HOW TO BE A WINE SALES REP
Thoughts on Selling Wine to Stores and Restaurants
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
ASK FOR THE SALE !!!
Most sales reps have not been trained to "make"
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
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
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!
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:
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
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.
STOP BY, DON'T PHONE
(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.
WHEN YOU'RE WAITING TO SEE THE BUYER, SPEND YOUR TIME
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
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,
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
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
Addendum: The answer to the previous question is "less than a
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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.
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
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.
IS YOUR WINE-TASTING A SALES EVENT, OR WHAT?
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
We view these sorts of functions as an opportunity to taste, evaluate and BUY
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
...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. "
"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.
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
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
Former Winery Ambassador Rebecca Chapa posted a wonderful essay commenting on
her perspective of "The Work With" on her blog.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
5. Don't be offended if I ask you some pointed questions about your
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Another rep felt the need to
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
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 H2S
in one of his red wines and this was viewed as inappropriate and impolite.
On another occasion, the rep came by with a European producer.
She'd been awaiting his arrival at the wrong Bay Area airport and called to ask
about coming "after tasting hours." We graciously said
"okay, please come."
We have been short-staffed for a few weeks and so my colleague went to taste the
wines before heading out on her lunch break. She tastes quickly and
efficiently but it took her quite a while to taste through the trio of wines
they'd brought. The sales rep was busy on her cell phone and the winemaker
needed to explained every detail of the terroir of his Whoopteedo-berg hillside.
She finished and she went to lunch. We had limited time to taste and as
the first wine was poured, we simply asked for pricing information. It
was, for our market, ambitiously priced. As the second wine was
poured, the phone rang and we told the customer we'd gladly take their order but
needed to go to the phone out front. The rep and vintner were standing a
mere five feet from us and saw/heard us answer the telephone. Our mistake
was, apparently, in not excusing our self and/or in asking permission to go take
an order and make a sale.
We returned, perhaps two minutes later to ask how much the second wine
cost. It was a $40 bottle of a white wine for which Austria is not well
known. In fact, bottles of that type of wine from France or the US cost
maybe half that price.
A third wine was poured and we imagined this to be worthy of a $15-$18 retail
price. Unfortunately it cost $24.
We politely asked the vintner what visitors to the cellar door pay for such a
We have friends in Europe who go on a tasting tour and one had just that morning
asked if we had any suggestions for their tour of Austria.
The sales rep angrily put her bottles in her rolling wine bag and suggested we
go to the San Francisco Airport, get on a plane and fly to Vienna, buying the
wines directly at the cellar door.
We exchanged a few e-mail messages where I explained we have, as she well knows,
Euro Wine Friends who go touring, tasting and buying. I also noted she
arrived "after hours" and that we are short-staffed.
Ms. Right held her ground insisting we'd behaved rudely and she would no longer
be bringing "ride withs" to our shop.
Of course, she could have explained to this vintner during their 45 minute ride
from Oakland that they're coming "late," the store is a bit
under-staffed and we taste quickly, efficiently and will ask questions if we
Had Ms. Right and Herr Winemaker taken a few moments to poke around the shop,
they might have seen a bottle or two of a previous vintage of this fellow's wine
already displayed in the store.
The following week we'd placed a 7 case order with the sales rep, who came in
the very next day to say "Bet you didn't think you'd see me
again." We both laughed, but that's the last we've seen of her!
The following week, another rep who shows us a totally different portfolio came
in showing some wines and announced he was our new rep. And he was damned
pleased to have the account.
Another new rep called to say she'd be calling on us from another importer...she
showed up once and we have not seen her for a follow-up visit (though we could
use some wine).
Meanwhile, we had purchased a book for the original rep who fired us...sent it
to one of her bosses to give to her with a note tucked inside the envelope
saying we'd heard the author interviewed on the radio and it was a book she had
to have! A month and change later, no thank you, no "I'm no longer
your rep," no nothin'!
And that's sad, since it was something like a 5 or 6 year
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
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
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