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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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5 Reasons Email for Wine Sales ROCKS

Times have changed. Have YOU?

Wine buyer in his wine shop
Wine buyers read email

If there was ever a time to introduce NEW plays into your wine sales playbook, now is most certainly the time. Face-to-face, in-person selling opportunities are minimal (if existent at all), and this is not likely to change for quite some time. What a great time and place to talk about EMAIL for wine sales.

One of the easiest-to-learn, lowest-cost strategies “street reps” should add to their repertoire is email marketing. Using email to sell more wine to the TRADE is easier than you think. But first you need to forget what you think you know about email marketing.

Shred that email newsletter

your newsletter is so boring. Please stop sending it to me!
250250no more boring newsletters

When most wine sellers think of email marketing, the first thing that comes to their mind is NEWSLETTERS.

Wine marketers do not like to admit that most people do not enjoy their newsletters. We get so enthralled by the “beauty” of our newsletters, we forget to ask if anyone bothers to read it.

Your open rates will tell you how engaged your newsletter audience is. Of course, SOME people will read your monthly missives. So, send it to only those people. And thanks to modern email marketing software, you know exactly who those people are. Once you hit an open rate of 50-80%, you will know you have found your newsletter audience.

3 Fatal Flaws of Email Newsletters

But audience targeting is not the only problem with winery newsletters. Most winery newsletters suffer from 3 fatal flaws:

  1. They are too self-promoting
  2. Just like vacation photos, they only amuse the sender
  3. They are just too dang long

Why email gets a bad rap

So why do so many wineries keep cranking out annoying newsletters? My guess is because they do not know what else to do. I submit to you that because we have SO MANY wineries using newsletters poorly, they have given email marketing a bad reputation. It is a false impression because done correctly, using email for wine sales is one of the lowest-cost, highest-return ways to SELL WINE.


But I am not here today to talk about how winery DTC departments might improve their email marketing usage. I would instead prefer to introduce this idea that the use of email marketing software (i.e., MailChimp, Constant Contact, and ConvertKit) is leverage-able in the pursuit of incremental TRADE sales. Specifically, customers within the 3-tier system: package stores and restaurants.  

From my vantage point, I see just about every wine company using email marketing for DTC sales but almost NO wineries using email marketing to attract and retain TRADE BUYER relationships to sell more wine.

Wine buyer standing in front of the shelf full of wine
250wine buyers will read your email IF your content adds value

With that in mind, I am pleased to present these FIVE reasons to start doing so immediately:

1) You can talk to your customers electronically (instead of in-person).

There exists a deeply held belief in the wine trade that “true selling” of wine can must take place in-person. I vividly remember my early days selling wine to restaurants and package stores for a distributor in Houston (’84-’87). It was frowned upon to talk to a customer by telephone. “Real” salespeople always sold face-to-face. It was considered anathema to sell any other way.

Even though it is 2020, many wine sales pros (especially those from my generation) still think the same way. They cringe at the thought of speaking to customers digitally. If there was ever a time to get over this flawed rationale, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is it. You simply must get past this mental hurdle and do it as soon as possible. Phone and email are all you have to work with these days.

2) You Can Speak to Many People at Once using Email

Now, here is an excellent place to dispel any notions you might have of using “blasts” to communicate with large numbers of people at once. Impersonal blasts are NOT the correct way to do email marketing. Using tags and segmentation is the way to speak to multiple people AND focus on their preferences and needs. Here is an excellent example of this:

group of women enjoying wine
250250Email marketing is scale-able

Say you want to send an email to all the restaurants in your sales territory, letting them know your distributor just received a pallet of your top-selling wine in the 375ml size. As you are aware, one of the bright spots of the pandemic is restaurants in many states can sell wine to go IF the package is 375ml or smaller. Using “tags” is the key here. You might have a tag for current customers and another tag for restaurants open during the pandemic). Instead of sending this new information to EVERYONE on your email list, you send it ONLY to subscribers with both the “open during pandemic” tag and the “current customer” tag. Voila! You have just sent a broadcast communication to many buyers at once, but only to the buyers that care to receive that particular type of information.

3) You Can Grow Your Customer Email List Continually and Automatically

One of the best benefits of using email marketing software like Mail Chimp or Convert Kit is the addition of handy tools like forms, landing pages, and automated email sequences. Here are just a few nifty things you can do with these powerful features:

  • Create a place on your company website, especially for members of the trade to sign up for your trade-only email list.
  • Run a Facebook ad (aimed at restaurants and package stores) offering a piece of valuable content in exchange for their email address. These are called “lead magnets.” The key is the freebie must be valuable enough to cause the trade buyer to want the information. For example, check out this short video. When I mention “Facebook advertising,” I am NOT talking about boosted posts but, preferably, “real” Facebook advertising.
  • Build a simple landing page that “covert” visitors to email subscribers.

4) It is Easy to Measure the ROI of Email Marketing

3 wine glasses. One empty. One with money stuffed into it. One with red wine pouring into it
You must be able to measure the ROI

Some forms of digital marketing are difficult to measure. Social media posts and brand awareness ad campaigns most assuredly add value, but quantifying the ROI is tough. Clicks, Likes, Shares, Comments, Reach, Impressions do not always point directly and conclusively to sales – especially when it comes to who-bought-what.

Not so with using EMAIL for wine sales. Hard and fast metrics abound. For starters, there is the size of your email list. Next, there is the open rate and click-through rate. You can easily measure conversion rates on your landing pages as you test various lead magnets. Lastly, you can connect the dots between subscribers and purchasers using click segmentation. Measuring your “return on ad spend” is well within reach with email.

5) It Feels Fantastic to Have Something Tangible to DO

A wine sales person leaning back at her desk with a bit smile on her face
Busy salespeople are happy salespeople

Among the wide assortment of uncomfortable feelings salespeople are experiencing during the lock down, is the sensation of not knowing what to DO. The standard, familiar routines have vanished. Sales pros are, by nature, DOERS. Pounding the pavement, pressing palms, and sitting kneecap-to-kneecap is the way it is typically done. It is a helpless, hopeless feeling for a salesperson to be grounded and stuck at home.

But email is so tangible. Finally, something to do that will move the needle. Organizing your list of subscribers, learning to use the software (it is way easier than you think), growing your list of subscribers, planning out your email broadcasts, and then engaging those who respond. Sending valuable emails to trade buyers is as close as they can get to turning your hard-won trade buyer relationships into actual sales for your company.

Engaging with your buyers via email can be exhilarating. It provides the “juice” that salespeople crave. But you first must learn how to do it right.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for crushing this new skill:

  • Do not put or keep anyone on your subscriber list without their permission.
  • Write each short “broadcast” as if you were writing to just that one person. The recipient needs to feel like you are writing to them personally. So, write as if you are.
  • Make liberal use of “tags.” There is no limit to the number of tags you can create and assign in your email marketing software. Think of tags as tiny little identifiers attributed to each subscriber according to their individual preferences and interests. For example, a single trade buyer on your list might have all of the following tags assigned to them: WSET Level 2, On-Premise, Pinot Noir lover, Been to France, Cornell Grad, Speak Italian and Collects Antique Corkscrews.  Tags allow you to tailor your communications, so each subscriber receives ONLY the content of interest.
  • Like all forms of communicating, less is more. Strive for brevity and clarity. Forget newsletters. Good “trade” correspondence should be incredibly brief and to the point. No pictures/image is best. If you must include pictures, use only one and keep the size of the file small.
  • Use a CTA (call to action) in every email. It could be something as simple as “Click here to request a sample,” or “Click here to RSVP for our virtual tasting with the winemaker,” or “Click here to watch the video.” You get the idea. Use click segmentation to “capture” all the actions taken by the subscriber. Over time, you will learn to gain incredible insights into the interests of each subscriber.

Here’s a FREE 28-minute email marketing video tutorial

To help as many wine sales pros as possible get started on this journey, I have created a free video tutorial that walks you through all the things I talked about in this article in more detail. It is 28-minutes long, but I promise it is well worth your time. To access the video, click here.

Are there more than five reasons to add email marketing to your wine sales repertoire? Absolutely! But I hope these 5 convince you to get started right away.

As always, I will be standing by to help if you need me.

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