Monday, June 1, 2009

Herding Cats

I am truly lucky. I was able to put together a "dream list" of wineries to represent quite a bit easier than I expected. I represent many producers that I have tremendous respect for. They took a leap of faith with me, and rightfully so, that leap only will last so far on goodwill alone.
My primary goal is to find homes (distributors) in each of my primary markets for 17 wineries plus 1 importer. Last week was a big week, I found 5 new homes over 3 states. Progress is expectantly slow, but with solid wines and presentations and good market intel, I'm confident I can find the right long-term fit for everyone.
I was (naively) expecting that each of these small wineries would eventually take on a collective conscience. A diverse, but unified voice. What I am instead seeing at this stage of the game is that each of these wineries likes things done a little bit differently. At some point in the future, I will have a strong track record I can point to, and I will be able to take a different tact when dealing with these differing philosophies.I love that each day, and each interaction presents a chance to learn a lesson and develop my approach.

Lesson #1-"Trust Me" is not reassuring. That leap of faith is not solidified by that famously laughable Indiana Jones quote, but in the back of my mind I wish it were.

Lesson #2-Any concern is a real concern. The collective white noise of communication can easily drown out subtle concerns about details. It's important to recognize each concern and give it the respect and credibility it deserves.

Lesson #3-I should always be available and accountable- I know I'm busy, but that doesn't matter to the client. What matters is how well I am representing them and their vision. From afar, it may be tough for them to see until I can produce results. For many producers, this hasn't happened yet.Sensitive to this, I need to be available and have a strong vision and strategy for each producer.

Lesson #4-My brand and the other winery's brands within ampelography are irrelevant to the winery I am dealing with at that moment. The winery wants to know I am focused on them. Talking about other wineries makes it sound like I'm focused on someone else.

So what am I doing wrong? Nothing. I am just learning how to communicate better (not necessarily more).When I set meetings, present wine, or decide to not set meetings, I need to be accountable in each instance. I need to be able to say what is going on with the strategy, and ideally head off concerns at the pass before they feel they need to approach me with them. Keeping the client happy is not about appeasement, but about helping them to eventually "trust me". I can't possibly expect them to do this out of the gate. I've already asked them to trust me more than any sane man would. I need to prove to them that my methods and strategy are sound. I need to let them see how the proverbial sausage is made. Many of these wineries are run by winemakers and all are family owned. Something that should not be taken lightly. I will need to make sure I do everything I can to earn their trust. I need to be a sincere advocate for their business and the health of their growth. I will also need to make sure I am sensitive to their concerns and make sure I put them at ease with each concern.

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