Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our wine knowledge is turning into a wiki

As wine professionals, we are all faced with the vast and impossible task of self educating ourselves. There is certainly a segment of the wine population that goes through a formalized trajectory, but this is most often associated with production and science. As a sommelier, or a sales person, we must figure out the most direct path to learn as much as possible. With the absence of a common curriculum, we usually wander and meander through wine education. We form "tribes" of tasting groups and after work, we get together to chat about wine industry gossip and some earnest discussion about arcane facts. This is our classroom.
There are certainly important figures within the wine world that have tried desperately to provide a wine course, most notably, Kevin Zraly. These people are owed a debt of gratitude, but one person, or a group of people, have been largely ineffective in teaching the masses the upper level courses of wine knowledge. The deeper you go, the scarcer the organized education becomes. I've bemoaned how, as an industry, we test well but don't teach so well.
What we have done as a group, is become our own greatest sources of information. The floating conventional wisdom of our wine tribe is ever changing, and rarely verified. This resembles the concept of a wiki. Now, we use wikipedia quite a bit, but what I am referring to is sort of the common thoughts we all gather from each other. We are all educating each other, constantly comparing notes, and ideally, constantly editing our own knowledge bases.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The thundering herd, all racing to the middle

As a wine sales professional, how do you measure your success? By not catching anyone's ire? By flying under the radar? By comfortably showing up to your accounts every day, chitchatting about the weather, punching in at 10:30 and out by 4:30. It may seem good enough, but it's not.If this sounds like you, you are an order taker.

*Broad generalization alert*
I am noticing more and more, sales reps using each other as the barometer of success. They are running the race like it's a marathon, just trying to stay with the pace. When they start losing placements, the buyers become "idiots". They aren't sampling every day, and when they do, it's obviously items that are on goal and have no rhyme or reason for that account. Incidentally-it's a lot easier to fulfill goals when they sample everyday, and sprinkle them into their usual presentations, this way it won't look suspicious. If they follow the lead of the pack, then not only will they never be in control of their business, they cease to be assets and become neutral, or a liability to their accounts. This business isn't a marathon, every placement is a sprint. It's not difficult to be excellent.

There always have been plenty of salespeople out there driving their company cars with their antiquated palm pilots. Mostly, they aren't really very happy about their role in this mortal coil. You don't need to follow them to the middle. You are selling wine! I can't overemphasize how cool this is. It's not easy, but if you can stay motivated, and your own toughest critic, you can excel. I mean, you already know what the standard is, and you should be able to easily exceed it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If you're in wine sales, the calendar just caught up with you

We're here! OND! For those uninitiated, OND is-October, November and December . A time during which, we have been led to believe, all of the wine is sold for the entire year. This is obviously not true, I railed against this thinking last year. That said, OND is still very important. A disproportionate amount of wine is sold during this 3 month stretch. Couple that with the fact that you can't get a solid presentation scheduled during November and December-This is the last month of the year to influence any purchases for the next 3+ months.

Pressure? Nah. It's not as daunting as it sounds. as a salesperson, there are a few things you can do to make this last window of opportunity pay off:
  • Be on call 24/7-If your account calls you, even after hours, answer it. I'm all about the work/ life separation. October is the only month of the year where I say duty calls.
  • Do favors-Maybe this means standing and pouring at multiple charity events. Do it, this is the time when your buyer will call in those favors. It may not translate into acute purchases, but it's also an awfully good way to lose business you have just by annoying your buyer when they need you.
  • Be creative and observant-If they aren't already in place, help your buyers develop original strategies, whether this is displays, events or just purchases.
  • Do every in store/ restaurant event you can- Your buyers will appreciate the help and it's good way to get the higher traffic tastings in the next 2 months, by paying your dues in the last moderately busy month.
  • Sit down with your buyers to determine if you should modify your account call times for the last 2 months. Peak hours will change, and if you're sensitive to their needs, they will enjoy doing increased business with you.
  • Don't press-Buyers sense desperation, and will always blow you off if you sound desperate. Remember, their job is not to do you favors, but to do favors for their own bottom line.
  • Finally-Hustle, find your groove.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When good wine seems bad, or, nibbling at some potential hocus pocus

Last week was a typical week weather wise here in the mid-west. One day it's sunny and clear, the next, cold and rainy. Temperatures were all over the map. I was mired in a series of 4 trade tastings in a row. One of my colleagues had noted that some people believe wines taste different on different days based on whether or not its a flower or root day. I had heard this, in fact, the buyers from Tesco (Large British Grocers) famously, only taste on whatever the right type of day it is. This led to a discussion about atmospheric conditions affecting the way wines show. I had never knowingly experienced this phenomenon, but it sounded like maybe it's not impossible. We then went to set up the tasting for that day. Nearly 100 bottles were opened. We discovered through the course of the day, nearly a dozen were flat out corked-considering a pretty good smattering of stelvin and vinoloks, this was a lot by any industry standard. Couple that with the fact that most were higher end wines from relatively modern winemaking facilities-this was a very significant outlier. I had just done 2 tasting in the days before, with about half as many wines, and only 2 corked bottle in the 2 days combined. The next day, again, about 50 wines, none corked. Now, I'm all about the Infinite Monkey Theorem, but this seemed more than coincidental. The bad day, was raining cold and obviously a low pressure day barometrically speaking. In addition to the corked bottles, I kept finding wines that I really know well, to be showing really tight and unforgiving. Next day, everything was fine, and it was a beautiful day.

I need to go on record as saying that I am a cynic. I would have likely dismissed all of this and you wouldn't be reading about it if I hadn't seen something like this first hand. The power of suggestion can be a powerful thing though. On the othe rhand, we've all seen wines we know and love, acting not quite the they did when we first fell in love with them. My question for you is: What do you think? Every experienced anything like this? Flower or Root? Barometric pressure? Humidity? Moon Phase? What is it? And to really make you think, is that variable actually affecting the wine or our finely tuned palate?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The inevitable trade show

In most markets, September and October are widely recognized as trade tasting months. Distributors jockey for the exact date they want months in advance, try to book as many tables as possible and charge outrageous table fees. In most cases, this is a tremendous waste of time and energy. If you are a large distributor, this is an inevitablity. You don't sample enough wines during the rest of the year, so in order for your customers to get to know your product, you need to rent a hall, and serve mottled cubes of co-jack cheese.

For the rest of us, a trade show may be optional. I know that this betrays conventional wisdom, but it's true. You could actually just sink your budget from a trade show into increasing your day to day inventory and sampling budget. You would get no complaints from your suppliers, and their money is also better spent investing in your sampling programs and incentives for the sales team. If you can't shake the guilt/ obligation feeling of needing to host a trade show here are a few very important guidelines:
  • Don't waste anyone's time-Whether this is your customer or your supplier. Make sure there is a good reason for them to be attending your show.
  • Pick a good location-Sometimes the oddest venue is the most memorable.
  • Great and interesting food-no brainer
  • Be original in everything
  • Blow them away with your selection-Open a few ridiculous bottles
  • Create a buzz-If you do the above things well, this will follow
  • Understand why your are hosting an event-For P.R.! If you are a small distributor, you need to reinforce why people are doing business with you. This is your one time of the year to show them what your business looks like beyond 1 salesperson, 1 delivery guy and an invoice. Details are very important.
  • You can't replace 9 months of poor sampling and representation with 3 hours in a crowded room somewhere.
  • Make it fun for the suppliers-Take them out somewhere cool afterward. Arrange interesting ideas for them to burn free time. These get really old really fast. If you can coordinate some cool down time activities, you'll be a hero. Happy Suppliers= more sales.
Bottom line- This is money spent you'll have a very hard time justifying or tracking. The direct sales are pretty few and far between. If you view this as a "thank you for your continued business" and make it fun, your business just might grow as a result.