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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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The Greatest Paradox in Wine Selling

The wine business is full of contradictions. But, nowhere are the illogical absurdities more abundant than on the selling end of the game. The tragedy is the beliefs wine sales pros hold most deeply are the very ones in desperate need of some serious myth-busting.

Take for example the dogmatic notion that there is a direct correlation between the amount of wine knowledge someone has accrued and their ability to sell it. I’ve spouted off on this misguided perception in other places, so I won’t belabor the point here. Ironically (and paradoxically), the higher you go on the learning scale, the less in touch you are with the mindset of the average wine consumer.

Another incongruous and highly unsound bit of reasoning is the belief that the best way to sell wine is to blather on endlessly about its flavor, its provenance, and its “story.” Everything about this approach makes complete sense to our brains. People love stories, we say. Stories sell, we say. The problem is the vast majority of conversation and persuasion around a wine’s “distinctiveness” (in quotes here because there’s a lot less distinction among wines than people think – yet another paradox) takes place between the employees of the company that produces the wine and the employees of the retail/restaurant community. The consumer rarely if ever partakes in this supposedly game-changing storytelling.

But the wine selling paradox that frustrates me most is the persistent belief that the more accounts in which you have distribution the more wine you will sell. The widely used and highly revered metric of “accounts sold” is held up as one of our industry’s most important KPI’s. Yet, while it could be true (and makes perfect sense to our brains), it seldom IS true. The reason, quite simply, is not all accounts are equally capable of moving lots of wine through their operation. Like it or not, the 80/20 Rule is real. A fatally ironic twist in this more-is-more fallacy is it is now 100 times more difficult to put your wine into distribution than it has ever been. So, in reality it’s a very a good thing that not all accounts are equal and wineries who have the presence of mind to aim their time, money, and manpower with great precision will enjoy consistent and profitable sales results year after year.

The massive explosion of the number of wine brands for sale in the US combined with the ever-shrinking pool of distributors has created a very unworkable situation for ALL sizes of wine companies: large, medium, and small. Never in the history of the wine sales game has it been more important to choose your points of distribution as wisely and strategically as possible. My suggestion is to trade off a little bit of time spent amassing wine knowledge and use it to more thoroughly research the market opportunities.

The key takeaway from this blog post is to do your homework and choose your targets wisely. The single biggest determinant of volume in any given account is foot traffic. The best accounts in which to seek distribution are incredibly busy – packed every day. THESE accounts are worth pursuing above all others because they sell so much more wine than all others. So, how can you tell which accounts fit this profile? For restaurants, look for “indicators” of volume like lots of private dining space, outdoor seating, and massive numbers of reviews on Yelp. BTW, “most reviewed” is a much more reliable indicator of volume than “highest rated.” Ratings are subjective. Foot traffic is not only objective but a rock solid gauge of volume potential.

On the off premise side, one of my favorite targets are retailers who sell as much or more wine off their website than they do inside their brick-and-mortar store. These accounts are not limited in any way by their shelf space and can carry a virtually unlimited “inventory.” They are very easy to find if you know where to look, what to look for and are willing to spend time on it.

Taking time to understand, research, and target highly desirable account types is one of the most important ways modern wine salespeople can spend their time in this highly competitive environment. And the good news for those of you reading this post is most of your competitors will continue to cling to the “old playbook” and look elsewhere for keys to sales success.

Less really is more. Not all accounts are equal. Narrow the focus of your sales activity, don’t widen it. Truly, one of the great paradoxes of our time.

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