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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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How to Become a Digital Wine (or Spirits) Sales Pro

How to become a wine or spirits sales pro
How to become a wine or spirits sales pro

Last week I published an article explaining WHY 3-tier sales pros pivot to digital selling. This week, I want to explain HOW.

The first step in this journey is simple awareness. Awareness of how the environment for 3-tier sales is changing right before our eyes. It is difficult to accept something until you are keenly aware of it. Here is what you need to have your head wrapped around:

  1. Face-to-face opportunities with trade buyers are scarce and may never return to pre-pandemic levels
  2. Distributors’ abilities to help you grow new distribution have been greatly diminished (except digitally, of course)
  3. Everything is going online

I believe we are about to witness a great separation of 3-tier sales pros. On the one hand will be those who cling to the past and stick with what has always worked for them. On the other, are those who recognize the shifts taking place and move quickly to position themselves for success as soon as possible. This article is all about HOW to get yourself into position.

Now that you are fully aware of what is in front of you, it is time to grab hold of a solid game plan. Let me make this as simple as possible for you to become a sales pro. There are 5 things you need to master as quickly as possible.

1) CRM is NOT just for DtC, it is for 3-Tier Sales Pros, too!

CRM to be a sales pro
CRM to be a sales pro

First, you need a system for managing all your accounts, critical bits of information, and all the contacts associated with those accounts. Your system needs to be cloud-based and mobile-friendly. You also need a way to segment and prioritize your potential opportunities. What you need is called CRM. Customer Relationship Management.

The DtC world is already conversant in the use of CRM but the 3-tier channel not so much. While it is incredibly surprising more wine & spirits companies are not leveraging the power of CRM at present, the good news is, the pandemic is giving the laggers a good hard shove in the right direction.

Whenever I ask winery and distillery owners if their company is using CRM, I only ever get one of two responses. One is “Yes,” and the other is “What is CRM?” Now, granted, some of those who say, “Yes” are referring to their depletion reporting system and not “real” CRM. To be sure, there is a lot of misunderstanding of what CRM is and is not. More on this in a minute.

We are fortunate to have fantastic industry-specific options like GreatVines, KARMA, VinoSmith, and Lilypad. There are also non-industry-specific tools like Salesforce, Hubspot, and Pipedrive (just to name a few). Perhaps the company you work for already has you using one of these tools. But you have been reluctant to fully embrace and leverage it. This is a good place to say, “Do not wait for your company.” YOU get onboard the CRM train yourself because it is important to YOUR success.

Great Vines
Great Vines

There is certainly a lot of confusion between a depletion reporting system and true CRM. The reason is they are often combined into one tool. But the “CRM” aspect is quite distinct. It is all about identifying, qualifying, and tracking activity at the account level. If you are not currently utilizing CRM in your sales process, I highly suggest this article I wrote for Wine Business Monthly as a good place to start.

I like to say that follow-up is the key to sales success and CRM is the key to great follow-up. If you want to keep up in the digital age, you simply must get on board the CRM train and do it quickly. Another way to jump-start this aspect of your learning curve is to watch this short video which is basically an 18-minute introduction to CRM.

The thing you need to understand is CRM is more than just a software tool. It is a disciplined process of maximizing sales opportunities. But only if you use it.

One objection I hear often to adopting CRM is that it is too “Big Brother” for most people. Salespeople resent having someone look over their shoulder and “micro-manage” everything they do. This is how I look at it: unless your name and signature are on the bottom-right of your paycheck, you are accountable for sales results. I know of no other industry where salespeople can roam free with no accountability. It could be that our industry tends to revere product knowledge over business acumen. In other words, we hire salespeople because of their wine knowledge. Thinking THAT is the key to wine sales success which it most certainly is NOT. Wine knowledge matters, but way less than you think.

Salespeople everywhere, I have a message for you: “CRM is for YOU because it helps you SELL MORE!” And to sales leaders and business owners I will say to you: “If you cannot change your people, change your people.”

Smart salespeople use CRM because it helps them sell more. If you have people on your sales team who do not want to use CRM, what you have are salespeople who do not want to optimize their sales opportunities.

2) Fish Where the Fish Are

The second thing you must embrace and then master is a system for identifying, prioritizing and executing against the 20% of the accounts that drive 80% of the sales. This is called Key Account Targeting.

Fish where the fish are
Fish where the fish are

The 80/20 Rule is real and you ignore it to your peril. It is real for every price tier, every product category, and every market in the world. Not all accounts are equal. Not even close.

If, in the past, your target account lists have been an amalgam of Zagat lists and Wine Spectator Award recipients, you are missing the boat big time. Serious key account targeting ignores ratings and subjective reviews. And, instead, embraces empirical data points like foot traffic and volume potential.

Researching the accounts in each market that hold the most potential is within the grasp of even the tiniest wine company or distillery. Thanks to FREE tools such as Google, Yelp, Open Table, C-Vent, and others you can research accounts from your desktop or phone. Knowing what to look for and how to do the research is very straight forward once someone shows you how to do it. A good place to start is this video which shows you step by step how this research process works.

One “account type” you should be tracking very closely are independent package stores that sell far more wine off their website than they do in their brick-and-mortar store. E-commerce is no longer solely the realm of winery DtC efforts. Package stores all over the US are getting their slice of the pie and then some.

Order wine or spirits online
Order wine or spirits online

Once you identify these accounts (via research), you can put them in your CRM system. Next, identify the “cast of characters” that make buying decisions and put those in your CRM system as well. See how this works?

If you want to be successful as a digital wine/spirits sales pro, you must embrace technology at every turn. Using tech to prepare to sell will ensure you have the levels of success you desire.

Just a few final thoughts about Key Account Targeting. Please tattoo this on your brain: the key to accelerating sales performance is to narrow the focus of your sales activity to only the most attractive and responsive accounts. Less is more. Fish where the fish are.

Part of surviving in the new normal is covering more ground more efficiently. A key to this is being ruthless about where you spend your time.

Typical Allocation Effort
Typical Allocation Effort

It is a proven fact that left to their own devices most salespeople do not always act in the best interest of the company in terms of how they spend their time. They tend to treat all accounts as if they had the same value. But, as the chart above shows, the business is ALWAYS concentrated in the top 20-30% of the account base.

In Jeff Thull’s outstanding book, Mastering the Complex Sale, he talks about what he calls the 80/20/30 Rule which says if you spend any time at all in the BOTTOM 1/3 of the account base, you are guaranteed to cut your potential in half.

Achieving your sales goals consistently and reliably should be a top priority for every winery and distillery. THIS practice is the key to doing it. You must identify the 20% and then you must have the discipline to ignore the rest.

One final thought here. If you still have a job in sales, most likely you have been asked to take on more territory than you had previously due to a reduction in the size of your company’s sales team. So, you now need to be even MORE disciplined in the use of your time.  

3) Email for Trade Sales

Email for Trade Sales
Email for Trade Sales

The third thing you need to master is a system for nurturing (one-to-one) trade buyer relationships AT SCALE. The definitive way to accomplish this is through the expert use of email marketing software such as Mail Chimp or Convert Kit.

Once again, the DtC folks are ahead of the game here. But, while the software is the same, the application and process for 3-tier sales pros is remarkably different. No newsletters or blasts, here. We are talking highly segmented, one-to-one communication at scale.

Many 3-tier sales pros are already attempting to send “mass emails” to their trade buyer constituents (or distributor partners) but they are doing it poorly. Unless you can track who opened each email and automatically track what the recipient clicked on, you are still swimming in the kiddie pool.

Imagine you are responsible for all sales in the city of Chicago – both on and off premise. And you had a list of 400 trade buyer email addresses that WANTED to hear from you when your winery (or distillery) had special deals or just got an amazing score or are coming to the end of a coveted vintage on one of your wines. Imagine being able to segment your communication by the type of account or by buyer preference (i.e., old world snob versus new world dilettante). That is all well within your grasp when you learn to leverage tools like these.

Once again, you need to purge your brain of what you think “email marketing” is all about. Newsletters and “blasts” have no place in 3-tier use of email software. A quick sidenote about newsletters: I believe most wineries and craft distilleries use them because they have no idea what else to do. Maybe THEY can learn a thing or two from YOUR new skills in this area.

No one cares - newsletter
No one cares – newsletter

The key to using email software effectively is to keep it highly personalized. The way you do that is to use lots of “tags.” In my opinion, you can never have too many tags. Use tags to segment each user’s preferences very precisely. This ensures that no one receives any content that they do not want to receive.

There is an amazingly simple way to tell if you are doing this right: open rates. You should strive to achieve open rates between 50-80%. Tell that to your DtC friends and they will likely laugh in your face because in the DtC world, they are most likely sending out a lot of emails to people who do not want to receive them. You, as a 3-tier sales pro cannot afford to have low open rates. You must respect the time and attention of your trade buyers above all else.

I personally have email open rates 50.51% and average click rates of 16.16% so I know what I am talking about. Do not listen to anyone who cannot say the same. Besides using lots of tags to keep segmentation tight, I also write/communicate in a very personal writing style. If you have ever received an email from me (sent from Convert Kit), you will feel like I am writing just to you. That is very intentional. If I were to write as if I were speaking to a group (which is what most people do and one of the reasons newsletters are so unpopular) I could expect you would not open any of my FUTURE emails. My goal is to have people look forward to hearing from me. This should be your goal too.

The last thing I do to make sure people want to receive my email missives is I try to always add value to the business relationship. “Selling” or putting offers in front of people happens only occasionally and only after I have built trust and rapport. I highly recommend you get and read Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook from Gary Vaynerchuck for more details on this concept.

4) Attracting and Retaining Trade Buyers at Scale (lead generation)

Attract Trade Buyers at Scale
Attract Trade Buyers at Scale

The fourth thing you need to master if you want to become a digital wine (or spirits) sales pro is something that will most likely be very new to you: lead generation. This is a system for getting prospects (potential new trade buyers) to “opt in” to your offering instead of “pushing” solutions or offers out to them. A “lead” comes in the form of a new email subscriber.

There is a powerful and elegant process to do this, but I have yet to see anyone (other than my clients) doing it. One of the simplest things you can do is make sure your website has a way for trade visitors to identify themselves as members of the trade.

Opt-In Website Form
Opt-In Website Form

Another amazingly effective way to attract new potential trade buyers is the use of “Lead magnets.” The idea here is you offer something of value in exchange for name and email address. Examples of great lead magnets are checklists, guides, how-to, cheat sheets, tips & trick lists, tool kits, and industry reports.

Boot Hill Lead Magnet
Boot Hill Lead Magnet

All you need is a lead magnet (PDF), a landing page (in your email software tool) to collect the contact info. And then deliver the lead magnet, and a Facebook/Instagram ad to drive traffic to the landing page.

Another highly productive way to grow your email list of trade buyers is by offering advanced training webinars. We are not talking about run-of-the-mill, boring consumer virtual tastings. These are highly challenging, 30-minute intensives to help trade buyers advance in their knowledge of wine and spirits. To experience the lead magnet process in action AND watch a great training video about how to plan and execute these trade buyer trainings, click right here.

There are two reasons these webinars are so effective. First is they WORK. Trade buyers want to be challenged and they have limited time. So, done correctly, they offer great value. The second thing is to attend the webinar, each trade buyer must register. And that is where you can collect information such as their name, email address, title, and company name. Tools like Zoom have a very robust webinar registration process. They make it a no-brainer for YOU.

There is one more thing we need to cover on this topic lead generation and that is how important it is to “nurture” these leads. Once a trade buyer signs up to be on your trade-only email list, you must treat that contact info like the gold that it is. For the first 3 weeks or so, ONLY send things of value to that contact. DO NOT TRY TO SELL THEM ON ANYTHING. Relationship first. Sales second. Resist the temptation to “always be closing.”

5) Curating a Professional Social Media Presence

LinkedIn Profile Strength
LinkedIn Profile Strength

What is shocking to me is how careless and cavalier most 3-tier wine & spirits sales pros are about their presence online. For example, there are many who believe LinkedIn is only for unemployed people. Nonsense! LinkedIn has become of THE most powerful digital networking tools on the planet and everyone would be wise to take it very seriously.

Like it or not, potential trade buyers ARE checking out sellers online. Two questions every professional wine & spirts salesperson should be asking themselves are: CAN they easily find me and will they like what they see when they do? Let me address something head on, here. There is no such thing as separating your personal life and your business life when you make your living in sales. Social media is not just about selfie sticks and cat videos. It is about connecting with others in a high-quality way. Choosing to not have a presence on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn is choosing to be insignificant in the commercial sense.

Good to be anonymous?
Good to be anonymous?

So, be intentional about it. Be professional about it. Here are some tips to help you get and stay on track.

  • Your profile picture is not a vanity thing. It is there so the person trying to find you can tell they have found the right person.
  • If you are one of those people who choose an anonymous profile or keep your account private, you need to get over yourself. If there are things you do not want the public to see/know about you then do not put them online. “Curate” your own social media presence in a professional way.
  • As a salesperson, I suggest you avoid posting antagonistic, vitriolic content. Again, here is the litmus test- do you depend on selling to customers for a living? If so, you must be careful about who you alienate. Am I saying you should not take a public stance on important social issues? No, I am not saying that at all. I am simply recommending you avoid intentionally antagonizing and inflaming people.
  • Do not spare the details. Here is the bottom line. Buyers ARE checking you put online. Make sure your professional profiles are complete. This means your title, where you work, what your professional interests are, who influences you, what books you read, etc.

So, there you have it. Five things you simply must learn and master if you are serious about making the pivot to digital selling in the 3-tier world. Look: I am a gray-haired, 60-year-old Boomer. If I can do it, anyone can do it. And I am more than happy to help YOU!

Want to go deeper? Check out my new online course called Wine Sales Stimulator which will launch on February 5th. This self-paced, online course is 5 modules (35 videos, 12 hours of training) on all the topics discussed in this article. Plus a few bonuses.

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