Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Your dissenting opinion may be the key to engagement

Are you an affable, dependable, smiling well-groomed, honest and conscientious salesperson? That's good, but it's just not enough. You may be missing out on engagement. In this new era of social media, we are always discussing engagement. In those circles, engagement is the back and forth dialogue with the people that read your blog, twitter feed etc. The term has certainly been co-opted by the new mediums, but what does it mean in a one-on-one sales call?

Engagement is simple but very telling. It is a conversation. It can be small talk all the way up to real conversations about sales. Being that we are in the wine industry, we are surrounded by educated, intelligent, opinion spewing machines we call wine geeks. Wine geeks want to know how you feel about certain things, film, music art often will flow through conversations and a little friendly ribbing can be acceptable. When it comes to wine, however, many salespeople will be diplomats and start answering questions like they're on the witness stand. They are slightly uncomfortable with having a candid conversation and issuing a real opinion. Why do some salespeople close up the opinion shop when asked? Simple-Bad Training!

Many sales training professionals advise us to be aloof, vanilla, never controversial. This works great when you're taking an order for The Cheesecake Factory, but when you go to Joe's Underground Geek Wine Emporium, you better have an opinion to back up your TJ Maxxx tie. Your credibility as a sales rep will be made or broken depending on your opinions about all wine geek things. If you have an opinion, you'd better share it and back it up. If you don't have an opinion, you should probably ask for a different route.
This is engagement. This is the real back and forth between wine professionals besides the rote: weather kids, economy conversations. And with many accounts, its in these margins where you will succeed or fail.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Yeah, I get it, the Prisoner has escaped.

November is the time of year when limited release products are often unveiled. This is not a coincidence. This is when consumers buying expensive wine seems commonplace. Great hype often surrounds the trumpeted and rare opportunity to buy velvet lined boxes of something. One of the great scams/ marketing genius moves of all time was released just last week: The Prisoner.
*As a side note, I have many friends and colleagues that buy and sell this wine with great success, and I know many consumers that have enjoyed it over the years, this is simply a commentary not on the wine, but how powerful marketing can be.

The concept is simple: The wine is a Napa Blend primarily of Zinfandel, all purchased fruit. There is Cab and Charbono in the blend as well. The wine is released, a la Beaujolais Nouveau on a set date, November 1, to great pomp and circumstance. This seemingly limited wine is pre-sold like you just won't be able to get it. The label is quite attractive, and the entire package feels special. It gets a Napa Valley appellation and it's $35. Here's the thing: they make 70,000 cases of this one wine. What does that mean in relative terms? 70,000 cases makes them bigger than 95% of the bonded wineries in California, just from one wine. Strictly from a production standpoint, this is a very un-rare wine. So how does a winery that produces so many cases, maintain the aura of being special and rare? Marketing.
Rule #1: The label matters. This hand drawn label looks like it belongs in the ranks of the wines of Sine Qua Non.
Rule #2: Mystery. The proprietary name,along with idea of a mysterious blend is intriguing
Rule #3 Score. This wine has received some nice press by placing James Laube's palate right in their cross hairs. A little American Oak and Cab to
spice up their Zin, and Laube all of a sudden likes this more than most Sonoma Zins (wonder why?). Oh, that would typically get you about 92 points
Rule #4 Price. $35 seems like a lot of money for a Zin based blend. Comparative pricing puts it about the sames as Ridge single vineyard bottlings. But this isn't a wine for serious Zin people. It's a wine for people that think that a blend is something to shop for. Therefore, this is expensive, but not too expensive. This is really the sweet spot for less serious wine drinkers trying to step up.

Rule #5-Perceived scarcity-Can I just one more time say 70,000 cases!!! They have told the people that want to buy their wine what they want them to believe, that this is a limited availability wine. This is Disney and their DVD vault all over again.
Rule #6-Place is important. As long as it says Napa.

The marketing minds behind this wine have done an incredible job of selling through this wine, much to the delight of many, many people. If you happen to produce an actual limited amount of wine and are having a tough time selling through your production, there is much to learn from this example. I would not recommend trying to replicate this model as it is built on a bit of hype over reality. That's always a tough strategy for long term growth, but an excellent way to entice some sucker into backing a truckload of money up your driveway.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Looking for affirmation from critics can be infuriating

Last Friday, the new erobertparker issue was released. I quickly scanned through it,as this part of my job. I had ups and downs throughout the issue. Some reviews I agreed with, some I disagreed with, and some just confused me. But I actually had an epiphany reading through these. Frankly, I may be slow to figure this out, the reason why we're all over critics-because they don't automatically affirm what we think we know.
When we scan the reviews in Spectator, or Parker, we already have a predisposed opinion about many wines. Of these wines, we have taken the time to determine how we feel about them, sometimes our bias is thrown because we have skin in the game i.e.: money or income. Sometimes it's simply because we have developed an affinity for a producer. When we see a review that doesn't go along with what we think they should be, it's tremendously frustrating.
Think about when one of the wines you love gets a great review. You all of a sudden feel redeemed. You feel like you picked out this diamond in the rough before anyone could discover. It's like you're frickin' Magellan. Feels awesome. What about when you taste a wines that you've never had before that one of the rags had dropped a 94 on? You're hypercritical, unless of course it winds up in your portfolio and you get to sell it.
Ultimately, we're all human. Try not to let your bias (you do have one whether you know it or not) get in the way. The reality is a review is just one person's attempted unbiased opinion (James Laube aside). In most cases, if this was a jury, you wouldn't make the cut, you have too much prejudice about the matter. If you really want to bag on the critics, take the truly biased ones to task first.

Isn't there some sort of line about judging not lest ye be judged? Yeah, this applies.