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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 No 2 Problem in the Wine Sales Game

What makes wine sales a “game” is there are winners and losers. These days, the losers outnumber the winners by a significant margin. And, like all games, there are strategies and tactics to not only increase your chances of winning but decrease your chances of losing. Pat Riley, one of the smartest coaches ever in the NBA famously said, “Figure out what causes you to lose and stop doing it.”

The No. 1 cause of losing in the wine sales game is depending too much on your distributors. But a close second is tolerance of low value activity. I call this “heat loss.” A lot of time, energy, money, and sweat poured into activity with extremely low return on investment. Lots of “heat” being generated but most of it evaporates into the atmosphere.
Examples? Treating all retailers and restaurants as if they had the same value. Selling to accounts incapable of buying serious volume (say, 5 cases per week or more per SKU). Selling one case at a time to an account that never buys that wine again. Ever. Spending lots of time and money traveling all over the place. Wasting precious marketing funds on trade activities that are more show and not much go.

Whatever you measure, you get more of. Measure accounts sold, you’ll get a lot of accounts sold. No two ways about it, this is an industry metric that needs to taken out behind the barn and put down. It’s a “hollow” metric that assumes all accounts are equal which they most certainly are not.
While there is some value in knowing how many accounts in each market are buying your product, it only tells a tiny part of the story. Winners want to know how many accounts buy every month (# of engaged accounts). Winners want to know how many cases each account buys when they buy (velocity). Winners want to know exactly which 20% of the accounts are capable of purchasing 80% of all volume in the market.

What we’re talking about here is the QUALITY of distribution. Here’s something to tattoo on your brain: activity does not equal achievement. Whenever I hear a salesperson talk about how busy they are, I immediately get concerned. What they’re saying is, “I don’t really have a disciplined, strategic approach to my territory.” Show me a salesperson who is harried, and I’ll show you someone without a plan. Whose fault is this? NOT the salesperson’s. It’s the leadership’s fault for not providing direction and accountability for results.

Here’s another thing wine companies do wrong – measure the number of sales calls made or days-on-the-street required. More sales calls rarely equal more sales. You want more sales (and who doesn’t)? Put a hard, cold stop to low value activities and re-allocate the hours, headcount, investment to higher value activities. A less-is-more approach, while hard to wrap your head around, truly is the ticket to accelerating sales performance. Working smarter not harder is not only possible, but mandatory. But, my oh my how few people in our industry know how to execute this.

So, what is the best way to measure and re-calibrate the value of sales activities? Disciplined use of a CRM system embedded with the highest quality RAD data you can buy. Very expensive. Steep and time-consuming learning curve. Lots of push-back from your sales team. But, let’s cut to the chase, here. If your sales are not what you want them to be, can you really afford to maintain the status quo? Fire the bottom 10% of your sales team that consistently under-performs and use the money to buy RAD + CRM. The wine business has become a very serious business. Which means its time to take the gloves off and get serious. As always, I’m happy to show you how.

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.
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4 Responses

  1. Right on the mark. I’ve never sold wine but I was a marketing and customer service exec for over 25 years. I used to prwach to my district managers that there are high volume targets that stick so are worth the time and there are easy sales targets with very little longevity. Work the high volume targets and save the easy but little return for the end of your month when you have to meet your sales goals. In the end, if you work that strategy you will grow your area sales volume.

  2. Learning about what your customer likes and what is in demand in terms of wine sales is also important. A new strategy on sales is the most important in the business industry to try a different approach also to your target market.

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