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Ben Salisbury

Ben Salisbury

Ben Salisbury is the founder and president of Salisbury Creative Group and a former sales executive with Constellation Brands, Ste Michelle Wine Estates, and Glazer’s Distributors.

For the last six years, Ben and his team have been providing new solutions, new skills and new strategies to struggling wine & spirits brands giving them the edge they need to survive and thrive in the new reality.

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1-to-1 Selling: the Curse of the Wine & Spirits Industry

Broken, Spilling Wine Glass
Broken, Spilling Wine Glass

Stop thinking “small” is “big”

My office building hosts a little farmers market every Saturday morning on the street-facing plaza below. The “farmers markets” of today go well beyond locally farmed produce and freshly baked pies. They include more durable goods such as honey, jewelry, spice blends, and more. 

During breaks, I often peer down from the 4th floor to survey the commerce in progress at the small movable marketplace. Since it is winter here in northern Kentucky, the crowds are very sparse and I cannot help but wonder why on earth a micro-merchant would choose a selling method that requires the physical presence of not only themselves but their customers. It is just not a very efficient sales model. 

As a zealous adherent to email marketing, I know first hand a well-nurtured email list of hundreds would vastly eclipse the selling power of a year’s worth of weekend tent markets. And they could always do BOTH.

Figures Pouring out a Bucket
Figures Pouring out a Bucket

Stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime

Face-to-face selling is as old civilization itself and therefore will most likely always hold fast its adherents. But it would be difficult to defend the position that it is the BEST way to sell – especially in light of the free and low-cost technology available to traders of the modern era. Please do not misread me: certain goods and services will always be exchanged in person. But sealed bottles of wine or spirits need not necessarily be one of them.

I am not suggesting an either/or situation here. It is really more of a both/and. But, as I look around and listen to conversations, I observe an overwhelmingly heavy bias towards in-person, one-to-one transactions.  

Wine Tasting
Wine Tasting

How many Somms can dance on the head of a pin?

Just consider for a moment the most common and time-honored mediums for selling wine (and spirits). For on-site winery operations it is the tasting room. For 3-tier sales pros it is the overloaded sample bag and the in-store demo. 

In my experience, the most viable situation for face-to-face selling is at a table in a restaurant attended to by a sommelier. But, wine-shopper apps have threatened the efficacy of having a “live person” render tableside recommendations. 

Winery tasting rooms, popping corks in the presence of a trade buyer, in-store tasting demos and subjective table side recommendations all suffer from the same crippling malady: they are simply NOT scaleable. 

If a cork pops in the woods, does it make a sound?
If a cork pops in the woods, does it make a sound?

If a cork pops in the woods, does it make a sound?

There are some of you that cannot even conceive of a world where wine (or spirits) is sold without popping the cork and waxing poetic about its attributes in the presence of a potential buyer. And I am not for one minute saying this should go away. I am merely proffering an ADDITIONAL way to sell. 

Even if you are currently selling all the wine or spirits you produce, you still need to be paying attention because – as we learned in 2020 – things can change in an instant. The first step is recognizing and acknowledging there ARE additional strategies to employ. Again – additionally – not instead of. 

Adopt new technology IF it helps you reach your goal

At the end of the day, owning and running a winery or distillery is a BUSINESS. At least it is for most people. There are certainly exceptions where it is merely an expensive and indulgent passion project. But, those folks are the least likely to be reading this post.

The heading of this section comes from the 1994 book, Good to Great (which is still highly recommended for all business leaders). The author, Jim Collins, said to ONLY adopt new technology if it helps you reach your goal. 

For the vast majority of wine & spirits businesses operating in the new normal, technology is far more than an “if.” It is a MUST HAVE of the highest order. According to Paul Mabray (a man on whom every word I hang and so should you) says, “We are embarking on a new age of online wine…” and he is not just talking about DTC. He means ALL wine sales – including the 3-tier. If one of your company’s goals is to sell more wine (or spirits) you need to be allocating a chunk of each day’s time to learning what this “new age” is all about. 

Mobile Selliing
Mobile Selliing

The first step of your 1000-mile journey is…

Email. That’s right, you heard me. Email. Let me ask you a question. How many trade buyer email subscribers do each of your sales team members have? What software are they using to communicate with them (i.e. Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, Convert Kit, etc). What are they doing to continually grow their list? What methods are they using to “nurture” these digital relationships? (Hopefully not newsletters). What is their lifetime open rate? 

Please banish any thoughts rattling around in your head that email is not an effective sales medium for 3-tier sales or that “no one reads email.” Whenever someone says to me, “No one reads email,” I often reply, “You mean no one reads unwanted emails or emails without value to the recipient.”

Of all the first steps a 3-tier sales pro of wine or spirits could take, learning about how to leverage email software is the lowest cost/highest return place to start learning to sell at scale. At a later time, I will expand on this subject but to hold you over until then, check out this video.

Life beyond the monthly newsletter

I do not have any statistics on this but would like to. How many wineries and craft distilleries have two “plays” in their email marketing playbook: (1) newsletters and (2) announcements to their club members? There is SO much more you can do with highly segmented email lists!

My big knock against newsletters is most people do not read them. And please do not lull yourself into believing a 15-20% open rate is acceptable. If the open rates for your newsletters are not at least 50% then you are sending them to a lot of people who do not want them. 

There IS life beyond the newsletter but to implement it, you will need to, as Yoda says, “Unlearn what you have learned, you must.” To save time and virtual ink, please check out this 16-minute tutorial about how I personally and consistently achieve 50% open rates. 

If your subscribers are happy with your content (which is what your open rates are telling you), then they are far more likely to open your emails in the future so this is definitely worth pursuing.

No one cares
No one cares

The game-changing magic of lead generation

For most readers of this post, what I am about to share is BRAND NEW — especially for those who sell in the 3-tier channel. But even among the more tech-savvy DtC crowd, there is still not widespread adoption (at least not to the level that I am about to share).

So what is a “lead?” Simply put, it is the first step in a journey of “converting” interest into sales. The best thing about lead generation? You guessed it: it is totally SCALEABLE! It takes no more effort to generate a thousand leads than it does ten. 

Again, if you are pressed for time and want to learn more, just check out this short video on the topic. But for the video-averse, here is the general application:

  1. Create a piece of digital content that can be downloaded such as a free guide, a checklist, an industry report, or a tool kit.
  2. Create a landing page to collect subscriber information and deliver the lead magnet.
  3. Create, test, and launch Facebook and Instagram ads to drive traffic to the landing page.
  4. “Nurture” the new leads with an automated email sequence. 
Relationship First. Sales Later
Relationship First. Sales Later

Relationship first. Sales LATER

The key to all of this (creating lead magnets and sending follow-up emails) is to give value, give value, and give value. The “selling” comes later. Remember: relationship building first. Then sales. 

Simply spewing the attributes of your product right out the chute as if more information was the only thing standing between you and the sale is so yesterday’s news it HURTS! Get over yourself. Your wine (or spirit) is not that special. There are literally hundreds of Chardonnays and vodkas just as good as yours. 

The more you act like a typical salesperson, the more you will just push people away. It is a mindset. The sale should be merely a byproduct of a much larger relationship. A relationship built upon service, dependability, and trust. A relationship built by bringing real business value to the relationship

Join the evolution: the sky’s the limit!

It is happening right now – even as you read this post. Wineries and craft distilleries of all sizes (from the tiniest, boutique start-up to the nationally distributed wunderkinds) are figuring out that it is not only “OK” to not sell in person but extremely powerful.

You do not have to become someone you are not. You do not have to trade in your tastevin for a slide rule. Keep doing whatever works for you but ADD to it some of these new, modern, and very scale-able strategies to your selling repertoire. Otherwise, you WILL be left behind.

Think about how you sell now. Do you depend on in-person visits to your tasting room? Do you depend on “live” distributor sales reps to pull samples and take your brand(s) into the marketplace? Nothing wrong with any of those things. They are just extremely limiting. And who among us can afford to limit our sales opportunities?

Sell from anywhere - 1-to-1 Selling Wine & Spirits
Sell from anywhere

Want to learn more? Need a quick and easy place to start? Download my free Guide to Selling Wine & Spirits Remotely.  

I would also like to extend a personal invitation to join my new Clubhouse room called, “Wine & Spirits Sales Stimulator” where each week we will have a discussion about how to learn and leverage all of these “modern” ways to scale your selling efforts. 

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