Brill’s comments below are absolutely helpful. While I disagree on the QPR thing (it needs a ridiculously high quality for a ridiculously low price, to a degree where it’s nearly analogous to Dude’s math teacher weighing out “Sex, or death…”), I do agree it needs to be about more than just that. You should absolutely find fantastic reviews for these wines (by big names, if possible at all), and sell to the sommeliers with a reputation for being ahead of trends. Incidentally, Turkey is right in the area where grapes possibly were first domesticated, so you could try levelling the field (admittedly by a millionth of an inch at most) by mentioning that they have millennia of experience making wine in Turkey.

            Also, is there specific pressure to sell the Turkish wine? When I originally read your first comment around half-past midnight, it seemed there was. Did your employer and/or the Turkish President kidnap Squiggy, as Michael Brill suggested? Or is this simply a challenge to defeat insurmountable odds? If this is a challenge issued by your employer, and you meet it, you should not only get an award for “Junior Salesman of the Year”, but fairly good job security for the next three years, at least. If it’s a self-imposed challenge, you should probably feel really good about telling your boss you’ve sold that wine, and also, you do need to get a hamster named Squiggy if you don’t have one already. You know, in honour of this thread.

            • 1WineDude


              I agree, MG – if he pulls that off, he’s rookie of the year!

      • Michael Brill


        Robert, you’ve been thrown in the deep end for sure! The first question is why you’re trying to sell the Turkish wines at all. If you’ve got a book with lower friction wines, why not just skip Turkey altogether?

        But let’s say that the Turkish prime minister were holding your pet hamster hostage and you *had* to sell a case before Squiggy was returned to you. Then…

        Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. They have a million other things to worry about… do they really want the responsibility of hawking some weirdo wine from Turkey… it might as well be from Kyrgyzstan. It’s going to sound awful and embarrassing and a pain in the ass.

        Because people are sheep, what you need is *social proof*. Nobody is going to buy the wine just based on the quality. Even if it wins the blind tasting, only 1% of wine buyers are going to be confident enough to buy it and then assume the burden of convincing customers.

        So you need to find another respected source who favorably reviews the wine or a wine like it. Better yet, find some Turkish wine on a super-somm’s list. Then get the most expensive, fanciest bottle of Turkish wine you have. Don’t make this a QPR thing. Then target the people (e,g, fine dining somms) who get off on knowing the latest/greatest. Make them feel like they’re on the vanguard of something very cool by being the first one on the block with this Turkish wine… because 18 months from now, all the cool kid somms will be buying it. Maybe even a bit of negative selling “Yeah, Raj Parr has this on a few lists, but I understand that your clientele might not get it so it could be more risky here” to push their ego.

        Once you make that initial sale, then that’s your next point of social proof for a wine retailer down the street. “Yeah, Skeeter’s Paella Shack downtown bought most of this since everyone’s gone crazy after Parker’s Turkey reviews. I’ve got like 5 cases left.”

        And you’re off to the races.

        OTOH, that’s a lot of work. You have other wines to sell. And, after all, you can buy a new hamster at PetCo for $8.99, so you’d better really love Squiggy before investing all this time.

        • 1WineDude


          SAVE SQUIGGY!!!!

  • Michael Brill


    A shout out from the hyper-attractive contingent!

    Of all the things required to sell wine, your palate skills are the least important. Don’t even drink wine. Switch to milk and cheap Laotian rice whisky. Learn to sell. Learn to get people to like you because they have an endless parade of distributors knocking on their door, more or less selling the same thing. Wine buyers are people and they want to buy from people they like. Be liked. Be in their face. Work no less than 60 hours/week. Pick the brains of the successful reps.

    Just don’t drink the stuff.

    …Michael

    • Robert


      Michael, I agree but also finding out some customers want you to call first and only take appointments, they also like to know your connections and people in common. I do have to taste, it makes for a better sale when I believe in the product I’m trying to sell.

  • alisonmarriott


    Great advice from Michael- be liked. Buyers are indeed inundated. Go the extra mile. Don’t waste anyone’s time. Make appointments for the busiest buyers. If you’re on premise, offer to conduct staff trainings on your products. Know your buyers’ preferences. Take samples to your most important buyers first- even a big Bordeaux- open it FOR THEM. They will feel valued and know you respect their palate enough to taste a wine before it’s fully opened up. Take notes…a lot of notes. And most importantly BE RESPONSIVE/FOLLOW UP! The industry is incredibly busy. If they can’t get an answer from you IMMEDIATELY, they will get their answer (and give your placement) to someone else. Buyer preferences are varied, but as you get to know them, you will learn which strategies work with each buyer. Oh, and buckle up for the holidays. OND is rough- You will get through it!

    • Robert


      Just conducted a few staff training’s on my products over the weekend (different wines for different establishments) also showed them at the bar some wine cocktails – they were happy. I am going today to drop off 6 bottles to the General Manager and Beverage Director (Big hotel here in town) to share with rest of staff.

  • 1winedude


    Great stuff, everyone! Well, apart from the stuff about not drinking wine. Not sure I can get behind that…

    • Robert


      Appreciate everyone’s feedback, just placed my order for the 1WD taster’s guide and loading up my wine bag now. Out to pound the pavement and get my wines some good exposure. Wish me luck

  • scrappymutt (@scrappymutt)


    Being a sales rep is one of the toughest jobs in the industry. Sales is not exactly my area of expertise, but I’ve cold-called enough accounts to have gathered some good advice along the way.
    The best advice I ever got was that a buyer says “no” five times before they say “yes”. So don’t be discouraged, every time a buyer says “no”, you are one step closer to “yes”.
    As for the person who says “drinking wine doesn’t matter, just be liked” – I won’t say he’s wrong, but I will say that’s not how I do it. I honestly love the wines I sell, and couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I think people can tell, and they respond well to that. Reading people and giving them what they want are also important, but don’t lose sight of why you are doing this.

    • Robert


      Thanks scrappymutt but I don’t ever want to be known as that “Pesty Wine Salesman” that keeps returning with the same “tired old lingo” about how my wines are the best. Just have to go back in my tool bag and find a different tool. I am learning that the same tool doesn’t work for every customer.

    • Bob Henry


      Robert,

      Here are some time-tested statistics from McGraw-Hill (former publisher of BusinessWeek magazine and other periodicals).

      Citing their “Laboratory of Advertising Performance” — a compendium of research studies on trade advertising and marketing:

      46% of salespeople call ONCE, and QUIT;
      25% call TWICE and quit;
      12% call THREE times and quit;
      Only 10% PERSIST on calling;
      80% of all sales are made after FIVE calls;
      And 10% of all salespeople “close” 80% of all sales.

      Source: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/mcgrawhill.pdf

      ~~ Bob

      • Bob Henry


        Robert,

        Volunteer to throw a load on the sales floor of accounts.

        Volunteer to pour wines at an educational tasting for the account’s patrons.

        Volunteer to donate “in kind goods” (read: wines) to accounts’ favorite non-profit organization events in town.

        ~~ Bob

        • Robert


          Have just been looking into getting involved with a very popular annual non-profit local event. Will have to get approvals from the higher-ups.

          Robert

  • 1winedude


    Thanks, Robert! And best of luck, please report back and let us know how it’s going.

  • mjgraves (@mjgraves)


    The world needs great salesmen. Largely because there are so many things that require a depth of knowledge that a customer just cannot be well-informed about everything. Great salesmen are an asset to their customers. A valued member of the team. To be a member of the team implies trust, which takes time. Relationships aren’t built quickly.

    A positive outlook is your best tool. Learn to ignore the rejection and negativity. A friendly disposition, boatloads of persistence and, eventually, product knowledge will service you well.

    People only say “no” until they say yes. You won’t get to “Yes!” if you let the no’s stop you in your tracks.

    • 1WineDude


      “A positive outlook is your best tool.” – sooooo true!

    • Robert


      Thank you mjgraves. I will keep a positive outlook and learn from the no’s. I believe action alone will not turn the no’s into a “Yes!” but returning with a better knowledge of my customers needs along with listening closely to what they actually want.

  • MyrddinGwin


    As someone who buys wine for a restaurant, my advice for you is to build connections with the wine buyers if you can. Go out when you can and look at wine lists–see if there are any gaps that can be filled from your portfolio (eg, they have 9 Chardonnays but no Sauvignon Blanc, or 15 Cab Sauvs but no Pinot Noir), or see if the wine list is “owned” by only one company. Talk to the buyer, and see if you can find their reasoning and motives. Perhaps your portfolio could use some additions if you’re determined to sell to them–or perhaps if they have enough trust in you, they’ll be willing to expand their own horizons a bit further.

    Figure out what price-points you want your wines to be at on the list. Are you looking for the lower or higher price, generally? By-the-glass lists often can have an “entry level” wine of one kind and a slightly higher level one of the same variety for comparison. Often, bigger companies have the “entry level” under wraps because they’re used to producing large quantities of decent, quaffable wine for very cheap. Finding a lesser known winery with great wines at a relatively cheap price offers an alternative to the entry level, and, of course, offering something uncommon at great price that could go ridiculously well (eg, a Viognier or Gewurztraminer at a Vietnamese restaurant) and proving it with a sample might help with some new conversions.

    Sometimes, getting on the by-the-bottle list is a first step to getting on the by-the-glass list. As one of our wine reps sagely said, “I’m happy to see every case of our wine find a new home. While I prefer seeing them leave in groups, every case counts.”

    If it’s possible, give incentives, like discounts for groups of cases. See if you can offer a case of wine for staff contests, or tickets to a concert or barbeque dinner or something to motivate them to sell your wine quicker. Even something as simple as giving a bunch of corkscrews to the bartenders and wait-staff might be appreciated and get your name out there more.

    Finally, as tough as it might get, try not to lose your temper if you’re not having luck selling wine to us. While we might be saying, “No” to a wine now simply because we don’t have room for your Cab Sauv in the cellar among the 10 other Cab Sauvs we bought recently, if you yell at us or abuse us, that just moves your likelihood of our buying our wine to a more distant time, like when the Devil is coaching a hockey team. We get enough abuse from customers; we don’t need any more, thanks.

    Take care, and good luck with your new career!

    • Robert


      Thanks MyrddinGwin,

      That is some excellent advice, really appreciate it. I have some Viognier that I am pushing as organic but the buyers tell me that only the grapes are organic and since the bottle does say contains sulfites I can not use the term Organic wine when it only says the grapes are organic. I will try the Asian restaurants (Thai, Vietnamese,etc..) and just not mention or sell as a true Organic Wine.

      • Michael Brill


        Robert, for the *most* part organic wine sucks. You don’t want to be selling organic wine straight out of the chute. Telling someone it’s made with organic grapes is fine. Or use terms like “organic farming” to give it a bit more soul. If you don’t have organic fruit, then you’ve got “sustainable farming” to fall back on.

        • Robert


          Michael, I get it about using the words “organic grapes” and “organic farming” but don’t all wines naturally contain a few sulfites or will produce some sort of sulfites or am I wrong? Is there really such a thing as completely 100% sulfite free wine? I know the Fre wines and a few others say it but how true is it?

          Bob

          • MyrddinGwin


            Well, to get complicated, sulphites are a naturally occurring thing in fermentation, yes, due to the presence of both oxygen and sulphur elementally in the grapes and even the yeasts, and so a 100% sulphite-free wine is impossible, or at least incredibly unlikely. Where most of the sulphur tends to come from, though, is through the use of Sulphur Dioxide (SO₂) to stop fermentation at a certain point, and to stop the wine from spoiling. Part of the spoilage SO₂ prevents is from bacteria that might’ve gotten in somehow, but the main threat is oxygen. If you ever leave a bottle of wine open and exposed to air, eventually, the alcohol in the wine will react with oxygen and turn into vinegar. SO₂ delays that process somewhat, since it reacts with oxygen more than alcohol does.

            The thing about SO₂ is that some people have sensitivities or allergies to it, and some people with asthma also react badly to it. As well, over-use of SO₂ makes the wine have such pleasing aromas as skunky cabbage, rotten eggs, or burnt rubber. Though this might seem a bit controversial to say, I do think reasonable use of SO₂ in winemaking is okay. Over-use of SO₂ in wine is just as bad a fault as oxidation or cork taint, and faulted wines like that should be returned from whence they came. While my sympathy goes out to people who actually have allergies or sensitivity to SO₂, I do believe that some of the people who demonise sulphur are the same who demonise gluten, carbs, or whatever it’s trendy to demonise these days and that they’re effectively making people who do seriously have these issues seem more trivial. Sorry about that mini-rant in that previous sentence–it just annoys me on occasion.

            Back on topic, if someone tries to sell you a 100% sulphite-free wine, see if that person will start mentioning miracle cures for everything from hangovers to death itself, secret investments in emerging markets, and a bridge he can sell you in Brooklyn. Though probably not worth your money (or time), those spiels can give you some entertainment value, if that’s your sort of thing.

          • Michael Brill


            Don’t get too fussed about SO2. It’s certainly not in the top 10 things you should be caring about. Short version:

            * Almost every wine in the world is made with added SO2 (a few outliers like Frey aren’t super-relevant).
            * The primary role of SO2 is as an anti-oxidant. You know when you open a bottle and leave it there for a week and it “browns up” and tastes tired? Well that happens in the winemaking process (albeit at a slower pace), so small amounts of SO2 are added throughout the process to keep the wine fresh.
            * As the “natural winemaking” movement gains momentum, you *may* be asked about SO2 levels. You probably won’t. If you don’t know the answer, the default is “I think they’re pretty low… I’ll check.”
            * There is very little chance that you’ll be selling a wine with noticeable sulfur compounds. If you are then you probably want to find another job (unless you’re selling Mosel Rieslings which smell quite strongly of sulfur in their youth).

            • 1WineDude


              Michael – and with the Mosel wines, more often than not, that sulfur hit will blow off after a few minutes in the glass, even when young.

              • Michael Brill


                Uh, I’ve just been dumping it down the drain. You mean it gets better? D’oh!

              • 1WineDude


                Also great for removing hard water deposits on most faucets and shower-heads…

      • MyrddinGwin


        Honestly, to me, as a buyer, my primary concerns are:

        1) Will I be able to sell this wine?
        2) Is this wine good?

        The first question is the essence of the restaurant business. You do need inventory to move, since there’s only limited cellar space. There’s no profit in ageing a wine until it’s dead, when no-one will buy it any more. While there are some wines in the cellar meant to age a bit, and some with potential lifespans a decade or two past the vintage date, wines don’t make us any money until customers buy them.

        The second question helps narrow down choices for me. Pretty much anything with “Pinot Grigio” on the label will currently sell for me. A lot of wineries would have noticed that trend, as well, and would be trying to get me to buy their Pinot Grigios (Pinots Grigi?). While the early phase is easier (This one tastes like used dishwater, and this one tastes like white wine), later phases might go into things like the typicity, the aromatic and flavour complexity, the potential for age, the potential fit for our menu, and the quality-to-price ratio. After re-checking if I truly think the wine will sell (at this point, usually at a given price), I will consider it.

        When it comes to Organic/Biodynamic/Farmed-by-the-Sheep-and-Llama-Global-Domination-Alliance, I mostly consider that a label detail. It matters more than the label design, since I could list it on the menu as Organic/Biodynamic/Farmed-by-the-Sheep-and-Llama-Global-Domination-Alliance to sell it to those who have an interest in that sort of thing. However, it’s not a main selling point to me. For the main selling points for me, please refer to the two points listed above in detail.

        Incidentally, to us in the restaurant, the label design doesn’t really matter. Our guests don’t see the labels of the wines unless they order a bottle (or if they ask out of sheer curiosity). While labels do matter to some people, especially people browsing through shelves at a liquor store, I think where I work it’s essentially a non-issue, unless they hired an artist who made some exceptionally poor design choices, such as including repeating swastikas and illustrations of people flipping the bird all over the bottle. It’d take something that extreme to influence my opinion on a wine from the label at my work, though.

        • Robert


          Volunteering to pour wine samples for the patrons at the bar and restaurant seems to do the trick for moving the hard to sell Turkish wines.

          • MyrddinGwin


            Have you sold a case or more, then? If so, congratulations! Get yourself that hamster and name him or her Squiggy! You deserve it!

            • Robert


              Finally sold two cases of the Turkish wine but it was right before the ugly news about Turkey. I will definitely be pushing more of the French, Italian and Argentine wines come the new year and leave the the Turkish wines alone for a while ….just too hard to push in Jersey. Don’t want to be the hamster in the cage.

              • 1WineDude


                Robert – thanks for checking back in, glad to hear that you sold some of the wine. It’s depressing to think about how difficult it was, and how much more difficult it might become due to the situation in Turkey.

        • Bob


          Is there any rule of thumb to determine how much time in between sales do you go back for a follow-up, to check on your customers both on premise and off premise? I heard once every two weeks is way too much and with some customers once a month is much to much. How do you feel them out or just contact over phone or schedule appointments thru email and phone or still continue face to face and just continue dropping in every so often? I know everybody is different and some don’t mind once a week just to chat and others two to three months and they say they will call you when needed. I always offer in store tastings and keep my customers up to date on monthly specials also at times will dine at a customer’s location but never bring up sales. Just want to stay connected but don’t want to be a pest or pressure anybody. Any thoughts on this subject?

          Bob

          • 1WineDude


            Great question, Bob, hopefully someone on the sales side will revisit and answer!

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