The modern sales environment has never been more challenging for small wine & spirits brands, and it won’t be improving any time soon. But thriving and surviving IS possible if you’re wielding the right tools for the job at hand which is building high quality distribution and lots of it.
At the top of the list for the 3 BEST tools is your mindset. “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” should be your mantra. “If it’s important to us, we’ll have to do it ourselves,” is what you should say every day to the face in the mirror. With every fiber of your being, you must avoid the temptation to reach for one of the 3 worst tools (below). YOU are responsible for building distribution. YOU are responsible for generating demand. YOU are responsible for absorbing the learning curve necessary for survival in the modern era.
Next is leveraging digital & social media to generate demand for your products. Facebook advertising, landing pages, email marketing and, of course, your website. Everything must me optimized to capture data. Data that can be used to target and build relationships with both consumers and trade. Some of this data will be captured by the Facebook Pixel. Some accumulates via your various lead-gen forms on your website and landing pages. If you think this stuff is confined to the realm of fancy pants marketing gurus, you’d be wise to reconsider. YOU or someone on your team needs to not only learn about this but master it. If necessary, find a TRUSTED expert to help you.
The third best tool is awareness of your options. It continually amazes me how shockingly unaware most small producers are of the options for selling, distributing and managing sales activities of their products. If you’re not familiar with following companies, strategies, and platforms, I suggest you give yourself a crash course asap. LibDib, SevenFifty, GreatVines, Provi, BevStrat, Green Glass Global, Equinox Technology Partners, Bevology, winery direct programs, clearing distributors, Merchant 23, BlueCart, Tennessee v. Blair just for starters. What you want to be aware of is anything that disrupts the status quo because, quite frankly, your livelihood and life’s work depends upon it.
My list of the 3 worst tools is counter-intuitive for most and downright offensive to some. But, don’t shoot the messenger. Somebody must tell you the emperor has no clothes. Might as well be me.
For decades and decades, working with distributors was the number one tool in the small brand sales tool box. Unfortunately, due to the astonishing proliferation of new brands (most of them small) and the rich-getting-richer consolidation of the wholesale tier, this is no longer the case. I can’t overstate this enough: when it comes to small brands, distributors just can’t do much for you. The best they can do is match your efforts and even that is a big stretch. Accept it. Adjust to it. Move on. The good news is most of your competitors simply refuse to accept this new reality so, for at least the next 3-5 years, you’ve got a first-mover advantage. Start relying less and less on your distributors now so you can enjoy a thriving enterprise for many years to come.
The second worst tool is product knowledge. Nothing wrong with it. Got to have it. But having it, investing in it and spending time on it won’t move the needle on your sales in any meaningful way. It’s simply not enough. Most of the wine & spirits industry reveres product knowledge over business acumen. I implore you to get the heck off that train. Again, nothing wrong with product knowledge, just don’t expect too much from it. The wine & spirits industry suffers from two powerful but opposing forces: romance & hedonistic passion on one end and cruel & pitiless competition on the other. While your top salesperson is describing soil types and degree days through moist eyes and tremored discourse, his competitor is on the phone confirming a winery-direct order for a 20-foot container.
The third on the list of worst tools for wine & spirits sales is activity. Not really a “tool” per se but it is high on the list of things-to-do-to-sell-more for most small brands. I’m talking here about the flawed mindset that more sales calls equal more sales. Or that more activity means more achievement. Not necessarily. When a small family winery or craft distillery goes out of business, a post-mortem analysis will reveal they had no regard for the 80/20 Rule. They tolerated way too much low-value activity from their sales team. They sacrificed the best on the altar of the good. The path of the productive, however, is one of prioritization, focus, and discipline. Less really is more. And it’s a good thing because small brands have so much less of everything than the larger players.
About the Author:
Ben Salisbury is the Founder and President of Salisbury Creative Group, Inc. which specializes in helping wineries and craft distilleries achieve high levels of sales effectiveness. Leveraging his knowledge and experience from three decades in the industry, Ben and his team deliver sales, marketing, and distribution expertise to a wide array of adult beverage clients. Prior to starting his own company in May of 2014, Ben spent 17 years as VP of On Premise National Accounts for both Ste Michelle Wine Estates and Constellation Brands.