Time and time again, when people hire me to revitalize a winery or distillery’s sales team on the gurney, the proposed solution is “more sales training.” More often than not, however, the key to moving product and making money actually depends more on a sales leader’s ability to empower their salespeople, remove any barriers, and get the heck out of the way. Before you blame your top-performing sales professionals, indulge a self-evaluation based on these four principles to get the most out of your wine sales team.
1. Hire the Right People
This is the most crucial point I have — you must hire the right people from the start. For most wine and spirits companies, this is where everything breaks down. The sales performance they want so badly doesn’t materialize because they don’t know how to hire the right people. They don’t know where to find them, what to look for, how to screen for them, yet that is the most important thing. No amount of motivation or incentives in the world can take a mediocre salesperson and turn him into a star salesperson. If you want star salespeople who consistently deliver the numbers month after month, year after year, you’re going to have to hire that.
Over my years of leading large sales teams, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some extraordinary salespeople. They all had one thing in common — they didn’t need anyone to tell them what to do to succeed. They got up in the morning, knew precisely what they needed to do, and they went out there and did it consistently. Therefore, the idea that you would have to provide any kind of extra motivation to a salesperson is ridiculous. Put all of your energy, time, and care into hiring the right people to begin with and you will get the most out of your wine sales team. Otherwise, nothing else you do is going to work.
2. Don’t Micromanage your Salespeople
Once you find the right people and onboard them properly, leave them alone. The very best salespeople hate to be micromanaged; it annoys the heck out of them. It would be a waste of your time to try to micromanage them. You’ve got to hire people that you trust. Managers usually micromanage because they don’t trust that their staff is working and putting in the hours. But it is not the job of the sales leaders to make sure people are working. That would be ridiculous.
If you hire the right people, they’re going to work their butts off with or without you because that’s how they roll. That’s how they’re wired. That’s how they were made. Just leave them alone, give them space to operate, find other things to do as the sales leader. You could be removing obstacles for them, making sure the communication is clear, keeping the priorities on track, and protecting them from all the people above you and all that political nonsense that goes on. (You know what I’m talking about; protect your salespeople from that!) They need to be free to go out and do what they do best. Do not micromanage them.
3. Do NOT Over-Function as the Sales Leader
I admit that this sounds a lot like point number two. But over-functioning goes way beyond this. There’s a saying I like to use (and I suggest you use it too): “To the degree that the leader over-functions, everyone around them will under-function.” This means that if you’re an over-functioning person and you’re constantly jumping in and trying to help or tagging along, etc., all it will do is make the person who reports to you pull back. Now, they’re going to wait before doing something because you might change the direction, or you might not like the way they’re doing it. To get the most out of your wine sales team, I would worry a lot less about how people get things done and worry far more about whether or not they do, in fact, get things done.
The beautiful thing about salespeople is they all have a goal, and usually, there’s some kind of reward or incentive or bonus for achieving that goal. As a sales leader, don’t worry about how they get to their goal; worry about whether or not they do. Salespeople will bring problems to you as the sales leader, and sometimes you need to get baby arms. Be careful that you don’t get sucked into over-functioning. Each salesperson needs to be a high-functioning, high-performing individual operator. So beware of trying to over-function on their behalf (or them trying to get you to over-function on their behalf). Pay attention to this — it’s a big one.
4. Help your Sales Team Stay Focused
It is your job as a sales leader to help the team stay focused so that you can make sure that your wine sales team is functioning at a high level. Salespeople are great “people people.” They’re high-energy people, friendly people, outgoing people. Those qualities make them great salespeople — but those same qualities also make it hard for them to stay focused. The primary job of a sales leader (besides hiring the right people) is to give them the tools they need to be successful, help them stay focused, then stay out of their way.
This is where the coaching part of being a sales leader comes into play. Don’t think that just because you shouldn’t micromanage, you also shouldn’t be a coach. All great teams need a coach. Whether it’s a professional sports team or a sales team, everyone needs coaching. Think of the Super Bowl. All that talent on the field, and they still need their coaches. The skills that salespeople have often need to be focused, and you, as their “coach,” help them do that.
Coach by Asking Questions
One of the best ways to help people stay focused is to ask questions about how things are going. “Do you feel like you’re staying focused? What kind of barriers are you running into?” Because of the way they’re wired, good salespeople are very busy — sometimes too busy. You have to keep an eye out for them and ask them questions like, “Should you have that much on your plate right now? Can I help you refocus? Maybe let go of some of the smaller trivial stuff.”
You’ve heard me say before that salespeople don’t always act in their own best interest, and that’s not a character flaw. It’s just part of how they’re wired. They just need a coach to help them stay focused.
Focus on the Important Accounts
Here’s what you should be focusing on. It is an absolute fact that the vast majority of business is concentrated in a smaller number of accounts called the top 20-30% of the accounts. These are the accounts that hold the most potential. You can’t allow your salespeople to treat all accounts as if they had the same value.
Salespeople are wired to see an account that doesn’t have your product, then make it their mission to make sure that changes. The problem is some of those placements are very low value; they’re never really going to amount to much. A big part of the sales leader’s job is identifying the accounts that will make a meaningful difference. Have that discussion with the salesperson responsible for each territory, coach them, and talk to them about how important it is to stay focused on the most important accounts. That way, when they do make a placement, it yields the maximum possible amount. Volume is a big focus for the wine and spirits business — we must meet our volume goals. So this is a big part of the job of a sales leader and to get the most out of your wine sales team.
YOUR Tools to Success
Sales Leaders, you’re going to need all of your tools around you. You need to know where every bottle of wine and spirits is sold by account, right down to the address level. You need to be able to look at it by month. You need to be able to recognize trends. What new accounts do we have? What accounts are we in danger of losing? Are we staying focused on accounts that really matter? Do we have the right channel strategy in on premise, off premise, chains, independents? There’s a lot for the sales leaders to do, and most of this has to do with strategy and staying focused. You don’t need to micromanage your salespeople, but you can have some reports that show if they’re focusing on the correct accounts.
For example, let’s say you create a list of 30 or 40 of the richest targets in any given market. You should run reports that only show activity and results for that particular set of accounts, not for the whole territory. I don’t think you should measure the number of sales calls made per week because that assumes that all accounts are equal. What you need to know is how you are doing in the accounts that matter. Are you fishing where the fish are?
If you’d like to learn more about sales strategy in 2021, consider taking my FREE online course: “Modern Sales Playbook for Wine & Spirits”. Click here to learn more.