How Mature is Your Wine Sales Management Model?

I recently became familiar with the concept of CMM (the Capability Maturity Model) during an ideation session with a tech-pro friend with whom I frequently collaborate. Maturity Models come from the field of software development, but I immediately began to draw correlations to the wine industry.

The term, “maturity,” relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes. On the immature end of the spectrum, you have chaos or informality.  From there, the organization “matures” through various stages culminating in “sustainable, predictable results.”


As a consultant specializing in helping wineries accelerate their distribution and sales, my mind began immediately thinking of ways I could help clients “move up” the ladder of maturity in their sales process.

I’ve been writing for some time about how the model our industry’s been using for 30+ years now is “broken.” What once worked to grow sales and distribution in the US no longer works for various reasons. You can read about those reasons in other posts.

Of course, there is a wide array of maturity levels among winery sales teams. So, here I offer a little self-assessment every winery can use to evaluate their current state.


You operate with a highly informal, just-do-it mentality. This is a more intuitive model driven primarily by strong relationships with distributors. You’re so afraid of burdening your sales team with “admin work” you leave it up to them to mostly manage themselves. One of the attributes that characterizes this level of maturity is your sales team tends to more closely identify themselves with their distributors than their own company by defending them and helping them justify poor performance. Account selection could best be described as “go-with-your gut” or “ask-your-distributor.” You believe your wines are so unique and so distinct, all that is lacking between you and success is more education.

Documented Process

You have developed some repeatable processes which may include establishing goals by brand, channels of trade, and premise. You even have a rudimentary process for targeting key accounts (but it’s based upon highly subjective and qualitative inputs like Zagat lists rather than hard data and empirical evidence of potential). You do a great job of measuring performance but tend to use lagging metrics (shipments, depletions, and accounts sold) rather than leading metrics like sales per point of distribution potential (velocity) and # of wines by the glass for specific product sets in specific account sets (right wines in the right places).  You are still clinging to the fantasy that the right incentives or the right amount of portfolio education will somehow cause your distributor to meet your expectations of them.

Predictable Results

You’ve identified the 20% of the accounts that drive 80% of the business and have the systems and disciplines in place to monitor sales activity and results against them. You don’t rely on your distributors very much beyond maintaining inventory and delivering the products your team has sold to accounts. You’ve taken complete responsibility for your own results and have separated your sales team into two distinct functions: those who manage distributors & business units and those who actively sell to key accounts (on, off, chain, and independents). You fully leverage all available data and technology to set goals, conduct surveys, record daily sales activities, and meticulously track compliance against your on and off premise chain authorizations -all using a mobile device.

Of course, there are more than just three stages of maturity – probably closer to five. But, I hope these three broad “buckets” have given you something to think about and discuss with your team. If, after some self-reflection, you think you might need some help from outside experts like me,  send me an email at or visit my website

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  1. Great article, Ben! I couldn’t agree with you more on this. I see “major” players in the wine industry stuck in the immature “chaos” management style everyday. Unfortunately, many of these companies are led by sales managers who not only don’t know any other way but fear change so much that they resist evolving. This is why great brands lose market share, while companies with more mature processes and execution strategies win. Thanks for the article. Keep them coming!

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