Wine 2.0 Strategies for Maximizing Distributor Work-Withs

womens final Martina Navratilova“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 investorstateofthewine200jpg2s. 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.

chart1Looking 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 trendingMorton's Steakhouse 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 Sales Presentationbetter 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.

Cakebread CellarsMy 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 thatOakville Grocery went back and forth between Oakville and OrlandoJack 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 CakebreadJack 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 andJean Arnold Sessions 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 HdR Tweet-uplike 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 Chris Donatiellocontacts 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.

Restaurant Line-up TastingAs 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 yourChecking Accounts Sold 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.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

13 thoughts on “Wine 2.0 Strategies for Maximizing Distributor Work-Withs

  1. The amount of knowledge you possess makes me jealous and that is a very difficult thing to do. In my own humble way I too am blogging about wine and the industry but more from my techie background and passion for wine itself. I am humbled by your experience.

    I also laugh reading this piece because a few hours ago I saw an article from wordpress (written by someone on LinkedIn) who was wondering what the wine industry will do when the social networks disappear and made it seem that many within want that to happen…obviously that person doesn’t get it. With 5000 (plus – a long waiting list) on FaceBook I believe I know what I’m talking about. They don’t have even a single clue as to how the consumer market has changed, is changing, and will continue to change.

    What is the “old” expression…wake up and smell the coffee…time for sleeping is over.

    On you article and the slight uptick that you are sensing, I hope that you are correct.

  2. That’s a great article, John. Love the Navratilova quote. We often talk about winning small victories. What’s best is how you link up the best of the past with the wave of the future. Not many people have that gift. You have a rare ability and your clients are lucky that you’re on THEIR team.

  3. great article. I agree with everything except the whole working with wholesalers – save yourself the time and money and simply KNOW YOUR MARKET and the wholesalers do what they do best – delivery and billing – leave the sales part to professionals who now how to sell, not a bunch of fresh-out-of-grad-school kids who could just as easily and enthusiastically be selling pencils.

    with the monopolization of wholesalers on fast forward, it is imperative that small to medium sized wineries align themselves with independent sales forces (i.e. brokers/portfolios) yet not replicate the problem at the broker/NSM level. Finding someone outside of the 34,000 sku wholesaler who has a narrower focus of say, 250 skus, will guarantee a much, much better ROI, even if you have to throw a few points their way.

    • Thanks for your experienced input. Don’t disagree with your take on going DTT, especially if you’re small, or new. It’s the way that I would advise any start-up to go, directionally speaking. Inertia Bev would be a good place to start. However, lots of small to medium wineries are in the three tier system, and they want to know how to make it work. I’m just one flickering match in the darkness hoping to shine some light on this issue. I’m not trying to have all the answers, just a lot of the questions. Stay tuned for future episodes.

  4. One concern I have with some of these strategies is falling afoul of a hypervigilant liquor control board.
    The application of rules against providing support to retailers is a bit vague in a Web 2.0 world, but the potential liability of being too close to the retailer makes me a bit cautious.
    Am I the only one who worries about such things?

    • Joe: I understand your concerns re legal issues, and I hope you’re not implying that I’m suggesting or engaging in questionable practices. The strategy and tactics outlined in my think pieces have been part of legal winery practices directed to and through traditional media in past and current times. The wine business is an unique entity in the greater CPG category, in that it tends to be a business model based on networking, and this is just another networking tool. The law as it pertains to contact and associations with resellers is well known by the industry, and the relationship issues, legal and otherwise, between bloggers and retailers or wineries is cogently covered in the vintank social media white paper.

      • Hi John, I was checking something in Washington State rules today and stumbled across this – I think this is what I was thinking of in the earlier post.
        According to Washington State Liquor Control Board you can’t even include a link to a retailer’s site on your site (which would probably include blog, FB, etc.)! Do they live in caves in Olympia or what?

        Given the crazy patchwork of rules, I’m super cautious about “advertising” ….

  5. Thanks for illustrating the connection between online branding and community engagement with the wholesale channel – this adds even further complexity to the diagram I’m trying to create to illustrate how social media marketing fits into the winery’s strategic marketing objectives – everything is connected. Fun!

  6. Great combination of hustle, forethought and innovation you recommend here. I’ve just moved over from wine marketing to wine sales and was intrigued by how I was going to apply all the Social Media and networking to this position. You’ve definitely given me specific tactics and direction. Most appreciated.

  7. very interesting and good ideas….you must have been a very organized sales rep to have had all your appointments so far in advance that Jack Cakebread could get a list and call. I guess Jack Cakebread might have a little more clout then the average winery too…calling each place in advance might give them a reason to cancel the appointment ? But that cancellation is better to know a few days beforehand vs the night before or morning of. At least the rep can try and fill the slot.

    Signed: Weary road warrior. Its tough out there these days.

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