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.

Email for TRADE SALES

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.

7 Things I Learned from Spending $10k on Facebook ads

Ben Salisbury, Founder/President of Salisbury Creative Group, Inc.

Facebook ads transformed my business (and can transform YOURS, too)

I completely transformed my wine & spirits sales consultancy using Facebook ads. And I am about to share the lessons I learned with YOU.

I use Facebook ads to find, attract, and nurture hundreds of prospects (wineries and distilleries) and have built a half-million dollar per year business as a result.

In addition to using Facebook ads to improve my own business I have also used it to help many different wine and spirits companies improve their businesses.

Facebook ads can be used for both DTC and B2B

Facebook advertising is one of the most effective platforms for improving both DTC and B2B wine sales. But many wineries/distilleries (and even their agencies) do not know how to do it correctly. Part of the reason is it is so darn easy to do it wrong but incredibly difficult to do it right.

The learning curve is incredibly steep. So many things must come together. To learn how to master the platform, you must be willing to let go of and “unlearn” much of what you think you know about it.

Before you settle on a strategy (or choose an agency to help you), you would be wise to seek the advice of someone who has enjoyed PROVEN success with Facebook advertising.  

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Lesson 1: Facebook ads are not effective for selling (at least not directly)

There are over 2.6 billion users worldwide scrolling their Facebook feed daily. While only 10% of those users can be found in the USA, almost half of all the ad revenue from Facebook is spent by US companies. If you want to be successful with Facebook advertising, it helps a great deal to understand what the users want when they log into the app.

People primarily come to Facebook for two things: to be entertained or to socialize. They do NOT come to the platform to buy. If the call to action button you are using in your ad is “SHOP NOW” or “BUY NOW” you are not only going to waste a lot of money but will potentially squander the good will of your would-be customers.

The goal of advertisers using the Facebook platform should be to grow their email list and then use email marketing to nurture (slowly, patiently, and skillfully) those “leads” until they buy. Failure to understand this process is why so many wineries say, “Facebook advertising doesn’t work.” Oh, it works alright: but you just must learn how to do it correctly.

Lesson 2: Test, test, and test some more

One of the very first things I learned when I began my Facebook advertising journey was no matter how good I thought my ideas were, I would never really know for sure until I TESTED them. There are four different things you can test: image, ad copy, headline, and audience. I have found it is best to test several audiences first (using the same image, ad copy, and headline for all ads in the test). Once you have found the best performing audience, you can then test 2-3 different images on that “winning” audience. Then I take the best performing image for that winning audience and test 2-3 different headlines. THEN I am are ready to proceed with the full force of my ad budget.

It takes 4 to 5 days for Facebook’s algorithm to “learn” which users are most likely to engage with a new ad. So, using the testing scenario above, it could take 2-3 weeks before your campaign comes out of the testing phase.

Your patience will be rewarded many times over by getting better RESULTS.

Sonoma County Zinfandel Vineyard
Sonoma County Zinfandel Vineyard

Lesson 3: Your Facebook ads should not LOOK like ads

This is a common mistake that is easy to make. Facebook has made it effortless for literally anyone to jump into the advertising game. But nothing will hasten the scrolling thumbs of users more than something that looks like an ad. If you want people to engage with your content, you would be wise to avoid any whiff of self-promotion. For example, a stunning beauty shot of a vineyard is far more effective at stopping the scroll than a bottle shot of one of your wines (no matter how you dress up the background).

The same goes for your headline and ad copy. Stay far away from any language that highlights the attributes of your product. Instead, focus on your STORY. Upload an old photograph of your owner/founders and use the ad copy space to share how and why they came to be in the wine business.

It might seem counter-intuitive to spend money on advertising without directly promoting your products. But, the power of social media can only fully be unlocked by understanding what users want to see on their feed (and what they DON’T want). The good news is Facebook has provided a handy “report card” for your ads via their Ad Relevance Diagnostics. If you are not consistently getting Average and Above Average rankings, there is your first clue you are missing the mark with your ads.

PRO TIP: If you currently employ and advertising agency to help with your Facebook ads, insist they provide you with the Ad Relevance Diagnostics as part of their “results” dashboard for each ad. It is the one of the most reliable metrics of what kind of job they are doing for you. High relevance is directly correlated with high performance (ROI of your ad spend).

don't you dare boost that post
Don’t you dare boost that post!

Lesson 4: Boosting posts is not “real” Facebook advertising

It might feel like it is, but it is not. In most instances, boosting posts is a giant waste of money. The reason is it severely limits your audience targeting. It is like stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime. It is like filling your belly with free bread in a restaurant while sitting 5 feet away from a smorgasbord. Boosting posts is the lazy person’s idea of Facebook advertising.

What to do instead? Create a Facebook Business Manager. Then create an Ad Account. Then assign your new Ad Account and your Facebook Page to your new Business Manager. Learn how to create and use the Facebook Pixel. Learn how to use the Audience Insights tool. Learn how to create Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences. Learn about the different campaign types and how and when to use them. Learn the difference between “warm” audiences and “cold” audiences and how and when to use them. Learn how to use the Ads Manager dashboard and how to interpret all the metrics and insights provided by Facebook (especially the Ad Relevance Diagnostics).

After that, learn how to write effective ad copy. Especially LONG ad copy.

Whew! No wonder so many people default to the idiot-proof boosting of posts. There is so much to LEARN! You bet your a__ there is. Look. There are over 10,000 wineries in the US and at least another 50,000 wine brands from outside the US vying for the same consumers you are. If you DON’T invest the time to learn how to effectively use Facebook (or hire someone who knows what they are doing), you will achieve very poor results. The wine business has become a deadly serious business. Take some of the money you have been wasting on other dumb things and reinvest it in “real” Facebook advertising.

Rose wine bottles
Rose wine bottles

Lesson 5: Know your audience (and what they want)

The most effective use of advertising is to either solve a problem for someone or to satisfy some need or make someone’s life easier or more enjoyable. For most consumers, wine is a terribly complex product with an overwhelming array of options. Before you can sell someone your wine, you must first earn their trust. And the best way to earn someone’s trust is to build a relationship with them. The best way to build a relationship is to provide something of value. Here’s where Facebook advertising (done correctly) really shines.

For example, maybe you produce an exceptional Pinot Noir. Instead of spewing all manner of “facts” about your Pinot Noir in your ad, why not offer consumers a “free guide to understanding Pinot Noir.” A downloadable PDF that provides useful information about the various regions where great Pinot Noir is produced (i.e. Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Willamette Valley, Burgundy, Central Otago, etc) and how they differ. To download the free PDF, they must “opt in” to your email list (via a FB Lead Ad or a landing page). If you continue to consistently provide value over time via your broadcast emails, you will slowly build a relationship with them. A sale should be merely a by-product of a much larger relationship. Facebook advertising is a horrible vehicle for selling wine, but it is an extremely powerful tool for building your email list. Use that email list to sell.

Offering various “lead magnets” like this is a powerful way for you to learn about your customers and what they want. The use of “tags” to segment your email list will enable you to put the right content in front of the right customers.

whiskey bottles
Whiskey bottles

Lesson 6: It is NOT about you or your products

We are talking about a “mindset” here. Using Facebook advertising to promote your products (under the guise of “brand awareness”) is a losing, money-wasting strategy. This is why, for example, newsletters are (generally) useless. The focus of the typical winery/distillery newsletter is on you and your products. This “inward” focus serves only to lump you in with the tens of thousands of other ham-handed advertisers trying to sell the same type of product.

If you want to help consumers develop an appreciation for your wines/spirits, simply “telling” them about the products’ attributes is a highly ineffective way to do it. Oh, if it were only as easy as swipe right or swipe left. Are they just supposed to take your word for it based on a picture and a few tasting notes? And don’t even get me started about awards and medals and scores. Want to get better results from you Facebook ads? Get the focus off yourself and your products and put it where it belongs: on your customers (see #5 above). Facebook adverting, executed properly, is merely the entry point for building a long-term relationship with wine consumers.

Ad Relevance Diagnostics
Ad Relevance Diagnotics

Lesson 7: Results (sales) is the best measurement of success

Likes are nice. Shares are even better. Clicks are encouraging. Growing your fan base is exciting. But NOTHING is better than actual sales. Most Facebook advertising agencies love to proffer reports and dashboards that measure “engagement” as if those metrics alone justified the expense of Facebook advertising (or the agency’s fees). I am not saying there is no value in engagement. There absolutely is. What I am saying is engagement pales in value compared to actual RESULTS. What I want to know is for every dollar I spend on Facebook ads, how much new REVENUE did I gain? I also want to closely track what it costs me to acquire a new customer (defined as someone who purchased something).

Go ahead and measure impressions and reach and click-through rates. But do not STOP THERE! Hold your advertising budget (and agency) accountable for RESULTS. This CAN be measured. If you are not sure how to do it I am happy to show you how (for free).

empty wine bottles
Empty bottles- a sign of success

Time to put this learning to work for YOU

Are you ready to take you take your Facebook advertising to the next level? Start by looking at each of the 7 lessons above and asses which ones you are already doing well and which ones you need to improve upon.

This industry is too competitive not to get this right.

the all powerful Facebook pixel
The all-powerful Facebook Pixel

Tear it down to build it up

You do not have to be a fan of professional golf to understand this analogy. One of the things that separates great golfers from the average ones is the commitment to continually disassembling, reconstructing, and improving their golf swing.

When was the last time you took a step back and thoroughly evaluated how, why, and what you do with your Facebook advertising budget? These 7 lessons above area great place to start. You may also want to download my Facebook Advertising Success Checklist for Wineries & Distilleries.

Which of the 7 lessons will you tackle first? I would love to hear your comments! And please share this post with the people in your organization (or ad agency) who need to see it.

3 Ways to SCALE Your Ability to Sell Wine & Spirits

Thinking small is holding you back

wine on fast moving bottling line
wine bottling line

When it comes to the ability to sell wine and spirits via the 3-tier system (trade sales) you don’t hear a lot of talk about selling “at scale.” Most in our industry believe selling is about pulling samples and sitting face-to-face with customers. That’s certainly ONE way to do it. But, it’s just not a “scale-able” way.

For decades now, there’s been only one way to “scale” your efforts to sell more wine and spirits. By signing on more distributors in more states. Or maybe moving from a small distributor to a large one. But my oh my how times have changed!

As is widely known by now, the capabilities of distributors to help small-to-medium sized wineries and distilleries have been significantly diminished. It’s not their fault. There are just way too many brands. Way too few distributors and that “ratio” is getting worse every year. The burden of growing sales & distribution now falls to the producer.

But I bring you good news: There ARE ways a winery or distillery can dramatically SCALE their sales efforts. Most of these new options are truly NEW, meaning they did not exist just a few years ago.

Not scale-able: 1-on-1 in-person selling, automobiles, and telephones

Scale-able: websites, software, direct response marketing, and outsourcing (brokers)

This article highlights 3 of the most powerful ways wineries and distilleries can SCALE their ability to sell a lot more product. Use one, two or all three for maximum effect.

Online Platforms

There are two categories of online platforms for selling wine & spirits in 2020. The first is business-to-business (B2B) and the second is direct-to-consumer (DTC).

The most well-known and established platform for selling wine & spirits in a B2B context is Liberation Distribution, otherwise known as LibDib. LibDib holds distributor licenses in 5 states currently (CA, CO, FL, NY, WI) with many more on the way including (I think IL is next). Their business model is 100% online. Trade buyers (called Resellers) and small-craft wine & spirits producers (Makers) can connect virtually and transact business 24/7. The best part of the model in my opinion is you don’t have to deal with a salesperson. This alone should bring a site-crashing surge of traffic to their platform!

Like all great ideas and innovations, complimentary platforms will most assuredly follow in LibDib’s footsteps. One to keep your eye on is new-kid-on-the-block, GrapeIn. The still-in-beta GrapeIn platform aims to be a global  “online community.” It will bring together foreign and domestic producers, importers, distributors, brokers and retailers (both on and off premise). GrapeIn is “distributor agnostic” so it really doesn’t matter what your distribution network looks like in the US. Anyone can jump onto the platform and start consummating deals.

When it comes to platforms for direct-to-consumer sales there are options than ever before. I just want to highlight a few of my favorite.  For producers of craft spirits, one of the best platforms in my opinion (and experience) is Speakeasy Co. This CA-based tech company makes it easy to sell spirits right off your own website to multiple states around the US. They have a very clever way of integrating with a distillery’s website for a seamless shopper experience.  We have several clients of ours who are leveraging this platform now.

Another bright star on the horizon is Spirit Hub (formerly known as Big Fish). They only sell in IL now but watch for them to expand soon. You don’t need your distributor to introduce you to these platforms. Just contact them directly.

If you are a small winery that does not have e-commerce capabilities on your own website there are many options you can pursue such as wine.com, VinConnect, and Bounty Hunter.

Lead Generation

wine buyer - woman
wine buyer- woman

The responsibility for building lots of high-quality distribution has shifted from the distributors to the producers. You must learn HOW to generate your own demand in the trade (restaurants, retail wine shops, etc). The very best and most scale-able way to do this is this powerful combination of Facebook Lead Ads and automated email sequences (using a tool like Convert Kit) or MailChimp, etc.

I have found that most wineries and distilleries have no idea this is even a thing. It’s a shame because there are few elements in the 3-tier sales game that are 100% within a producer’s control. If you’d like to a greater command of your own destiny, you owe it to yourself to explore this process more deeply.

There’s a steep learning curve, no question. But the time & money you invest in learning these new skills pays off many times over. Besides, the alternatives look mighty bleak! Not familiar with this game-changing strategy? Check out this recording of a recent webinar I hosted that walks you through the whole process from end to end.

The heart of this strategy is your email list of trade buyers. The goal is attracting these buyers to you (with your messaging, your targeting, and your content) and get them to sign up for your trade-only email list. From there, you “nurture” those contacts by providing a continuous “drip” of high-value content. Just imagine if you had a list of 1,000 well-qualified, engaged trade buyers who looked forward to receiving correspondence from you. Imagine what you could you do with such a powerful asset? But we’re not talking about annoying newsletters and obnoxious offers to buy stuff. Instead, focus on exclusive trade-only access and personalized service you can provide America’s top buyers. These trade pros WANT direct access to producers. So give it to them!

Independent Brokers

Independent wine & spirits brokers
Independent Wine & Spirits Brokers

With the distributor bottleneck being what it is, we have certainly entered the age of the broker. What the world needs right now is lots more independent tech savvy, well-connected “agents” who can get your products in front of all the buyers on your wish list. Hired guns.

Now, I’m not talking about “traditional” brokers here who focus on getting the distributors to act on your behalf. That way of operating is deader than disco. The days of “managing the distributor” are gone and you should severely limit your spending on that activity. I have a whole series on my YouTube channel called “Question Everything” to help give you a reality check.

The modern brokers, by contrast, don’t see “managing distributors” as the best way to get things done. What they do instead is leverage all their well-earned relationships with key buyers (both on and off premise) to bypass the distributor bottleneck and SELL for their clients

Two of the best examples are Edge Beverage Consulting and Green Glass Global. Both have small armies of sales pros with all the right connections. And it’s those connections that allow them to build new distribution and sales despite the distributor bottleneck. Most small wine & spirits producers desperately need these services, but few even know they exist.  

The great separation

The great separation
The great separation

When we emerge on the other side of this plague (and we will), I predict there will be a great separation among wine & spirits producers. On one side will be those who stubbornly cling to the OLD out-of-touch belief that distributors are primary engine that drives sales & distribution in today’s marketplace.

On the other side will be those who’ve not only accepted the new realities but have taken steps to ameliorate them. To learn NEW skills and NEW strategies.

For the former will continue to drink from the bitter cup of status quo. But the latter will move forward to enjoy the power and freedom that comes from taking control of their own destiny.

How to leverage email marketing to sell more wine & spirits to the TRADE

Don’t let anyone tell you email marketing is dead. It’s only the people who don’t know what they are talking about that spout such nonsense. Almost all wineries and many distilleries currently leverage email marketing on the DTC side of their business. But, it’s on the TRADE sales side of the business that email marketing is drastically underutilized. A big reason for this is the actual people (team members) who design and execute DTC email marketing campaigns are not the same people responsible for TRADE sales.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work. Email marketing – done right- IS hard work. There is also a steep learning curve because you’ve got to master a new piece of software (i.e. Constant Contact or MailChimp, etc). Besides, isn’t it the distributors’ job to sell wine to the trade? Right. So, how’s that workin’ for ya?

If your winery or distillery is not using email marketing now to sell more products to the trade, you might want to take a few minutes and read the rest of this article.

Just imagine for a second you had in your possession, say, one thousand email addresses of sommeliers, restaurant owners, independent package store owners, and other various buyer roles in the trade AND you understood how to market your wares to them using email marketing. You would have one of the lowest-cost, highest return routes to market on the planet. You could generate so much new revenue you could easily afford to pay a person to do this full time at a fraction of the cost of a “traditional” sales rep. No company car, no travel allowance, no bloated salary. When Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world,” he was surely talking about email marketing.

This strategy should appeal to smaller producers of wine & spirits with a tiny (or no) sales team because they don’t stand a chance in the 3-tier environment. Once you know how to a) reach potential buyers and b) get them to “opt in” to your email list your fortunes will surely improve. This is best accomplished by using a magical combination of Facebook ads + Landing Pages + Email Marketing. You use the Facebook ads to target potential buyers and you collect their email addresses along the way. That’s where the Landing Pages come in – this is the key to “converting” all the traffic you’ve generated to actual email addresses. Once you have the email addresses, you can start building relationships directly with the buyers.

Sounds too far-fetched? Sounds too good to be true? Well, truth be told, there is a catch. Using Facebook advertising linked to Landing Pages that are integrated to your Constant Contact account is very difficult to do without expert assistance. But so are a lot of things in life that hold great value and potential. The good news is whatever it costs you to acquire this knowledge will be returned to you many times over. What would it be worth to control more of your own destiny? What would it be worth to rely less on your distributors? What would it be worth to have steady, predictable sales results?
I realize this very modern, very new approach to trade sales is tough to fully grasp and accept. But don’t let that discourage you from forging ahead. There are capable, knowledgeable people standing by to help you get started. Among these is our firm, of course, but also Merchant 23 and LibDib. Demand for smaller wine & spirits producers IS skyrocketing. Retailers DO benefit when distribution is done differently. And I’ve got news for you, many small wineries and craft distilleries are already doing it – even as you read this post!

Until May 6, 1954, no human being had ever run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Just 46 days later, a second person broke the barrier. A year later, three more did the same (in a single race, no less). In the 50 years since, over 1,000 runners have bested the 4-minute mark. My point is it’s too late for you to be the Roger Banister of email marketing trade sales. But, for heavens sake, don’t wait 50 years to get moving on this stuff!

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.

Contact info:
ben@salisburycreative.com
469-265-2210

3 hard punches to give your wine brand a fighting chance

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Put down your wine glass for a minute and pick up your calculator, your P&L and your cash flow statement instead. Unless you start paying as much attention to the business of wine as you do what’s in the glass, you might find yourself drinking alone.

Years ago I heard it said the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large one. If it was true decades ago, it is even truer today.  The United States is both the single largest wine market in the world AND the most competitive. More than four times as many wine companies sell their wares in the US (8,800+) versus 20 years ago. To exacerbate the degree of difficulty, there are less than 1/3 as many distributors (700 or so compared to 2,000).

I recently attended the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association convention in Dallas. In the trade expo, there were many booths showcasing expertise in grape growing and wine making but very few on how to sell and market your wine. At our booth, we met a lot of new, small winery owners just getting into the business. A line from an old Eagles song came to mind, “…with starry eyes and dreams no one could steal.” There was a definite, “If I build it they will come” attitude in the air. But, as someone who’s been on the sales side of wine for 30 years, I could have told them all no matter how great your wine is; you still face the Herculean task of getting people to buy it. Making great wine is not nearly enough in today’s environment.

When it comes to tools and strategies about marketing and selling wine, most of what’s available centers around the direct-to-consumer space (DTC) Very little is offered in a business-to-business (B2B) context. Yes, I know, we have this thing called the 3-tier system and we always will. But, it’s 2016. There’s only so much distributors can do for you. It’s not like it was 20 years ago.  We find ourselves in a new reality, which will only get worse as distributor consolidation accelerates.

A great separation is about to occur in the wine business and the winners will have learned how to “box above their weight class” by implementing the three powerful new strategies outlined below.

1)    Take responsibility for the quality of your distribution

One of the most popular metrics in our industry is “Accounts Sold.” The thinking goes that if your Accounts Sold numbers are growing, you’re growing distribution and you’ve got a healthy brand. But, this is a rather “hollow” metric. You need to go MUCH deeper into the data. It’s also important to know which restaurants and wine shops are buying your wine and how they are using it. But even that isn’t nearly enough.  You also have to know who should be buying your wine. Which accounts offer your brand the best exposure to your target market? Which accounts are capable of the most volume? You need to learn how to target these customers and you need to know how to market and sell to them.

But, wait: isn’t this what you pay the distributor to do? At one time, it might have been. But, we are in a hyper-competitive environment- much more so than any time in history. You simply cannot afford to leave something as important as the quality of distribution up to someone else. Distributors have too many other brands on which to focus and they expect you to do your part. A good rule of thumb for the modern age is: the best you can expect from a distributor is to match your efforts. The distributors can help you achieve your business objectives but only you, and you alone, are responsible for it. The good news is with the right data, the tools to use it and the right set of best practices, you’ll be well on your way – even if your sales team is very small.

2)    Invest in a CRM system specific to the wine business

Why does anyone “invest” in anything? They put their capital to work because they want to earn a return on their investment. Too many wineries look at only one side of this equation. I’ll make this is as simple as I can for you: before you hire one more salesperson, give your wine company a fighting chance by investing in the technology that has become absolutely essential in today’s competitive wine market: cloud-based CRM. In a nutshell, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) gives you the power to control your own destiny like no other sales & marketing tool.

You need a CRM system that is specifically designed for the B2B end of the wine business. It doesn’t replace your distributors’ efforts; it augments it. The best is GreatVines. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.  Saving a few bucks to try and do it your self is like stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.  And don’t think you can retrofit your DTC CRM system for B2B. It’s a whole other tool meant for an entirely different purpose. You need both. The reason so many wineries have invested heavily in DTC tools is because there is very high return on investment. In other words, it’s worth it. Well, there’s an even higher ROI waiting for you on the B2B side!

3)    Start buying your own RAD (Retail Account Data)

You need to buy it and then use it. I’m talking about from a company like Trade Pulse. Uploading your own data into your new CRM system will allow you to fully exploit and leverage it in ways you never dreamed possible (see “Quality of Distribution” above). Yes, you can get “free” RAD data from your distributors but it’s highly fragmented.  Even if you do have the time and manpower to string it all together, using Excel to crunch these numbers will never yield the insights you need to rise above your competitors and have meaningful conversations with your distributors. Why rub two sticks together when you can use a blowtorch? Push a button, get an answer. Welcome to 2016.

If you think investing in these two areas is only for the “large” wine companies, I have two exciting bits of news for you. First, most of the large wine companies are using only one of them right now: RAD data. Second, the cost of cloud-based CRM is on a per-user basis, which means small wine companies can leverage the same technology at a proportionate price!

If you invest in CRM and RAD data now, you’ll be able to do many things the big wineries can’t. But, the window of advantage will close, soon. You also have to remember; you’re competing with ALL wine companies- not just the big ones. 8,800 of them!  So, as Andy said to Red at Shawshank prison, “You can either get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

Ben Salisbury is the founder and President of Salisbury Creative Group – a wine business consulting firm focused on sales effectiveness. Their client base includes Gerard Bertrand (France), Sacred Hill (New Zealand), and Fetzer (California).

 

3 Not-So-Obvious Benefits of CRM

Whenever I ask people if their sales team uses CRM, I typically get one of two responses: “Yes,” or “What’s CRM?” If you’re actively leveraging the power of CRM at your company now, you already know the many benefits. I like to say CRM helps you, “box above your weight class” because you get far more done in less time. But for those who have not yet jumped on the bandwagon, this post may prompt you to take a closer look.

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So, what is CRM?  “Customer Relationship Management” is both a technology tool and a sales strategy. At its most basic level, CRM allows you to capture, store, and organize highly detailed Customer and Account information and share it across the entire organization. Today’s CRM got its start in the 80’s with the advent of digital rolodex tools (also known as Contact Management Software or CMS) like Act!, Goldmine, and Time & Chaos. The big leap forward came in the 90’s when companies took many features of database marketing, automated them (SFA), and combined them with contact management systems. CRM continued to evolve throughout the latter half of the 90’s and into the early 2000’s.

In 2007, Salesforce.com created the next big change by introducing the world to cloud-based CRM. These systems are subscription based, continuously updated and highly customizable.  Fast forward to today, there is a full array of very powerful CRM systems – Salesforce.com holding the largest share of the market with over $4 billion in annual revenue.

There are many benefits of utilizing a cloud-based CRM system in your sales process. Some of them are quite obvious like improved business relationships, better retention of your best customers, and driving steady sales growth. But here are some “not-so-obvious” benefits you may not have thought about:

1)      If you want something done right, do it yourself

Take, for example, the wine industry where you must use “middle men” or distributors to execute your sales and marketing plans.  It can be very frustrating to rely on a third entity -especially if that entity is serving many masters. Taking a page out of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) playbook, sales organizations can now manage relationships directly with restaurants and fine wine shops in a B2B fashion via email and social media interactions. The work of distribution still gets done (and expertly, I might add), but the brand owners themselves assume responsibility for maintaining and keeping those key customers by fostering strong, personal relationships.  I know several wineries, both large and small, who leave nothing to chance because they have a system for managing all interactions, conversations, events, and commitments with their best customers. A CRM strategy helps brand owners take full responsibility for the quality of their distribution while improving the “sticky-ness” of their top customers.

2)      For once, Sales & Marketing are pulling on the same rope

Profitable, healthy brands get built because sales and marketing work together seamlessly. Sometimes Sales teams lose sight of the importance of brand equity and, in the aggressive pursuit of volume, the temptation to lower price wins out. Marketing pros are often accused by the Sales team of being too disconnected to the “real world.” When a Marketing team’s campaign fails, they blame Sales for poor execution. When a plan succeeds, both Sales and Marketing want the credit. More often than not, these “disconnects” are caused by poor communication and lack of collaboration. Enter a cloud-based tool whereby everything is visible to everyone in the organization 24/7 and mobile, too. CRM helps facilitate a unified social engagement with customers plus provides full collaboration of “corporate knowledge” (read: no silos). And thanks to the abundance of hard data, there’s only “one version of the truth.”

3)      The Need for Speed on Steroids

Speed has become such a differentiator in today’s competitive marketplace. The need to adapt, respond, and innovate has always been around. But companies with both the will and the ability to accelerate the pace of doing business (well beyond their competitors) have a huge advantage. Huge! When people tell me they don’t have time to use CRM systems, I’m just astounded. Why walk when you could run? Why drive when you could fly? And why fly when you could interact in real time on your mobile device? It’s like when people ask me to give them directions or send them a link or “get back to them.” I’m like, are you kidding me?! This is 2016, there is no “getting back” to anyone! I can get anything and everything I need with a couple of taps on my phone – including any piece of Customer or Account info in my CRM database. I spend zero time waiting, inquiring, or wondering. Get out a pencil and see what your sales team is costing your company. Then ask yourself, what kind of return on capital could I realize if I could double or triple the speed at which things get done?

We are in the midst of a glorious era in the world of business – especially for industries behind the curve in the adoption of cloud-based technology in their sales & marketing process. Real, meaningful, and significant advantages await those who make the leap now. Within 5 years, everyone will be using CRM and, looking back, will wonder how they ever got along without it. I urge you to get out of the stands and onto the field – today! I can’t promise someone will “get back to you.”

5 Tips for Curating Your Social Media Feed(s)

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I got to thinking lately about people who still struggle with keeping their personal lives and business lives separate- especially when it comes to social media. In my mind, the “struggle” isn’t so much with how to do it as why you would even think there’s a need for it.

For a long time I carried two cell phones. More specifically, and to tell you how long ago this was, one flip phone for personal use and a Blackberry for work. My thinking was I needed to keep my work life separate from my personal life. I didn’t want to be having a quiet dinner with my wife and have my “business phone” ring. Sounds good on paper, right?

When social media came along, I kept the same system. I used my Facebook account for family and friends and Linked In and Twitter for “business.” When I look at how I use my smart phone, tablet, and social feeds TODAY, I can’t believe this was ever even an issue for me. It certainly isn’t anymore. But, the fact is, it was an issue and perhaps it still is for some people so if this blog post helps even one person, I’m glad I took the time to write it.

It’s understandable when I stop and think about it because, let’s face it, I was in business before cell phones and computers came on the scene.  I’ve had to live through several “eras” of the technology learning curves. It’s like when I first got a car phone and they installed a little pig’s-tail antenna on my back windshield. I rang up enormous bills because I didn’t realize it cost much more if I called someone (outgoing) than it did if they called me (incoming). Yup, a learning curve. When I finally got a “cellular” phone, I still carried a pager because everyone had my pager number but very few had my mobile number. Here’s how it went. My wife would page me. I’d call her back from my cell phone and then hang up after one ring. This was her signal to call me back because incoming calls were cheaper.

Fast forward to 2015. I have no landline in my home. Cell phone calls are free. My smart phone knows what time I typically leave my office and, without prompting, tells me what the traffic is like and suggests the best route. I hear they’re working on new fabrics for clothing that generates electricity while you move around in order to supply power to your cell phone. No biggie.

So why in the world would I think there is any hope (or need) to keep my personal life separate from my business life? News flash, dear readers. You have only one life and we can all see it anyway. Might as well let your freak flag fly.  Therefore, the curation of your social media feeds should reflect this reality. If you scroll through my Facebook feed today, you can learn a lot about me. Even better, I can learn a lot about you (or anyone else). So let’s just all be our authentic selves and let the chips fall where they may.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, I’m very thankful there is so much data available on FB, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, Instagram, and other sites. Networking and research are the lifeblood of my business! I’m always amused when I see someone who’s Tweets are on lock down. If neither the Pope nor the President lock down their Tweets, what makes you think you are so special? The only people who need their Tweet’s protected are under-aged children and what the heck are they doing with Twitter accounts anyway? But, I digress.

The key to doing all of this correctly is in how you curate your feeds. I love the word curate. It describes perfectly what you are doing. Like a museum director, you are making decisions about what is valuable enough to “display” for the entire world to see. The “value” in social media, I believe, is content that’s meant to inform, inspire, and entertain. At least that’s a good place to start. There will always be people who want to use social media to bully, provoke dissent, and otherwise harass. But you don’t have to be one of those people, do you? I like to be intellectually challenged as much as the next guy but putting the verbal equivalent of a “kick me” sign on my back is just not going to endear me to your feed. Sorry. I digress again.

So here, at last, are my 5 Tips for Curating Your Social Media feeds:

  1. Just be yourself. I mentioned this above but some of you just skipped right down to this list, I know. I spent most of my life in the corporate world and I wasted so much energy trying to “be” a certain way and project a certain image. I see a lot of you doing this right now. Please, just be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you care passionately about something, let it show. Nothing draws people in so deep as authenticity.
  1. Share/post other people’s great content. I, like many people, get all my news and happenings on my iPhone and iPad. I love great blog posts and when my “friends” post great content on their feeds, it makes my life easier. So, I try my best to reciprocate. Whenever I finish reading a particularly enjoyable piece of writing, I share it to one or more of my feeds. This is one of the easiest and most valuable ways to curate your feeds.
  1. Use hashtags correctly. I’ve wanted to do an entire blog post rant on this one and maybe I will but, for now, let this short tip suffice. Get your Google on and spend ten minutes researching what hashtags are all about. They are powerful and useful – IF they are used correctly. For example, when I use a tag like #socialmedia, thousands of other people who are monitoring this subject have the potential to pick up my content. If I use the hashtag, #truth or #me, I’m joining literally hundreds of millions of users and just making useless “noise.” Conversely, if I use a tag like #whydoesthisalwayshappentomeonSundays, NO ONE (and I mean no one but you) will see it.
  1. Be kind. Does the world really need more anger? Didn’t your Mom teach you if you don’t have something nice to say, keep it to yourself? Didn’t she also teach you about getting more flies with honey than with vinegar? Hey, I’m all for free speech and social justice but its Facebook and Twitter, for Pete’s sake, not the UN.  Lighten up. If you really want to change the world, by all means go for it. But there are far better vehicles and places than your social media feeds.
  1. Engage with others. OK so some people post too much and others not at all. Can’t you strive to be somewhere in the middle? It gives people great joy when you “Like” and Comment on their posts. It gives them a total thrill when you share their post on your feed (see # 2 above). For more on this subject and the power it represents, do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. There’s a reason they call it “social media.” So go forth and be social.

So, you see, there’s no need to waste time and energy trying to keep your personal and business lives separate. This is the internet age (with more “scary stuff” coming, believe me). We already know who you are, where you live, where you went to college and where you vacation. There’s no point in trying to hide. But, here’s the good news: we like you, anyway. S0, please, show us more of your authentic self.

The Future of Selling is Already Here

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I’m halfway through Daniel Pink’s book, “To Sell is Human” and enjoying it immensely for two reasons. First, it’s the book I wished I’d written. I have all these ideas running around in my head so it’s very affirming to see someone else express similar concepts in such vivid detail. It validates so much of what I believe and how I think about the profession of selling. Secondly, the book does a fantastic job of something I’ve been struggling to do lately, which is to articulate the big shift that is taking place right now in the world of sales. I can feel it. I try to warn others about it. But I struggle to explain it. So, thank you Mr. Pink. You’ve emboldened me to press on in my attempts to convert traditional sales pros into what you so artfully call, “non-sales sellers.”

 

I also recently attended Dreamforce 2015, the giant, global convention for Salesforce.com and it’s users. During a seminar called, “The Evolution of Technology,” I made a note of a powerful prediction. The most important force shaping the future of enterprises and what disturbs C-level managers most is technology. The second most important force is “customers.” Now, just stop and let that sink in for a second. The good news for most of us in sales is whenever you hear the word, “customer,” you can be sure our jobs will be secure for some time to come. The bad news, however, is unless we keep up with technology; we’ll be obsolete by the time the summer Olympics kick off in Rio.

 

Now, what I’m about to say is super-hard to grasp for most people making a living in sales today. In fact, if you’re in your forties or fifties, odds are high you may have neither the desire nor the willingness to go down this road with me.  Feel free to just pass the link to this blog post along to your younger counterparts because they need this info too, and might already be way ahead of me.

 

I recently heard a factoid stating, in today’s world, a working engineer needs to spend at least 7.5 hours a week for 48 weeks per year reading and learning just to keep pace. So, just because you’ve graduated from college does not mean you’re done studying. It’s simply the reality of the world we live in today. Technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid rate while, at the same time, the half-life of facts is shrinking. I reel in horror when I think about the tens of thousands of sales pros running around the country who have not read a non-fiction book since college. They are literally stuck in the 80’s.  Many of them may be working for your company. You might even be one of them. So here is your big wake-up call.

 

Sales people of the future will look and sound nothing like the “traditional” sales people of today (and yesterday). In fact, since the future of selling is already here, I’m going to use the present tense for the rest of this blog post. The mobile phone is now the most powerful piece of business equipment. Cloud based CRM and analytics tools provide data-driven action steps for sales pros, at their fingertips. Data about your customers, their usage of your products and services, and even their attitudes about their engagement with your company (via social media feeds) are all now, quite literally, in the palm of your hand. Data and analytics for sales teams used to amount to little more than, “What happened.” Thanks to today’s technology, we now know why it happened, what is going to happen next and how to make it happen again.  News flash to all you stuck-in-the-80s sales folks out there: data helps you perform better. It helps you be more precise about whom you target and what you target them with. Yes, the future is here now but are you here, too, or are you getting left behind? Here’s a quick test. If you’re using legal pads, Excel spreadsheets, Outlook address book, and your email inbox to manage your customer data, you are getting further behind every day.

 

In “To Sell is Human,” Daniel Pink says, “What salespeople do and how we do it must change. What an individual does day to day on the job now must stretch across functional boundaries. We are now in an era of non-sales selling.” Salespeople today need to be part I.T. pro, part customer service pro, part marketing pro, and part social media pro.

 

Most reasonable people would agree when I say the way people sell today has changed a lot in the last 20 or 30 years. What keeps me up at night, however, is how little awareness there is about how much the way we sell has changed in just the last year. Wake up, my friends. You’re in the future!

Twitter for Boomers

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Consider this an “intervention” or, at the very least, a public service announcement. This post is for the Baby Boomers who struggle with understanding why anyone would want to subject themselves to public scrutiny via social media. Now, full disclosure here, I am a Boomer myself. Born in 1960 and raised in the pre personal computer age. I didn’t even get my hands on my own computer until I was 33 years old and had already been in the business world for more than a decade.

Although I wasn’t aware of the term at the time, I was an “early adopter” of technology. I threw myself into training classes on Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. I also learned to use some of the early contact management software tools like ACT and Time & Chaos. For the last two decades, I’ve continually worked hard at keeping up with the times – technologically speaking. I taught myself to write databases with Access and I’ve become quite adept at CRM using Salesforce.com. Of course, my current repertoire also includes the major social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram. As proof of my affinity for technology, I rarely meet another mid 50’s person who has as many Twitter and Instagram followers as I do.

So, I feel very qualified to be the one to throw a lifeline to my fellow Boomers who, by all estimation, could really use the help. News flash, Boomers: technology in not just for young people! If you think Facebook is a frivolous waste of time and that Twitter is nothing but the narcissistic muse of pre-teens with selfie sticks, you are only partly right. Don’t throw the cyber baby out with the bathwater. FB and Twitter are also powerful business tools, which, in competent hands, are capable of providing significant strategic advantages in the marketplace. For every here’s-what-I-had-for-breakfast Tweet, there are a hundred, legitimate, high-quality posts and links. You’ve been sitting on the sidelines for too long and I’m here to help you get into the game.

As a proponent of the Jeffersonian saying that “It is better that something be well started than quickly finished,” I’d like to suggest Boomers begin their social media quest by becoming proficient in the use of Twitter. Because of its ease of use, small number of moving parts, and low maintenance, it’s the perfect place for a stuck-in-the-80’s Boomer to start. To help start you on your path, I’ve compiled a list of Ten Easy Steps to becoming proficient in the use of Twitter.

1. Open a Twitter Account

If you’re not sure how to do this, just Google “how to open a Twitter account.” There are also many brief, instructional YouTube videos. No need to go out and buy the book Twitter for Dummies. Remember, we are starting small, here. Twitter can be complex but it doesn’t have to be. And, if you are one of those Boomers who still don’t trust putting your info out on the Internet please consider if the Pope and the President of the United States aren’t worried about it, neither should you be.

2. Choose your Twitter handle

For the novice, a “handle” is the name by which you will appear on the Twitter feed. Since you’ve waited this long to get onto Twitter, you should know all the good names are already taken – including your own name. However, the kind folks at Twitter will recommend a handle to you that is not already taken. Unless you have a clever idea of your own (and an extra 25 minutes to see if each of your ideas are already taken), I recommend you choose one of the suggestions Twitter provides for you. The good news is no matter what handle you choose, you still have a chance to list your full name in your bio.

3. Fill out a short bio

Boomers are particularly prone to skip this step because here’s where it starts to look narcissistic. Get over it, please. Social media is, theoretically, about trading information and content not glorifying yourself. Let people know who you are, where you work and what your current role is. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to list your current role. This will come in handy later as you begin to connect with your peers, customers and – yes- even your competitors. Best practice here: study how other people are doing it before you write you bio. You can change it any time you like.

4. Upload a photo of yourself

Once again, many Boomers are hung up on this idea that there’s something sinful about promoting yourself. Again, please get over it. The purpose of this photo is so we can all make sure, when we search for and “follow” you (see below), we’ve indeed found the right person. There are most likely a dozen or more people who share your first and last name. Your photo is for OUR benefit- not yours. And for heavens sake don’t over think the photo. No need to wait until you’ve had a professional headshot done. Any old snapshot will do. If you can’t bring yourself to take a selfie with your smart phone, have your spouse take it for you. If you want to add a little cool factor, put a black and white filter on it before you upload it. If you don’t want to stare into the camera like the proverbial headlamp-lit deer, have your spouse snap your mug at a 45-degree angle that shows you staring off into the distance doing your best to affect an air of indifference and detachment. But, by far, the best option is to put a big smile on your face and look straight into the camera so we can all see what a nice person you are. No matter which style you choose, DO NOT leave this blank. In fact, if you can’t bring yourself to post a pic of yourself you are probably not ready for social media. Sorry to be so harsh but its for your own good.

5. Search for and start following all of your customers

By following your customers on Twitter and regularly monitoring their posts, you will, over time, become intimate with their marketing strategies and tactics. Monitoring the Twitter stream of your customers is like putting a wet finger in the wind of commerce to see which way the wind is blowing. It just makes good business sense.

6. Search for and start following all of your competitors

I know this sounds creepy but trust me, its very Kosher. Everyone is watching everyone so you might as well jump in with the rest of us. Why does everyone follow their competition? For the same reason your dog cleanses himself: because he can.

7. Search for and follow all the people you admire and look up to.

I think Seth Godin is a genius. So I follow him on Twitter. I’m also a big fan of Tony Robbins. Who are your heroes in business and in life? Follow them and hear what they have to say. While you’re at it, you might want to follow your favorite sports teams and the brands you love. And please, by all means, follow the Twitter feeds of the local businesses near you where you shop and dine.

8. Get ideas of whom else to follow from the people you follow

This part is both easy and fun. I like to see whom other people are following because maybe I want to follow some of them, too. All you do is click on the person’s profile, then click on their “following” list. Review the list shown and just click “follow” on the ones that look interesting. It’s a great way to expand the list of people you follow. Don’t be surprised when people start following you back!

9. “Listen” and learn

Now you are ready to start extracting value from the Twitter feed. Resolve to check your feed at least twice a day. You do this by downloading the free Twitter app to your smart phone and logging in. I suggest once right before or after lunch and again just before you quit work for the day. Give it some time. Try this for 30 days and see if you don’t come away feeling much better informed about what’s going on in the world and in your industry.

10 Contribute content

At last you are ready to start behaving like a genuine member of the 21st century, global community. There are two ways to get started contributing content in a low-risk way. The first is to “re-Tweet” a Tweet that you like that has appeared in your feed. It’s easy to do and the person for whom you are re-Tweeting will love you for it. Just make sure you use a “Quote Tweet” so the original poster of the content gets credit. The second way is, when you’ve finish reading an online article or blog post that you really like, post it to Twitter and share it with your followers. Almost everything you read on the Internet today is ready to post to Twitter. Start looking for the little blue Twitter icon at the end (or sometimes at the top) of the article. Just click that icon and it will cue up the post for your Twitter feed. NOTE: another way to do this is cut and paste the web address to your feed. Just make sure you use a URL shortening tool like Bitly because you’ll be limited to 120 characters and you don’t want to burn up those characters with a long web address.

Here are a few final tips and tricks to get the most out of your Twitter experience. First, if someone follows you, it’s generally polite to follow them back. The only exception is if the follower is just trying to sell you something or you have nothing at all in common with that follower. Check them out before you follow back. Second, keep your privacy settings very loose. Unless you are under 15 years old, there’s not much point in “protecting” your Tweets. Act like a businessperson and you’ll seldom have any trouble. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself (a very Boomer-like trait) if you neglect your Twitter account for a few weeks or even a month. Just come right back to it whenever the mood strikes. I, myself, have “seasons” when I’m very active and other periods of time when I’m not. Strive for progress, not perfection.   So that’s it. Welcome to the Twitter-sphere! Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. ben@salisburycreative.com