“Just go out there and do what you’ve got to do”
… Martina Navratilova
An analysis of the US wine industry today, reveals that the meteoric growth rates across all pricing segments above $5/btl of the last 7 years has significantly slowed. The word emanating from those in the know has been that ‘if your sales are flat, you’re up’. Not words that are of comfort to your CFO, or ones capable of instilling confidence in your angel investors. On Monday, May 4th, Silicon Valley Bank Financial Group released their annual ‘State of the Wine Industry’ 2009-2010 report by Founder Rob McMillan and Division Manager Bill Stevens . While the tone of the SVB annual report was sufficiently dour, reflecting the immediate past and the current liquidity crisis facing many wineries, a tone of optimism was revealed in the on-point recommendations for marketing and selling wine utilizing the internet and social networking tools.
Looking at the Dow Jones index, and noting anecdotal observations from key retailers, restauranteurs, winery national account managers and my time on the streets, it seems as though the bottom has been struck, and we’re in the early days of a long recovery. The stock market hit bottom on March 9th and in a series of bounces is trending higher. An inside source at Morton’s confirmed that customer counts and guest check rings have recovered to pre-August 2008 averages. Conversations with retailers in major metro markets revel that although the first quarter was soft, the availability of wines once only sold on-premises have helped to energize sales in Q2 . My winery national account sources have noted that requests for submissions of better wines has increased in the last 3 weeks. If your channel model includes your active participation in the three-tier system, these are all signs for optimism. But, to turn optimism into results you should be prepared to get out of your office and spend time on the streets working with your distributor partners. So, are you in position to take advantage of this upturn, or are you waiting for the market to come back to you? Yesterday, in reply to an extended lunch invitation, I received this text message from a winemaker/owner: “Thanks, John – working in the Texas market at the moment. Chicago last week. AZ and St. Louis before, earlier this month. Feeling like a sales & marketing guy.” If this isn’t you, it should be.
My first experience with a real work-with, happened just a few months after returning from Europe. The niche Florida distributor that was my first post grad school employer was soon acquired by National Distributing, and I was given the job as wine manager for the Orlando office. NDC had just started to represent Cakebread Cellars in the Florida market. Central Florida was the home to Walt Disney World, my pre-grad school employer, and the location of super heated hotel and restaurant development. In a series of faxes that went back and forth between Oakville and Orlando. Jack Cakebread, the founder, noted that he wanted to call on key on-premise accounts only, including Disney, based on the list that he had provided. Once I had scheduled the stops, Jack called and confirmed each appointment before heading East from California. At the time, I thought that this was a bit over the top. However, it was a successful trip for Jack and for Cakebread Cellars. We sold every account, in part thanks to Jack pre-qualifying each account. I learned my work-with lesson well that week of identifying, qualifying and closing key lighthouse accounts.
Jack Cakebread’s methods still work today. Targeting key accounts, planning your calls and executing/closing still matters. But, today we have so many more tools at hand to maximize our distributor work-withs. Distributor and market consolidation have taken leverage away from all but the largest suppliers. We are in the midst of an accelerated round of supplier and wholesaler mergers. Jean Arnold Sessions is correct in her assessment that for a winery to be successful today one needs to spend available time and effort in managing the market, rather than managing one’s wholesaler. Oh, though it is important to work with and through your distributor who’s primary job is to sell service and deliver your product within their assigned market. Your distributor manager will request, require and appreciate your efforts.
The organization of your market trips and work-withs needs to start with a plan that articulates specific, reachable objectives. Start by organizing your CRM program to target, track and follow-up with each market work-with account. Market knowledge is a necessity. But, if you’re going to a market that’s new to you, research, research, research. Set targets by channel and account. Call each account and identify with whom you need to meet, and then qualify the account. If you’re selling Mendocino Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, and one of the restaurants that you’ve targeted only sells small production Piedmonte wines, well take them off your list. Communicate to and confirm with your distributor partner by email and telephone just what you are doing.
Before departing for the market post a summary of your travel plans on your Facebook Fan Page, and contact bloggers and tweeters to let them know that you’re coming to their market and would like to arrange one-on one tastings, or a tweet-up. If I were to sell wine in Denver, the first person I would call would be Rick Bakas, blogger and tweet-master. As you work the market, find out if your new contacts are on Facebook or Twitter. Get their social network info and add them to your CRM. As you achieve success through product placements, such as WBTG for June, tweet it. Link your tweets to your Facebook page. Success follows success. Include pictures of your accounts, and your contacts. This is not only good will, but it will inform your local followers, who in-turn will tend to support this restaurant placement. All of this is happening in real time, and, not as in the past, weeks later in a follow-up letter. Chris Donatiello does this and has created a buy-in for the C.Donatiello Winery by posting updates and keeping his friends and fans invested and engaged as they follow his market travels.
As the day progresses, arrange to do 1 tasting per day at a key line-up for all new or existing placements. Instead of just one salesperson selling the wine, you’ve now informed and created 10-12 new sales people. Once again using your CRM, exchange social networking information with the crew at the restaurant. By inviting them to follow your updates on your social networking sites, you’ll keep them involved and keep them selling your wines. In an effort to increase your viral reach, ask the just sampled staff who have actual experience with your wine to post reviews on sites, such as CellarTracker, AbleGrape, vinquire, or VinCellar. This isn’t the Chicago politics of my youth, but a request for honest appraisals of your wine by informed wine consumers to be posted on sites frequented by other inquisitive wine consumers.
When you return home, post the story of your trip on your winery blog. Summarize your achievements in an email to your distributor/partner. Hand write the requisite thank you notes. Download information from your CRM contacts list. Add and follow your growing list of contacts to your social web. Then read in detail and in real time the appropriate account sold reports, which you’ve of course retrieved online in the form of a CVS file directly from your distributor partner’s data server.
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