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HOW TO BE A WINE SALES REP

Thoughts on Selling Wine to Stores and Restaurants
by
Gerald Weisl
wine merchant

Selling wine to shops and restaurants is not rocket science.

In fact, you need not know THAT much about wine to be able to sell it successfully, but a few "smarts" in the sales department are certainly helpful!

We have a few customers who shop here regularly that are employed by NASA.  And we've asked them, "Do you guys ever look at each other and say, 'You know, this isn't wine sales!' ?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

LEARNING SOMETHING ABOUT WINE

It can be helpful to a sales rep if they actually KNOW something about the products they are selling.  They might actually be able to sell more if they have good product knowledge.

We have seen, however, the sales rep who is knowledgeable and passionate about wine has become a thing of the past.  Many of the sales reps for the large distributors don't even drink wine on a regular basis.

The best way to learn about wine is by tasting it.  Some sales reps routinely congregate and participate in blind-tastings.  Some of them even come to our little tasting sessions, seeking to learn more about wine.

Living in Northern California affords people the opportunity to go visit wineries and, hopefully, to taste at the source.

There are plenty of good books that are clearly written and can be very helpful to those looking for fountains of wine knowledge.

Here are some suggestions:

Kevin Zraly's book is updated regularly and was written to educate staffers in the Windows on the World restaurant in New York.  It is very basic, but well done.


Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine has great wine region maps and tons of good information.  You can get a good over-view of every major wine-producing area, as well as lots of minor locales.

Hugh Johnson also did a wonderful series of videos called "VINTAGE."   This is also worth your time to view.

A sales rep who's had our account for his company for about 6 months told me the other day that he's been hesitant to call on us since "you know so much about wine and I know very little."
Wow...that's sad.  All you have to do is check to see if we need to reorder your merchandise and bring in wines from good producers, open the bottles, pour the wine for us and answer this question:  "How much does this cost?"
It's really not that difficult.

A gal who called on us a decade ago made contact via Facebook...she's in a totally different industry, got married and moved to another state.  "Oh my," she wrote, "I was so intimidated by you at first.  But then I saw you're a really nice and thoughtful gentleman with a heart of gold."



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Most distributors and brokers are either not interested in training staff members about wine, or they simply cannot afford to do so.

Even more sadly, not many reps are schooled in "sales."

A rep from one distributor blamed her lack of skills using a corkscrew with the fact that the wine she'd brought in for us to taste was the "first bottle" she's "had to open for tasting with a customer" in her three years of employment!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SHOWING UP IS ONE MAJOR KEY TO SUCCESS

You may have heard that "Showing up is 80% of success."  It's been said for sales reps in general, not necessarily wine reps, that you have to visit an account about eight or ten times before you can expect to make a sale!

The large firms expect their reps to call on most accounts on a "regular" basis.   Some reps consider a "regular" basis to be once a month or every other month.  If you need to make ten visits before taking an order, you're in for nearly a year without a commission!

If you're serious about your job, you ought to consider calling on accounts on a weekly basis until you get a sense of the account.  This gets you "known" to the buyer and staff members.  
Believe it or not, if staff members see you're serious about selling your products, they become more serious about suggesting them to customers!

After two or three months (and your first few sales), you ought to have a handle on the frequency of sales calls required.  It's been said that "success breeds success."  One bigwig with a large distributor pointed out that sales reps tend to spend more time in accounts where they're doing well.  There are reasons to do this, certainly, but a rep might find it a good idea to keep "planting seeds" in barren ground because you never know when some business might start to sprout and blossom into something equally successful.

A successful sales rep suggested knowing the "rhythm" of the account.  He points out calling on a place every week, when they don't require that much service is not efficient.  I concur with this rep, but also would say that each and every sales call doesn't have to have an order as part of the equation for the visit to be successful.  Sometimes  when you're not taking an order, you might show the account new products in hopes of planting seeds for future business.

When you first get your sales job, you should contact the buyer.
Doing this in person is a good idea, as it will take the buyer several visits before they even remember your name and what company you are affiliated with.


We received a call from a rep who introduced herself on the phone, taking over from the previous guy.  He made but one call here and made a nice sale, too.  His predecessor was one who never showed up with great regularity and it, apparently, hasn't dawned on this guy that 75% of his visits resulted in an order and that more frequent stops might have generated more business for him (he shows up every three to six months, typically).  Three weeks after the "new" rep has phoned, we still have not met her face-to-face.  She sent along a fax telling about some promotional pricing.  We called to ask if she was planning to stop by.  She was and arrived a few hours later.  Busy working on a project, I was summoned by the staff here to meet the new rep.  It took me several minutes (about 4 or 5) to finish my project and when I arrived on the sales floor, I found this lady sitting on a wine box playing with the box of Lego's we have out front for kids to play with while Mom and Dad are shopping for wine.  This made a wonderful impression.

One fellow shows up sporadically.  One year he did not pay a single visit to our account during the Christmas holidays.  When queried he said "Parking is such a hassle during the holidays, so I try to stay at home!"  Needless to say, his sales suffered.  (Parenthetically, during the course of the 2003 holiday season, this same rep was more difficult to find than Osama Bin Laden.)  During the 2004 Christmas season, this fellow was, as usual, nowhere to be found.  He sent a note saying he's on vacation from December 22 until the 29th.  Given that we haven't seen him since well before Thanksgiving, I'd say he's on vacation for pretty much all of December!  The fellow works for another wine company these days...we saw him in October of 2011 and expressed an interest in tasting a particular wine.  As of mid-April 2012, we've not seen him!

A new sales rep was dragged in by the "boss" of a small distributorship or brokerage.  They have all kinds of expensive wines masquerading as something special or exclusive.  He handed us a current catalogue and we expressed interest in a handful of items.
"I'll try to come by in a couple of weeks." he told us.
A good sales rep would not wait a couple of weeks, fearing the buyer might find someone else's products for their racks or display!
This fellow DID finally show up.  Four weeks later and we were busy with a marketing seminar for some students from France.  He told our associate "I'll try to stop back by one day when I am next in the area."
We won't be holding our breath!


Don't visit the account and take up valuable customer parking!
We often see sales reps driving up to our front door and availing themselves of a vacant parking space.  If you are parked there, where does a paying customer park?  If the customers can't get to the place, the store or restaurant will not need your products, will they?  We are often viewed with disdain by sales reps when we ask them to be more considerate of our customers.

But please:


Imagine if a restaurant parking lot was filled with cars from the owner of the place, the chef and kitchen crew, wait staff, dish-washers, etc.  Where are the customers supposed to park if the parking is taken up by staff members?

If sales reps preclude customers from finding a near-the-door spot, can you please understand why we don't appreciate seeing you park in front?
We routinely hear from customers "I tried stopping by the other day, but there was no parking on your block!"

A rep parked in front and we noticed this and asked "Say, if you're going to park there, where should a customer park?"
"Oh...would you like me to move my car?"
"Would you please?"  And he did.
Ten minutes later, a sales rep pulls in front and she puts a couple of coins in the meter and rolls in with her bag of tricks.
"Say, if you're going to park there, where should a customer park?" we asked.
"You know, I didn't see a sign on the parking meter pole reading 'Weimax Customers Only'."
Wow...
She continued:  "You mean that meter there?  The one I put money in?"
I reached into my pocket and asked how much she needed, 25 cents or 50 cents.
"No, I don't need your money!" 
I realized this was a lost cause, and I still tasted her wines, even though she did not move her car.










One sales rep from a large, liquor-oriented house did not make sales calls for several weeks.  We politely asked him "How was your vacation?" as we figured he was either on holiday or in the hospital.  "It was wonderful!" he exclaimed.  He might have done well to tell us he was leaving for vacation and with whom to place orders during his absence.  Of course, this is crediting the fellow with more smarts than he possesses!

I noticed a sales rep in the doorway one busy day and was glad to see him, since we needed a few of his wines.  Much later in the day we realized we had not caught up with this fellow and so we called.  He explained that we "looked kind of busy and I didn't want to wait, so I left."

We received an invitation to one of 4 dining opportunities from a small import company rep.  His boss was coming to town and they wanted to showcase their wines in the company of good food.  We were unable to attend any of these events (they're rarely a chance to have a clear 'look' at the wines, for one thing).  We had not heard from the sales rep for nearly three weeks and when he finally called, we asked where he'd been.  It seems his week with the boss was an adequate excuse for not stopping by or even picking up the phone (as he usually does anyway) to see if we need to replenish any of his products.  One of his floor-stacks has since been taken over by a competitor's wine.


One rep with a spotty attendance record took an 18 case order on day.  We had some of his wines in our newsletter.  He did not show up to see the buyer for more than a month when we sent his firm an e-mail suggesting "regular" sales calls, either weekly or every-other-week.
The manager of the firm wrote back saying "I'll discuss this with the rep."  A week went by and we still had not heard from this fellow.
In an attempt to gently spur him into regular sales calls, we put his picture on the side of a milk carton.

Happily this guy has a good sense of humor and got a chuckle out his his new-found notoriety.


One sales rep has a routine litany of excuses as to why he cannot make his weekly sales call.
We have been told he has "car trouble," "back trouble" (this, I suspect, is due to his boss kicking him in the butt on a routine basis, but I don't know for sure) or "the wine I was bringing to show you today is corked."
Having noted these three excuses, I have noticed he seems to usually cite on of these cases about once a month.
One day I was intending to survey the staff to elicit their "bets" as to whether or not one of these would come into play that week.  But before I could ask them, the fellow phoned to say he was having car trouble and wouldn't be able to make it by the shop.
His boss was amused by the frequent citation of "corked wine" as a reason not to come by, saying "Gee, half the sample bottles I just gave him have screw caps!"

We don't have "appointments," since we're a small shop and, in our mind, customers come first.
But some buyers DO have appointments.  I spoke with a restaurateur who had made an appointment with a sales rep, but the rep didn't show up.  The rep did not call, either.  Since then, this fellow has not purchased, nor will he purchase, any wines from that particular winery.
In fairness, however, it must be pointed out that many restaurant buyers have the notion they are "God's Gift to the wine industry" and routinely do not keep appointments they have made with sales people.  This is equally rude, of course.  One salesman tells of making a trip to a particular "corner" of his territory for a restaurateur who is notoriously missing-in-action for her "appointments."  When he's traveled 30 to 60 minutes to be there for an appointment and the buyer is suddenly "AWOL," you can imagine the frustration on the part of the sales rep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
SIZE UP THE ACCOUNT.

You should peruse the shop or wine list.
See what wines they sell.

Do they feature mainstream, run-of-the-mill wines or do they have a varied selection?
Where do your wines fit in?

Watch how the store operates!  Do sales clerks sit behind the cash register or watch TV or are they actively stocking the displays and speaking to customers?

Is the shop one that relies upon "canned" point-of-sale materials (signs, reviews, numerical point scores, medals, etc.) or are they passionate about the wines they feature because THEY LIKE THEM?

Some stores expect the sales people to do virtually ALL the work.  Stock the bins.  Keep the bottles polished and, while you're at it, sweep the floor.

Our shop is a wine specialty place.  Some accounts in a sales rep's territory are grocery stores, liquor stores or convenience stores.  Yet distributorships routinely send out their reps to try to sell us items we don't have a prayer of successfully selling as though every account is identical.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
SURVEY YOUR PRODUCTS !!!

When you arrive in a shop or restaurant, a good sales rep should attempt to make the easiest sale possible: the repeat sale!

This means you ought to cruise around to see how the wines they already have from your firm are selling.  Have they sold out?  Are they in need of a re-order? 

You ought to have a list of what wines they have of yours and survey the place to see what items are "low" in stock.

Is the display filled?  Is it neat and orderly?

Years ago, one firm used to arm its sales reps with a feather duster.  We don't see this any longer, but having the bottles clean and presentable to customers is a great idea.  Bottles with several layers of dirt or dust on them are less likely to be brought to the cash register.

We appreciate it if reps notice that their items are in need of re-ordering or, for example, a particular wine we have in stock is not displayed...

One sales rep came in and set her briefcase on top of an empty display box.  The floorstack featured a wine in her portfolio.  But she never would look around the shop to see if any of her wines were prominently displayed.  She asked, "Need anything?" and walked out without ever noticing her empty stack of wine boxes!

Some stores have newsletters, newspaper ads or websites, yet few sales reps think to ask how to get their merchandise positioned or featured in these venues.

We conduct sit-down blind-tastings.  Yet it's only one or two sharp sales reps who even inquire if we'd consider including their wines in these competitive tastings!  Nobody even looks to see what events we're organizing.  Should a wine win a tasting and be priced within reason to attract customers, future sales can be made!

One sales rep determined that since we would not be "tasting" any new wines for the holiday season, there was virtually no reason to stop by the shop from Thanksgiving through New Years!  It seems the concept of our re-ordering wines already in the store, is a foreign one.

One rep, whom we had not seen in more than three weeks, finally stopped by.  She thanked us for making her "Sales Rep of the Year" for two different items in her firm's portfolio.
We are amused by this, since she doesn't stop by with any regularity, nor does she routinely bring in new wines for the staff to taste.
Apparently, she's not able to "connect the dots" and think to have more floor-stacked items in our shop.
The same rep now has a rather good Champagne to sell.  We've even purchased some from her.  She might make note on her calendar as to when New Year's is celebrated, as the week before this rather active Champagne-selling date, the rep neglected to call or stop by.  We would have ordered a few boxes from her had she done so.
Finally, her company gave the account to another, more capable sales rep.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DON'T ASK THE CUSTOMER "WHAT'S NEW?"
You're the one who's there to sell!

What new items do you have to "Show & Tell"?

While a large number of places make buying decisions based upon numerical point scores and reviews from various journals, it's certainly a good idea to pull the cork on some bottles and show the buyer some new items.   This allows the buyer (who probably also works on the sales floor) to suggest a wine with greater confidence having tasted it for himself or herself.

Some of the distributors have several thousand wines in their catalogues.  Others have but a hundred or so.

Yet we see many sales reps who show up "without a bat in their hands," yet they expect to take a few "swings."  Pablo Sandoval doesn't come to the plate empty-handed!

You ought to have a small "cellar" in your sales wagon, complete with insulated cooler.  If you don't bring in anything new to show, how do you expect to make new placements???

Some of the distributors in California have thousands of different wines to offer One firm's rep arrives on a weekly basis and yet almost never has even a single bottle to show.  This individual presumes I know everything in their portfolio and since I attend their annual trade tasting, what more could I possibly be interested in?   Even though the catalogue is printed every month or two, showcasing NEW items, this lady never thinks to bring bottles by the shop for "show & tell."  The same can be said for a fellow who works for a smaller importer...they have new arrivals highlighted every MONTH in their price list, but it's a rare day he even asks if we would like to have a look at anything new.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
PRESENTING YOUR WARES

You ought to keep a detailed record of what items you present to the buyer and what their reaction is to them.

Bring in a series of wines, but you ought to have a range of items that don't compete with each other.

Open the bottles and do so neatly.
Don't leave a bunch of foil capsules on the table or counter!
I routinely have to clean up after sales reps...we were shocked on day when a fellow neatly cut the foil tops and pocketed them.  Bob congratulated the fellow on being so professional.  Few people think to be so courteous.

Have a sniff of your wines to detect any corked or flawed bottles.
A wine marketing company rep arrived one day to show us some new releases.  We declared one bottle of their offerings to be "corked" and flawed.
"Hey, someone else said exactly the same thing at our last stop!"
If your bottle is corked, please consider opening a second bottle.
Please consider bringing a set of back-up bottles if they're available...


Pour the wines in an order that gives you a chance to make a sale!

Most sales reps start with dry whites, moving towards sweeter whites...then to light reds and, finally, heavy reds.
Sometimes you might benefit from pouring the reds before the whites (the whites will taste more balanced after tannic, young reds).

Don't pour heavily-oaked reds before lightly-oaked or non-oaked reds.

It's best to "zig and zag" in terms of tasting order.  This concept is lost on most people, but:
If the wines you're presenting are in linear order, better to present them in dry-to-sweet, light-to-heavy format.  

But if you have a line-up of radically differently styled wines, each wine can show well if you pour them in such a fashion as to have the greatest contrast of style between each wine.  Using this method, you would not, for example, pour two heavily oaked wines back-to-back.  You would, for example, pour a non-oaked white, followed by an oaky white, followed by a non-oaked, more intensely aromatic white.  And then, perhaps, another wine with oak after that.

And a savvy buyer will then go back and re-taste, seeing if the wines show as well tasted randomly.

And, please, refrain from using perfume, cologne or aftershave....if your customers are going to swirl, sniff, sip & spit your wares, they won't have a clear view of your products if you're smelling like the perfume counter at Macy's.
((You wouldn't think this would be an issue, but it often is...and keep in mind, if your clothes have been laundered in aromatic soap, they might 'smell'.  If you throw those 'fabric softener' sheets into the dryer, those will make your clothes stink to high heaven with their fragrance, so don't use them!))

We often see sales reps who arrive un-prepared!
BE SURE YOU HAVE A CORKSCREW!
BE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR SALES NOTEBOOK!!
BE SURE YOU HAVE A PRICE LIST !!!
BE SURE YOU HAVE SOMETHING WITH WHICH TO WRITE DOWN THE ORDER !!!


We can tell you of one sales rep who's been calling on us for about 2 years.  This individual has a 50+ page catalogue with printing the size of the type in the phone book.  Yet we cannot remember when the last time this person brought in some bottles to taste and evaluate in hopes of INITIATING NEW BUSINESS.  The distributor does not ask sales reps to pay, for example, for samples.

The district manager of a large firm knew we wanted to taste the new vintage of a particularly famous Cabernet.
"Gee, you need to taste that?  Doesn't that sell by itself?" she asked.
We politely explained that we are not the checker at the nearby grocery store, nor are we the guy behind the counter at 7-11 and "Yes, we DO need to taste those sorts of wines, please."

KNOW HOW MANY BOTTLES ARE IN A CASE!
Some wines come in 6-pack boxes.  If a buyer requests a case, you might clarify whether they want 12 bottles.
We had a situation where a wine had been coming in 12-pack format and suddenly these were in 6 bottle boxes.  Too bad the sales rep didn't know about this ahead of time, as we had to return the entire order and start over to purchase 36 bottles, not the 18 we'd originally received.
This cost the distributorship some money, because they had to pay the trucking company to return the original order.
This is because they could not ship the additional 18 bottles at the properly discounted pricing and getting a "credit" for the correct pricing takes longer than 30 days.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A BASIC QUESTION POSED BY THE BUYER

"How much is this wine?"


And you know, many sales reps don't know the answer to that simple question.

Why not take a moment and memorize the prices?
Why not place a sticker on each bottle with the price and quantity discounts?

Of course, California is the Wild, Wild West.
Here sales reps often have multiple sales "schemes" someone has concocted under the guise of "marketing."
Some companies offer "combo" buys at special pricing (buy 1 case of this and for a few bucks more, you'll get 3 bottles of that).
California still allows different prices for the same item, same quantity depending upon whether the customer is an off-premise (store/internet retailer) or on-premise (restaurant) account.
One rep had a Napa Merlot.  $280/case to a store, while the winery was willing to sell the same identical case to a restaurant account for $120!
(( The notion is the restaurant will have greater incentive to offer such a wine, making a relative 'killing' by selling the wine for a huge margin, whereas a store should be charged a higher price to keep them from offering it to customers "too cheaply" and, thereby, "tarnishing" the image of that brand. ))
A famous Cabernet producer offers its Alexander Valley bottling for $560 per case on a small purchase, but if a store buys ten cases, they'll offer the wine for $480/case.  Some restaurant buyers have said they can purchase the same wine for $450/case if they purchase two or three boxes.
One Napa vintner asks stores to pay $250/case for its California Chardonnay, but restaurant accounts can get this wine for $180/case.
We're asked to pay $312/case for a famous Russian River Chardonnay, but our friends in restaurants can buy the same wine for $216 per case.  The same vintner produces a Napa Cabernet.  $408 for a store.  The same wine costs a restaurant $240 if they buy two boxes.
$576 for a box of single-vineyard Chardonnay from a so-called "celebrity" winemaker to a shop.  The same wine is offered to restaurant accounts for $436/case.

--

One fellow routinely is unprepared to make a sales call.  He rarely knows the prices of the four or five wines he is presenting.  We have politely suggested affixing a sticker to the bottles with the pricing info and he routinely laughs at this suggestion.  But this fellow has misquoted pricing, causing us to send back wines because he did not know the correct price!
One time he blew a sale because he quoted too high of a price.  Only after the staff had tasted and ruled out a wine as costing too much did he check to see the wine could have been a floor-stacked item.  But it was too late by then.  Ouch!!

Some accounts love to hear the word "discount."  We've often thought the discounted price is what virtually all accounts pay, so we are most interested to know "What's your best price and how do we arrive at that?"  But some stores and restaurants think a discount is something nobody else gets, so they won't buy an item unless there is some sort of price reduction.  Even if they were offered Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $20 a bottle, they wouldn't buy it.  But they would buy it if told "It costs $2400 a case but you get a hundred dollar discount for buying two cases."
A good sales rep should figure out who they're dealing with and how best to present the wine and its pricing.

A sales rep presented a line-up of wines.  I valued one as worth stocking should it retail for less than $40.  The sales rep told me the wine retailed for $50, so our staffers were not shown the wine.  I asked if they had a new sales catalogue, since I had not seen him in five weeks.  He had to run out to his car for a price list (why bring one with you, after all??),  After he departed, I perused the list and noticed the wine WAS AVAILABLE FOR LESS THAN $40!  I immediately phoned him and he told me he had poured me the "new" $50 vintage.  I asked him to stop the car and have a look in his samples bag.  Sure enough!  He poured me the previous vintage, the $37 Cabernet.  He lost a sale because he did not pay attention to details such as the correct price of his wares.

Imagine how embarrassed one might be at having to return to an account to tell them the price you quoted them last week was wrong, the wine this vintage costing 15% more.
Why this fellow is so sloppy about verifying the pricing information can only be explained thusly:
"He's a knucklehead."

A winery rep stopped by and presented her business card saying "I'll bet you that you've never heard of our winery!"  I looked at the card and replied "You'd have lost that bet...I tasted your wines for the first time about three years ago."  She and the distributor sales guy adjourned to the tasting room one busy morning.  I had six wines to evaluate.  The first was a non-descript Sauvignon Blanc.  After finding some character in the second white wine I inquired as to its price.
"Oh, I can't quote prices." said the winery gal.
I questioned this and continued tasting, finally thanking them for coming.
"Well, what did you think?" she asked.
I explained I tasted wines professionally and that without knowing the prices, how could I evaluate these for possible selection for the shop?  I was annoyed that no pricing information was offered, so I did not know if these were five dollar bottles, ten dollar bottles, twenty dollar wines, or what.
Seeing I was a bit frustrated by her lack of cooperation, she finally blurted out, to the penny, the wholesale bottle price of each wine.
Too late, though, as I would have preferred to know these as I was tasting to see if anything, perhaps, would find a home in the shop.  A couple of wines were candidates, but got disqualified by a most silly and unprofessional winery rep.


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ASK FOR THE SALE !!!

Most sales reps have not been trained to "make" a sale.

Most are merely "order takers."  Lots of reps arrive in a store to ask the buyer, "How's your XYZ Chardonnay?"  And, in this day of computerized inventories, many of the "sales calls" made by reps entails their transcribing a recitation of product codes and quantities.  Being "pro active" and "making a sale" are far from what these people actually do!

Take the road blocks out of the way!

A good sales rep might show a buyer some wines and then ask which ones are appealing enough for them to buy.  The attentive rep will have his or her ears open to objections voiced by the would-be buyer and will work to overcome these road blocks.

And just because the buyer didn't pull the trigger right then and there does not mean they have no use for your product.
We often taste wines which are suitable for sale in our shop, but we may not have a display space open at that very moment.  I have saved empty bottles of things we've tasted with the intention of buying them.  But most sales reps figure their moment of opportunity is open on their schedule, not the store's!  This is another reason to make regular appearances in a shop.  You'll want to "get in the loop" of sales.  Who knows?  You might just show up when they're sold out of a product similar to the one you pitched them on a few weeks before!
That's why you'll want to keep a notebook with information regarding previous sales calls.

We attended a "trade tasting" and even saw the fellow who is the sales rep for our account.  There were a number of wines we felt were worthy of purchase and we made a list of these as we reviewed the wines we tasted.  The tasting was held on a Thursday.   The sales rep neglected to follow up the day after the tasting and we figured we'd hear from him by Monday or Tuesday, at the latest.  As I write this, it's two full weeks since that event and we have not heard a peep from the salesman.  Meanwhile, we've written our summer wine-letter and included, of course, none of his wines.  In this instance, the rep must be independently wealthy to be able to ignore an eager and serious wine buyer for such a long period of time. Remember the old adage: "Out of sight, out of mind."  And in this case, to describe the sales rep: "Out of his mind."  Or "lazy."  Take your pick.

We recently had a visit from a small company.  I didn't notice if their pants were on fire, frankly, since I was paying more attention to the five or six wines they'd brought in for us to sample.  My two associates were busy tasting and I had finished, having gone to check a tasting note from a recent trip to Europe.  I was assisting a customer and the two fellows visiting us were intent on heading out the door.  I looked at them and waved as they sauntered out, presumably to douse the invisible flames burning their trousers.  Neither one was patient enough to wait until I was finished handing a customer some change and his bottle of wine, so they missed my ordering $600 worth of wine from them!


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PLACE THE ORDER IMMEDIATELY !!!

We think it's usually a good idea to write down the customer's order.  Not every sales rep does this, but it sure is easier to get the order to the customer if you recall exactly what they ordered and any special delivery instructions.

One sales rep became angry with us when we called her, seven weeks after placing an order which never showed up.  She asked why we hadn't contacted her sooner and we explained the order was entirely items we like, but items that customers don't ask for every day.  We suggested she stop by more regularly, perhaps every two weeks.  She bluntly told us "I don't call on my big accounts but once a month."  Not surprisingly, her firm (she's a co-owner) has lost many brands the past two years.   A former restaurant buyer told us he had guaranteed this sales lady a 5 case order each visit if she would stop by on a weekly basis.  She would not, much to his amazement.

One local rep works for a modest-sized importer of Italian and Austrian wines.  We were delighted to know she's able to get for us wines from some friends in Italy.  The local humungous distributor isn't willing to stock these esoteric wines, but they are delighted to have them special ordered, hit the warehouse and then be shipped immediately to us.  We placed an order and the wines arrived, no problem.  We re-ordered a month or so later.  We were told these would arrive in three weeks.  After seven weeks, we sent her a note inquiring if this wine would be arriving sometime soon.  It seems the wine HAS been at the warehouse, but since I am unaware of it being there, I've relied upon the importer's representative to either send the wine or tell me "It's here!"
It seems she's been relying on one of the people at this distributor to keep constantly checking on the arrival of this product.
The woman then sent me this lovely note:
"As much as I would love to put orders in for all accounts in California, my job responsibility does not allow me to. I can certainly get the order in from Chicago but the distributor is responsible there after. if you are not getting satisfactory service from this firm, I suggest you take it up with their management."
I believe this is what's called "passing the buck."

The same lady hosted a wine tasting during the summer.  She solicited orders from customers for some of the wines featured at the tasting.  We ordered six or seven different wines.  By the end of the year these wines still have not been shipped to us.  We know they are sitting in the warehouse.  But, since this sales rep can't be bothered to be certain the wines are shipped from the distributor to the customer, it seems these boxes will remain in custody of the delivery firm.

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STOP BY, DON'T PHONE
=Or=
(Phone, Don't Stop By)

It's very difficult to "taste" and "evaluate" wines over the phone, so we think an in-person sales call is best.  Further, this allows the sales rep to bring in bottles to taste and they can have a look around the shop to see what's sold.

Some lazy reps think calling on the phone is sufficient in making a sales call.  They should keep in mind the buyer may be occupied with other sales reps, or better yet, customers!

And some sales reps will sit in their office playing "dialing for dollars."  If you have something urgent or can save the account some money (or make them some money), then you might phone to have a word with the buyer.  But if your calls are bothersome or unnecessary, then the buyer may be "unavailable" when you call in the future.

And please don't "count" a phone conversation as an official sales call!  It's not the same as visiting the store in person.  Some distributor bosses call this "face time."  They prefer their sales crew see buyers "face to face."

In speaking with other buyers---some tell me they actually prefer to NOT see sales reps on a frequent basis.  You need to figure out which buyers are going to pick up the phone and call you and which ones require an "in-the-flesh" sales visit.

I routinely get sales calls from a couple of reps (in particular) who have nothing to do on Fridays, the busiest day of the week in our shop.  The net effect is, instead of the rep politely waiting their "turn," they barge in by phone.

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WHEN YOU'RE WAITING TO SEE THE BUYER, SPEND YOUR TIME WISELY

We notice many sales reps who are waiting for their moment with the buyer will immediately strike up a conversation with other sales reps.  This is time that could best be spent trying to make a sale.  When you're chatting with other reps in a shop, that's time you could have spent poking around and surveying the bins, racks and displays to see if your merchandise is in need of a re-order.  Though I have our inventory on the computer, we may have neglected to display some of your merchandise.  If it doesn't come up on my suggested purchase order, I'm not likely to order more.  If we don't have it displayed, for example, it's not likely to sell and it's probably not going to pop up as an item to re-order since we're not doing a good job of exposing the wine to our customers.  You can help by seeing that your products are available for sale.

A successful sales rep told me he often "networks" with other reps while waiting to see the buyer.  He says this is helpful in learning what's going on at some accounts, for example.  He might get a tip that a particular account is looking for a certain type of wine which he might have.  Or that the buyer from a particular restaurant is no longer at that establishment, but has surfaced at another place.  

Further, when actual paying customers hit the front door of a shop and see a bunch of sales reps standing around, arms folded while they're "waiting", those folks often turn on their heels and head out the door.  They don't know you're a sales rep and are there to sell.  You look like a customer who's waiting impatiently.  That means they will be waiting even longer.  And many customers have less patience than wine sales reps!

You may have seen the mention of a sales rep we first met while she was playing with the Lego's set out for little kids to play with while Mom & Dad are looking at wines.  Needless to say, this doesn't make for a particularly positive impression with staffers or the buyer!

A sales rep had a "ride with" who patiently stood by as we conducted out business.  It was a lengthy order and the fellow had to wait a half hour, or so, before we were ready to hear his sales pitch.
When he was "up to bat" it turned out he'd left the bottles to be tasted out in the car...so the regular sales rep and I waited a couple of minutes for this fellow to go to his vehicle and retrieve his bottles...
And when he returned he could find only one of the two "important" bottles he was intending to show!
The moral of that story:  Check your bag BEFORE you leave the house!
And when ordering samples of a new vintage, please check to see the company sent you the new vintage.
I can't tell you how often they'll send you the last bottles of the old, sold-out vintage.


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ANTAGONIZING THE BUYER USUALLY ISN'T A GOOD IDEA

One sales rep told us "You just don't want to buy wine from me!"  We explained that wasn't true, we DID want to buy wine from her.  Unfortunately, many of the wines we wanted to buy were allocated to other customers.
She told us "You're a cherry picker!"
We explained we HAD purchased a couple of non "cherry picker" wines.
She responded "Well, those are good wines and good values."
"Bingo!" we exclaimed.  "Yes, good wine and good value.  That is why our customers come to shop in our store."

Every buyer is a "cherry picker."  Most are looking for wines they think will make their customers happy enough to return for more bottles.

One firm is of a mind that allowing customers to taste their wines is not a good idea.  They believe selling wine is "all about relationships."  This outfit does not print a price list.  Not even a list of wines they have to sell is available.  Nor is a listing of what brands they represent!
We made the grave mistake of trying to learn what they actually have to sell.  In doing so, we deeply offended the sales representative by sending a note to one of their wineries which stated "Maybe you find it curious that your importer prefers your customers to guess what wines of your they may have for sale, rather than presenting them a list of your products."  Unfortunately, the winery shared this with the importer who called us up to say he'd never, ever, never, ever sell us another bottle of wine as long as he lived (and then he slammed the phone down!).

We placed an order with the area manager who was standing in for the vacationing sales rep.
We asked for two cases of Domaine XYZ's Chardonnay.
"You and everybody else wants that wine.  Sorry...no can do." she told us.
We have had Domaine XYZ's wine in the shop, a modest quality $19.99 bottle of wine.  When we explained how we like to be able to accommodate our customers, rather than have to send them elsewhere, this young lady told us:
"Well, the good news is they're not going to find it anywhere else."
I found it that evening while grocery shopping, a three case floorstack being prominently displayed not far from the lemons and grapefruits!
The next day, having replaced a display with another firm's product of similar quality, the manager returned to announce:
"Good News!  We have five cases of XYZ's wine for you!!!"
Of course, what this person should have said at the outset was "Let me check on the availability of that for you" rather than her arrogant "Get in line with the rest of the world, buddy!" statement.
A post-script: This, apparently, was not an isolated instance and her firm fired her several weeks afterwards.
She did find a new position with a small Napa vintner.   It will be interesting to see how long she hangs on to that job.  We wish her well, of course.
Addendum:  The answer to the previous question is "less than a year."

A winery rep stopped by, at our request.  We tasted the new releases and inquired about a case of their Cabernet in magnum-sized bottles.
"Oh, we have only 50 cases for Northern California," she explained.  "Five are for charities and the other 45 are for good customers, so I'll have to see if I can get you a case."
This same rep handed me her business card and said "Now, here's my card.  Please don't call me more than once a quarter."
She did not last more than a year with the winery, by the way.

One sales rep works for a company with a particularly rare wine.  We've usually been graced with the opportunity to buy some of these wines.
For one reason or another, last November we were not "privileged."  I asked the fellow about the new release and he hemmed and hawed.
Knowing he's not gone to bat for us, he has simply stopped showing up.
We even called to ask if we were invited to his company's tasting recently and he returned the call saying "Please come."  And we did.  Tasted a number of wines we liked.
But as I write this, two weeks precisely AFTER the tasting, this fellow has still not stopped by to see if he can make a sale.
I am unaware of his having won a million bucks in the lottery.

We have, to date, purchased 84 bottles of a Rosso di Montalcino from the cooties-stricken 2002 vintage.  The winery made a sensational wine and we have been suggesting it to our customers.  I noticed the same producer's 1999 Brunello is now in the distributor/importer's catalogue.  I politely inquired if we might have a taste of this wine, as it's likely to be something of interest.
The sales rep explained the firm does have the 1999 in stock, but won't sell it until the 1998 is depleted (we have not been, as sales reps like to say "tasted on" this wine).  And sales of the 1999 are tied directly to the purchase of 1998 Brunello.
"But we have bought 7 cases of this winery's Rosso." I replied.
"Sorry.  You have to buy the 1998 to get the 1999."
I called the winery in Italy.  The person I spoke with was dismayed to hear this, thinking someone who had bought all that Rosso was practically a family member.
We'll see what transpires in the future.
((post script: We were "privileged" to taste both the 1998 and 1999 vintages and purchased both!  Nearly a year after the wine arrived, the distributor's import specialist AGAIN brought by the hard-to-get 1999 vintage because it's not selling and they need to move this bit of inventory!))

We ordered a case of Champagne from a rep from a large firm.  The wine did not come with our order the following day.  I called to ask if we would be getting this any time soon, since it was, after all, the weekend before Christmas and people like to buy this famous bubbly.  He told us the product code given to him by the company was incorrect and we'd have to wait until the following week to receive some.  Interestingly, the fellow also told me he was delayed by a three hour line at "will call" at his warehouse.   I asked him why he didn't consider "will calling" a case of this for us since he was already working to put out another "fire."
"Listen," he told me, "I don't have time to listen to your diatribe.  Do you want me to find you some bottles for the weekend, or what?"
My response was "Yes...that is precisely why I ordered a case of Champagne from you in the first place!"
A while later the fellow calls from a store saying they will let me have a few bottles for a price that's higher than we retail it for...plus the sales tax!

A customer called asking for a wine which, coincidentally, has the family's name on the label.  I called the local distributor to see if this wine might be available.  I was told it was scarce but he could probably get me a case.  The wine, with a suggested retail price of about $55 a bottle, had recently be reviewed favorably in some wine journal.  The customer was happy to buy the wine, good review or not, on the basis of the name of the wine.
A while after placing the order, I got a call from the big muckety muck who, very pleased with the point score, told me the wine was "strictly allocated" and what precious little inventory he had would be sold to customers who were placing large orders for wines throughout the portfolio.  I was annoyed at having to now call the customer with the bad news.  The muckety muck called back a while later, further explaining the scarcity of the wine and how, undoubtedly, with a 93 point rating, the whole world would be clamoring for bottles of this sensational wine.  He hoped he and his associate could bring in samples of other wines so we might become the sort of customer worthy of "rewarding" with such note-worthy wines.  In the meantime, he'd sent the customer an e-mail (they had made an inquiry with the import company through its web site) and passed along the name of a shop 400 miles away which did have the wine and indicating the chance of our receiving this wine was pretty much "slim and none."   Of course, the whole incident would have been avoided had the local fellow simply said "Let me check the availability for you."  ((We have purchased dozens of cases of a modestly-priced wine and have had more than 6 or 8 wines from this firm over the past year, so we are not totally unknown to this company.))
The customer was really steamed and sent missives to the importer's headquarters, amongst others.  The following day we received a call from the muckety muck saying just to get the customer off his back he would sell us a case of the wine in question and "we'll never hear from them again."  I reminded him that next year, should the wine have an 80-point rating, it will still have the customer's name on it and they might want a box of this again next year when none of the point monkeys are interested.  This slightly long-term view of customer service was clearly lost on poor Mister Muckety Muck.


An e-mail came through with a query about a particular Napa Cabernet.
It was curious in that the name of the sender on the e-mail was different from how the fellow "signed" the e-mail at the conclusion of his inquiry.
I researched the wine and found that the name on the e-mail was the same as that of the owner of this brand of wine.
I sent a query to the winery web site and got a response with pricing.
Now I sent pricing information with ridiculously low prices back to the same fellow at his other e-mail address, deleting the name so he might not see his error in trying to sandbag an account by creating the appearance of a demand for his own wine.
The response from the supposed "customer" said he had to "check with his wife" regarding buying the wine.
We never heard from the fellow, since why would he want to purchase his own wine?
But if you think I'm going to be interested to buy this guy's wine and suggest it to customers, you'd better think again.




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DON'T TAKE "NO" PERSONALLY.
You didn't make the wine, did you?

Sometimes the buyer or staffers simply don't find the nectar you've poured for them to be ambrosia.
Please don't take it personally if the account doesn't buy your wine.

Even if YOU DID MAKE THE WINE.
Some establishments don't buy because they're over-extended, have too much inventory or the buyer knows their customers are not looking for your particular wine.  Or the wine costs too much.  Sometimes the wines cost too little.  Sometimes the wines are too well known, while other times they're not famous enough.

We have a reputation for being a "difficult" account.  We're not difficult, at all.  We KNOW what we're looking for.
And we're honest about our appraisal of the wines we taste.

One Napa winery owner introduced us to her spouse saying "I had my shortest and most efficient sales call with Gerald."  It seems we told her the wine was not much to our taste, especially for the ridiculously high price they offered it for.  She explained that most accounts simply say "Oh, I don't have room right now, but why don't you call me in a couple of weeks?"  She does.  And they say "Oh, I don't have room at the moment, but why not call back next month?"  She does.  The point being these "nice" people have her spending her time and money on phone calls and they have virtually no intention of buying her wine, either.  We simply told her our reaction to her wine.

The rep from a winery whose products are often seen in chain accounts, featured at prices close to wholesale and 10-15%, decided to take a whack at showing us their wines.  They chose to bring by a handful of offerings less well-distributed.  Unfortunately we don't have much of a market for vegetal red wines or a $20 Zin which wholesales for $25.  I'm afraid I was distracted by something called a "customer" and their presentation came to a quick conclusion (I had tasted everything on the table).  They dashed out of the store with their distributor's rep instead of waiting for me to assist someone in the shop.  Oh well...sorry if I offended you by not telling my customer to please wait...

Having called on our account for half a year, a sales rep from a large, liquor-oriented firm kept bringing in wines more suitable for sale at a convenience store such as 7-11.  We finally asked him politely if he didn't have some products in his portfolio "which won't ruin our reputation as fine wine merchants."  


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IF THERE'S A WINE-TASTING, 
WHY NOT TELL YOUR CUSTOMERS?


Here's a no-brainer:  If your company is renting a site, bringing wines or suppliers to this location to show customers a bunch of wines, why not be sure to invite accounts who are likely to pay dividends?

It's a good idea to present the buyer with some sort of invitation or written reminder of the event.  But this is not enough!  You should call the buyer a day or two before the tasting to remind them again.  Remember, they're busy and don't always have time to focus on your pet projects.  A gentle nudge is often a good idea!

A sales rep called to ask if we'd be in the shop later that afternoon.  Where else would we be?  Well, we might be at a tasting of Bordeaux wines being shown for several hours by a prominent competitor.  We called that firm's sales rep, who had just been in the shop an hour before!  We inquired about this tasting and were told "Oh, sh*t!  Yeah, we've having a tasting of 2000 Bordeaux.  I can't go.  You might want to go, though.  It starts right about now..." 

Another sales rep had been on vacation for a couple of weeks.  When he returned he asked if we found any new wines at his company's tasting the week before.  Since we we're only at that moment learning about this event, of course we did not make any new discoveries.  We asked him how we were supposed to know about this event, since he had not informed nor invited us to this event.  "I thought you knew." he said.
Meanwhile, participating vendors were charged hundreds of dollars for the privilege of pouring their wines (this person had $1400 worth of samples open) at an event to which many customers were not invited!
A big-wig with this firm with whom we spoke said they attributed the small attendance to Mr. Bush's war in Iraq.

One large firm had organized a lovely tasting with a particular theme of wines.  In fact, some dear friends of mine were to be participating in this tasting.  I knew my friends were coming to San Francisco on their way for a vacation in Hawaii, but I knew nothing of their trade tasting until 48 hours prior to the event.  There were two other trade tastings that day and Mrs. Winemaker and I went to these, asking prominent retail and restaurant folks if they were going to this third tasting that afternoon.  None of them had been invited and none had, as a result, planned to devote time to attending.  We arrived and noticed a couple of sales reps frantically phoning nearby customers, hoping to cajole them into coming.  One of the organizers of the event later told me he was thrilled by the attendance.  "We had 200 people come!"  But despite a strong sales day, it didn't really bother this fellow that a significant percentage of the crowd were people associated with the distributor, not customers.  I would be concerned when I see more people from the sales firm than customers of this outfit!

One firm scheduled a tasting of both its wine and spirit portfolios.  As this particular firm is skittish about giving its customers a price list (go figure), I am not well-versed as to their current offerings.  Being a very small account for this distributor, I felt attending their trade tasting would be a good idea as I could determine if they had products of interest to our customers.  The event was held on a day when I would normally be working by myself and so I asked a colleague to kindly come in on her day off to work.  She did and I drove for an hour to the tasting location.  The event was to take place in a small hotel in the South Bay.  Curiously, there was plenty of parking and this only made sense a few moments later when I asked the desk clerk where the wine-tasting was being held.  "What wine tasting?" he asked.  I showed him the tasting announcement with his hotel's name and address on it.  Befuddled, he called around..."We don't know of a tasting here, sir."  In the meantime, I phoned the distributor.  The receptionist was clueless, but directed my call to someone who might know.
This individual cheerfully told me "Oh, we postponed the tasting.  It's in two weeks.  Would you like me to connect you with your sales rep?"
She did and he was most stunned that we had not received some sort of announcement about the new tasting date.  My colleague was displeased with this news, pointing out this rep had been in the shop just a week earlier and said NOTHING about the new tasting date.
I sent the firm a polite e-mail suggesting each and every rep be sure to contact each and every account that had received an invitation to preclude this sort of calamity.  My message, though polite in tone, did not merit a response apparently as I never did receive any sort of acknowledgement to my suggestion.

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HOLIDAZE

Planning ahead is a good idea.

If you have merchandise which is appropriate for a particular time of the year, season or holiday, why not present it?

Our shop carries some wines all year long, but which might be a good impulse item on the counter if we had a gentle reminder to be sure we have sufficient stock.  There's a German white wine with a black cat on the label which is a good item for Halloween.  So's the "Vampire" label of wines from Transylvania (the wines are decently made, not exceptional and not expensive).

How about mentioning or showing the cru Beaujolais of "St. Amour" before Valentine's Day?
The same time is also a good opportunity to sell Rosé Champagnes.

If you have some Kosher wines in your portfolio, why note plan on presenting them to accounts a month, or so, prior to Passover?


But another facet of holidays is that they mess up normal delivery schedules.

Some distributors, which generally deliver Tuesdays through Fridays, often schedule Monday deliveries when it's Thanksgiving on Thursday and a short week.  I'm surprised that some of the reps for large companies don't know their trucks are available to bring merchandise to customers on a Monday if they'll order on Friday before "cut off."

If you have information that may be helpful to your customers, why not drop them an e-mail, reminding them of your available delivery times???
This may save you from having to make those painful "will calls" to put out a fire.


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IS YOUR WINE-TASTING A SALES EVENT, OR WHAT?

I know some competitors who won't attend certain trade events, saying "Why should I attend?  They show me their wines and then won't sell them to me!"

We view these sorts of functions as an opportunity to taste, evaluate and BUY wines.

If some wineries have sales policies such as "We only sell to restaurants," perhaps this should be noted on their tasting roster or booklet handed out to all attendees.  
Or a sign on the tasting table of such a winery reading:
"THIS GUY ONLY SELLS TO RESTAURANTS BECAUSE HE WANTS HIS WINE PAIRED WITH GOOD FOOD....
...Not a can of Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee Spaghettio's like your customers serve!"

Or a sign such as:
"THIS WINERY SOLD YOU WINE LAST YEAR, BUT NOW THAT YOU'VE HELPED CREATE SOME DEMAND FOR THE PRODUCT, HE WILL BY-PASS YOU IN FAVOR OF HIS MAILING LIST SINCE YOUR CUSTOMERS HAVE CONTACTED HIM DIRECTLY."

I discovered a few new wines at a recent tasting and the sales rep told me to please contact the head honcho of the firm, since she was "tired" of asking.  We wrote a note, receiving word back that one of the producers made 35% less wine.
A call to said winery found that, actually, they had made but 700 cases of wine this year, while the first vintage saw a total of 789 being made.
On the other hand, they augmented those 700 with a new bottling of 300 cases.
I don't know about your calculator, but 1,000 cases compared to 789 is not a 35% reduction on mine!

I did receive a lovely letter from the Head Honcho:

"Believe it or not, it is not all about selling. It is about discovering and educating our customers to our entire portfolio. "
and
"The wineries you are talking about are VERY SMALL production wineries. Let's face it, they don't need to sell any wine at all in the retail world.."

Why not have all these "special," hard-to-get wineries in one area?  Or, at the very minimum, please note on the tasting sheets which wineries are there to actively sell and promote their products and which ones are there exclusively for "education."
*****
The sales rep for one firm asked me what wines I thought might be appropriate for the shop after their tasting.
I gave her a list, by e-mail, of about 5 or 6 wines from the tasting, saying I wanted the staff to have a look at these so we could select and purchase some of them.  Two weeks after the tasting, she still had not stopped by the store to show these wines.  Three weeks after the tasting she couldn't come by because it was "Election Day."  I don't know if she was voting in Florida or Ohio.
Four weeks after the tasting she finally stopped by, but had just two wines.  Neither was on my list of possible candidates for the shop.  Five weeks following the tasting we had the start of the holiday season for the end of the year, meaning we will not be stocking her wines AT ALL, this year.  This is a sad waste of time, for she should have taken my list of wines and brought them by to show the crew.


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"RIDE WITHS"

For many sales reps, "ride withs" are a major pain in the neck.  A "ride with" is when someone from a winery or sales company asks to accompany you on a tour of potential customers.  This usually means you're expected to spend your day focusing on their line of products.

We often hear from sales reps that this sort of a day is usually not especially productive.  But we think this sort of excursion can be incorporated into one's regular sales call.

Why not explain you'd love to introduce said "ride with" to your accounts, "but please understand I still have to conduct my regular business."  This tips off the "ride with" that you're a professional sales person and have "work" to do.  You might ask the "ride with" what wines they'll be bringing and if they wouldn't mind putting together a pricing sheet of these products for your customers (and one for you).  You might ask them if there's any special pricing promotions they're featuring and to note these on the sales sheet.

Some "ride withs" are very professional, knowing about their products, their pricing and how to engage your customers in meaningful conversation.

I would suggest you brief this individual as to the sales history of each account you're calling on.
Or consider sending them a list of your planned itinerary on the appointed day.  Some of the brighter lights will take this information and have a quick look on the internet to see what sort of prospects they might have with the various accounts you plan to visit.
It may be difficult to explain to your "ride with" that not every account is going to be interested in their lovely wines.


Given that the number of "corked" or flawed bottles is on the rise, you might suggest they bring a back up bottle of each wine they'd like to show your customers.  Having the bottles chilled to the right temperature is a good idea, too.

Though we have a small collection of memorabilia, I'm surprised more reps don't bring poster-sized labels to tack up in the shop, corkscrews for the sales staff and other little reminders (or "thank you's") to keep their name on the minds of the buyer and, more importantly, the "sellers" of their products.

Former Winery Ambassador Rebecca Chapa posted a wonderful essay commenting on her perspective of "The Work With" on her blog.
Click HERE to have a look...

"Ride Withs" become very scarce during boom times.  That's because they don't "need" to sell wine when it's a seller's market.  When it's a buyer's market, however, the shoe is on the other foot and you'll have an endless flood of people wanting to ride with you every day of the week.

Most sales reps ask if it's okay to bring someone by the shop.  Of course, in doing so, you run the risk of getting a negative response.  On the other hand, that does allow you to bring the "ride with" to accounts which are more potentially receptive to their wines.

As a buyer, I can tell you some days (lately), it's non-stop and we don't have time to SELL WINE!
In 2012, with the market for wine being jam-packed, we've been inundated with visitors.  I often reject seeing various purveyors, having perhaps tasted the wines at some trade event or having ordered a glass of their wine while dining out.  Or I've been on a tasting panel someplace and already had a look at their wines...
I often detect a note of desperation on the part of some sales reps and those who are helpful to our business will get a nod with the notation that "If you're really in need of filling the day, go ahead and bring them by."


In a certain way, many times a "ride with" is nothing more than you holding someone's hand to try to sell their wine.  Or they're holding yours in an effort to woo your customers to their products.

We hope you, at least, get a good meal from this experience.

We had not seen a representative from an un-named winery (let's call it Chateau Chardonnay) in about 10 years.  One day a fellow showed up with the distributor rep to show us their current line-up of Chardonnays.  We find the wines to be rather nice, but this firm has the idea that their product is really at its best in restaurants, especially the $20 entry-level bottling.
We explained that we had been a first vintage customer going back to the 1981 vintage and we are interested in their wines but, over the years, this winery has had the idea that we do not merit carrying their wines.  They have a tiny window of opportunity to buy the wines for retail.  However, restaurant accounts can make a purchase any time they like.
The fellow was not particularly sympathetic, asking "Well, what should we do since we don't have enough wine to meet the demand?"  I responded that taking care of your "foundation" accounts, those who helped you build the place would be a good idea.  "I wouldn't open new markets until the supply is sufficient."   I argued that it might make better business sense to take care of long-standing customers, rather than dropping them to place your wine in the newest, trendiest eating establishment that has never bought a bottle from you and will, likely, be "history" in six to twelve months.
The banter went on for a while and we tasted some lovely, elegant, refined wines.
At the end the fellow placed an informative sheet on the counter regarding a new, deluxe bottling.
"I notice you didn't bring that one in to taste." I said.
"Well, we only have so much and it's quite limited...blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...."
When I inquired as to how we are going to speak knowledgeably about this wine he told me "You sell this based on the reputation of the winery."
I explained "No.  You see, we are a wine merchant business.  WE have a reputation and we'd be most interested to taste your wine so we can tell prospective customers about it."
He was not impressed, it seems.
"Well, you carry so-and-so's White Burgundy, I noticed." he said.
"Yes, and their importer hosts an annual tasting so we might be familiar with their wines." I replied.
The fellow, by the way, never presented a business card (maybe he doesn't want to have customers pestering him for wine?).
The sales rep later noted how interesting that the young wine buyers in the restaurant accounts the winery so desperately seeks had little interest in their wines since they don't have the huge oak, alcohol or slight residual sugar of Chardonnays these "kids" seem to prefer.  As is a frequent occurrence, here is a winery which prefers to sell its wines to customers who want it the least, not to those who are receptive to their products, price point and style.


NOTES TO THOSE "RIDING WITH" A SALES REP:
1. Schedule your "ride with" well ahead of time to allow the sales rep time to coordinate with accounts.  This might be a month or two ahead of time.  And then, please show up on time.  Some folks don't value the time of the sales rep or the account...if I'm expecting you to show up, please know you get "minus points" for bailing out at the last minute.
Please don't plan on accompanying sales reps on "holiday" weeks.
They hate it and accounts are not happy to see you, either...
If there's a Monday holiday, your driving around with sales reps during a 'short' week is impractical as your accounts have less time to deal with reps in placing orders and time is short for putting away shipments/deliveries.


2.  Please know that they have other fish to fry in order to pay the rent, so don't been upset if they engage the account to order other merchandise.
(You're there, really, planting seeds...the sales rep may have some harvesting to do.)

3.  If you've got any sales acumen, you'll want to scope the account ahead of time...why not ask the rep where you'll be visiting so you can have a look on the internet (if you're unfamiliar with the account) to see if they're a serious wine emporium or merely a 'liquor store.'  Once in the account, consider poking around to note a few things including "Do they have room for my wine?" and "What wines of my competitors are they carrying?"

4.  Please have some sort of story to tell.  I'll often ask those riding with our sales rep "Why do we need your wine?"  Amazingly, many of these marketing folks have not given this any thought beyond the fact that "Our wine received a 90 point rating from The Wine Magazine."  Big whoop-tee-do!  So do half the wines made all over the planet.  What makes yours so special?
One "ride with" justified the $85 price tag on their Cabernet with "We lose money on our $40 Chardonnay."
Another fellow told me their wines were costly because "We hired high-priced winemaking talent along with a sommelier to conduct tastings at our winery."

5.  Don't be offended if I ask you some pointed questions about your marketing. 
One marketing genius showed up with a $12.50 wholesale price on a Pinot Noir.  I asked her how I could possibly sell this when a nearby competitor was offering it for $9.99 at retail.  She proudly told me that the two wines were totally different, though made by the same winery.  The one for $12.50 was the entry level bottling, while the one being sold by the competitors for ten bucks was the higher-priced, reserve bottling.  And she said this with a straight face, much to my surprise and the shock and horror of the distributor rep.  The nice distributor rep will never sell this "ride with's" wines and neither will her colleagues.
Another marketing whiz kid was surprised that I'd be unwilling to buy her $360/case Napa Cabernet when it was being offered by an on-line flash site for $372 a case to consumers (with free shipping, no less!). 

6.  KNOW YOUR S#@* !!!
A poor fellow from a modest-sized distributor had a young guy he was dragging along to show a Prosecco.
The Prosecco-Meister mentioned that his was a "Champenoise"-styled Prosecco and it was "the only one in the market."
Really?  We have two bottle-fermented examples in our shop.
I asked him about the dosage in his bubbly, referring to the amount of residual sugar.
He looked perplexed.  Of course he was perplexed...he had no idea what a dosage refers to.
We looked at the bottle, tasting a perfectly dull fizzy white wine and we asked him to show us where, on the bottle or label, it was noted as being a bottle-fermented bubbly.
"Oh, it's not bottle fermented," he explained.  "It's fermented in large tanks."
A member of the distributor's management team confided that this fellow tried to B-S them at a staff tasting and they told him he would be "called out" if he trotted out this misinformation.
He didn't heed their advice, for one thing and he demonstrated he knows virtually nothing about sparkling wine, be it his or others.  

7.  Telling an account which wine you're presenting is "your favorite" is totally useless.  I am, however, glad you've got something in your portfolio that you enjoy drinking.




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DON'T BE STUPID or FOOLISH

We were reminded recently of a distributor that fired its long-time sales rep in favor of a fellow they viewed as smarter, sharper and whom they figured would make a better "impression" in the market.  The long, established rep was, certainly, not a Rhodes Scholar.  But he did have several things going for him: he showed up in every account on a weekly basis.  He always had a bag full of bottles to show people and he routinely wrote orders as a result.   But his long employment with this firm was, we suppose, not valued, and they cut him loose.
The new rep arrived one day soon after and announced in a loud voice which could probably have been heard from here to a block down the street that he "worked in Acme Liquors down the road for two years and then opened the Zenith Wine Emporium in San Francisco, so I know about wine!"  We didn't mind hearing this, but, of course, the names of competing shops need not be shouted out in another store, especially when the store has customers looking around for wines.
On a succeeding (maybe that's not the right word, but I think you understand) sales call, this smarter, sharper sales rep encountered a customer here whom he'd seen in one of his other places of employment.  As we were tallying up this customer's purchase of a half a dozen bottles, the sales rep tells the customer "If you are looking for good Burgundy wines, be sure to visit Jean-Pierre Le Beauzeaux at Zenith...he's got some great wines!"
Even the guy's top level bosses couldn't believe this fellow turned out to be dumber than the fellow whom they'd regarded as "Doofus."  I don't think the Rhodes Scholar lasted a year and within two years the distributorship actually shut its doors!

As we're placing orders with the sales folks of the largest distributors in the State, a marketing company gal arrives toting her bag o'bottles.
She tells us she's been asked to visit us by the rep from Company A.  The Company A rep happens to be standing right there and politely informs her that he is, in fact, the Company A sales rep for the account.  He's a sharp fellow and doesn't miss a beat.  He asks her to show us what wines she's brought.
I asked what she had and I heard her say "A Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire," so I asked if she could be more specific.  She didn't seem to know so the gal fished the bottle out of the bag and showed it to me.  I then asked what was the price of her Sancerre.
This was another baffling and difficult question as she did not know.
"Doesn't virtually every potential customer ask you how much the wines cost?" I asked.
"Well, yes, but not until after they've tasted them."
This bottle, you see, was unopened, so she still had time to look up the answer.
I suggested she might be better prepared and know the pricing of her wines.  She said her company has, perhaps, 200 items, so knowing them is rather impossible.
I suggested she, at the very least, write the pricing on a card or on each bottle, so she'd make a better impression on customers.
She had 4 to 6 bottles in her bag that day.  Having a clue about the pricing of such a small number of bottles should be easy and simply part of the day's routine.

Many stores are not staffed by wine-savvy people.  We can understand a sales rep trying to assist a store's customer to make a selection or find something.
Recently a rep, making her first call at the shop, butted in as one of our staffers was assisting a customer who wanted to buy a case of wine.
This gal took it upon herself to suggest some wines to our client, which was a bit awkward, since we did not have the items she was suggesting.
This did not endear her to our crew.

 

We had asked the area sales manager for a particular portfolio of wines to contact us.  One of his wines had changed distributorships and, in the process, the price changed dramatically.
I wanted to see if a wine we'd been buying for $7.50 was really going to now wholesale for $12.
The month of November went by.  Nothing.
In December, we understand, he was planning to stop by on Christmas Eve Day (the busiest day of the year) but was dissuaded by the distributor rep.
In January he didn't bother contacting us, but he finally found time in February.
I asked what took him so long???
I also said we got the message that having their wine in our shop was clearly not hugely important to this company.
"Oh no.  It's really important!" he countered.
"Well, if it's that important, you might have touched base when we first called, not three months later."
(Okay...you see, this is where I earn my reputation as a 'difficult customer' because I cling to the often-mistaken notion these people signed up to do a particular job and I get a bit bent out of shape when they don't do it.)
So then I asked "What's your best price on the Chardonnay, please?"
"Nine dollars a bottle is the best we can do."
"Alright...well, I was selling it for $9.99, so that's not going to work so well, but thanks for stopping by."
"Okay...wait...okay...Eight Dollars!"
Now you see, I asked what the BEST PRICE was and he quoted $9.
Now that I've said "No," that BEST PRICE is suddenly $8.
I'm one little independent store.  If he can go down to $8, what will he do when some big chain store comes calling?
The same feller came by with a winery rep to show some wines.  One of the wines cost $136 a case, but it's retailing at a local shop for $13.99.  He said he was willing to do something illegal to allow us to possibly be able to retail that wine at a price matching the competitor.
I passed on that magnanimous offer, however.


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LEARN HOW TO USE VOICE MAIL

Many firms have a voice mail system to allow sales reps a place for customers to call with orders, inquiries, etc.  Most "outgoing" messages feature an apology for "not being able to take this call" and "I'll get back to you as soon as possible."  These are well and good, certainly.   But when you're unavailable for an extended period of time, you should issue that message on your voice mail.
We called on firm and placed an order.  A week later, we called again to confirm our order.  A few days later we phoned again...hearing the same message.  Finally we received a call from the owner of this one-man show and he said he was out of town for nearly three weeks.  It had not occurred to him to set his outgoing message so customers would not think he was such a flake as to not respond to business!

Another rep was away for a day-long sales meeting.  Instead of leaving this message on his phone machine, he had his normal message saying "I check my voice mail every hour or so."  This can cause a fair level of stress, of course.  He should have left a message stating he was not able to respond to calls and to please call his firm's order desk for any inquiries or orders.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

IS YOUR NAME AND CONTACT PHONE NUMBER ON THE CUSTOMER'S COPY OF YOUR CURRENT SALES CATALOGUE?

This is something virtually no sales reps have thought of: when the customer grabs your catalogue, is your pager number, cell phone number or voice-mail number printed on the book?

You can easily get a rubber stamp with this information on it.  Better yet, why not have stickers printed up with these numbers and affix them to each copy of your company's sales book?  This will set you back less than $50 and I can guarantee it will be appreciated by your accounts.  If you're really frugal, go buy a box of Avery labels at an office supply store and print them yourself on your own computer.

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CELL PHONE COURTESY

Years ago we used to have pay phones and phone booths...You didn't hear people conducting business (or having a private conversation, with everyone in the area able to listen in).

Many sales reps carry a cell phone at all times.  This is fine, of course, and probably a good idea.  But we'd suggestion turning them ringer to "silent" when going into a place to make a sales call.  You can have the phone vibrate when there's a call or text message coming in, but it shouldn't distract you (or the buyer) from taking an order.

If you do need to make a call (or receive one), why not step outside the shop or restaurant so you can conduct your business in relatively privacy?
Do you want the buyer to hear you're getting an order for 10 cases of something from a competitor?  Do other sales reps need to hear what business you're transacting?

We've seen some reps using their I-Pad or laptop to make some transactions while waiting to make a presentation...this seems fine to us, as long as the rep isn't distracted to the point of not being able to get our order transcribed properly.

You may want to have a cell phone charger in your car to allow you to recharge your device while driving from account to account.

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A "THANK YOU" AIN'T A BAD IDEA!

Mary Redmond Woodworth of the Central Coast wine company called HarvestGate says "Don't forget to say thank you and a note is
always nice.  Make it prompt.  It's a good way to get your name in front of the buyer again.  Most importantly, it shows respect for his/her time."

One young lady would always send a nice little card after taking an order, thanking the buyer (and staff members) for tasting her line-up of wines and for making a purchase.
I'm not sure this is a good idea if you're taking orders on a weekly basis, but it is a nice touch for the staff to know the sales rep appreciates their efforts in selling the wines.

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LEAVING A TERRITORY OR ROUTE

We have been at our "post" for decades and have seen hundreds of sales reps come and go.

In some cases, we are sad to "lose" a sales rep, while in other instances, the rep did a poor job and so it was no great loss.

Sometimes a sales or distribution company changes a rep's roster of accounts.  Sometimes the sales rep quits and moves to Timbuktu, caring little if they burn a bridge (with intent or inadvertently).   The wine business is a small world, though, so if you intend to remain in it, keeping the doors open should you wind up in a different position is probably not a bad idea.

It's a good idea, then, to alert all your soon-to-be former accounts that you are no longer calling on them.

We've been surprised with the sudden changes of sales reps...sometimes nobody new shows up for months, leaving us wondering why So-And-So suddenly became such a slacker!

One sales person, who had antagonized us about "not wanting to buy wine from her" was hired to be the California ambassador for a winery whose wines we featured and sold well.  The distributor's sales person was tasked with "riding with" this woman and they were a bit shocked when she balked at coming into our shop "not wanting to f*@&-up the sales of our wines at that account."
Clearly she harbored guilty feelings about how she'd behaved when calling on us.


One rep said he'd pay a visit in a week.
A month later, we had not heard from him.
I finally dropped him a note and he told me he was no longer calling on this territory.
I told him our last communication was that he'd be here in a week and a month later we had not heard from him nor had anyone from that distributorship contacted us to say there had been changes in their representation.
Sensing I was a bit agitated and having read this web page, he told me he didn't want to be made to "feel like a criminal or like he'd done something wrong."
"Well, put yourself in the position of the accounts you were calling on.  You abandoned those accounts by not sending out a note saying there were changes in the territory and that you would no longer be calling on them.  Maybe thanking them for their business would be a good idea.  But in my case, you told me you'd be here in a week and here it is a month later and I've not heard from you.  You've had the idea someone else would call on your old accounts and they've likely not heard from anyone, either.  So you look like a slacker."

Two days later the fellow sent out a nice note thanking accounts for their business and explaining he was not calling on the territory any longer.
Maybe I'm not as much of a knucklehead as some sales reps think I am!



Another rep felt the need to "fire" us.
Months earlier she'd become enraged when we'd placed some last-minute orders during the holiday season.  She was out of the country and we contacted a couple of her affiliated companies a few days prior to Thanksgiving.  One company was willing to put 5 cases on the truck for the following day, despite our calling after "cut-off."  The rep was 8 or 9 time zones away in Europe, so it was at 10 or 11pm there when we'd have initiated contact.  Not being certain of the rep's ability to respond immediately, we made the "mistake" of going directly to the source.
The rep threatened to give up our account when perhaps a simple "thank you for your order" was more appropriate.
This individual has had a number of European vintners to "ride with" and a couple of these did not go well in her view.  I'd questioned a vintner who claims as a marketing feature, the philosophy of being environmentally-conscious, about the use of synthetic "corks" as a closure for his bottles.  I also pointed out the high level of H

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THERE ARE GOOD SALES REPS
I received a note thanking me for posting this informative and helpful article from someone who had just gotten a job in the wine industry.  They pointed out this page seems more negative and that we, somehow, have contempt for the sales reps who call on the shop.
We don't go out of our way to offend or abuse people.  We merely react to the people who are devoted (in one manner or another) to our account.

In fact, there ARE good sales reps.
The good ones show up on a regular basis, present new products and check on the inventory status of existing placements and make us aware of upcoming tastings and new releases.
Some know the price of various items and will advise us "You can save a dollar a bottle if you buy three cases of that item instead of two."  Or "We have that in six-pack format and our best price is on two boxes."
One rep is very good about checking his merchandise and is so helpful, he'll go do a "will call" (pick it up at the warehouse himself) if he sees we're nearly sold out!

The import buyer at a major shop recently "fired" a sales rep.  He'd been buying two or three boxes of a particular wine on a regular basis and only when the rep was on vacation and he called the order desk did he learn there's been a substantially better (lower) price had he ordered five cases.
This rep had been 'costing' his store money by not informing the buyer of "best pricing."

Some pay attention to the arrival of merchandise we've requested several times.
"We just received 20 cases...can I send you some of these?"

Others monitor the inventory of items we're working with.
"We are running out of that item.  Why don't I place an order for delivery in three weeks for several cases of that so you don't run out before the next release?"
"We just got word the last shipment is in...how many cases would you like?"

PLEASE SEND ME ANY SUGGESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE AS THIS ARTICLE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS.
Thanks!

Here's an article on the subject of hosting a trade tasting.




The article generates many interesting responses.
These are on another web page.
Click Here.

HERE'S A NEW PAGE FOR SALES REPS TO SOUND OFF ABOUT BUYERS.

(If you're a sales rep with a wine company, please consider sending me your tales of woe about silly buyers.)
gerald -at- weimax.com






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