The Pointlessness Insanity of a Wine Market Blitz

While I’m sure occasionally successful sales blitzes do exist, most of them are a giant waste of time and money. I know I’m going to get some vitriolic responses to this post but someone has to tell the emperor he has no clothes. Might as well be me.

There’s only one reason you would want to keep doing something that is not effective and that is if the thing you’re doing is really about something else. In the case of the time-honored wine market blitz (or crew drive), It’s about demonstrating activity. It is not really about selling more wine or building distribution. For proof, just look at the evaporative nature of these “new” points of distribution.

The standard playbook for the wine sales game has not changed very much, if at all, in the last 30 years. And, by far, one of the most dog-eared pages in that book is the market blitz. The idea is to send lots of people into the market place for a day (or multiple days) to present and taste a supplier’s wines to lots of buyers for the purpose of securing new distribution. In theory, it makes total sense. And, to be fair, there was a time in the late 80’s and early 90’s that it really worked. But here in 2018, anyone with a I.Q. above room temperature knows very few if any of those new placements “stick.”

Our industry venerates activity. It’s why we tally the number of sales calls we make. It’s why we want to see our sales people scurrying around having meetings with distributors, “working the market,” and filling out reports (so we can make sure there’s lots of activity). After all, it costs a fortune to have a sales team! To justify the expense, we expect to see people being “busy.” I read a lot of ads on and most of them include a bullet list of “essential functions” of a sales job. These dockets are rife with activity especially those activities having to do with the distributor.

Now, I have written extensively about the futility of expecting your distributors to get much done for you so there’s no need to belabor those points here. Suffice it to say most of the items on the list of activities to do with (and to) a distributor are useless. But, of all the activities you could squander precious resources on, the sales blitz is the most colossal waste of time imaginable. So, why do so many wine companies still do it? Do they really not “get” that none of those placements stick? Do they not realize the entire charade is orchestrated in advance even to the point of retail and restaurant buyers playing along?

The best way I can explain it is like eating one of those king-size Snickers bars. It feels fantastic when you’re in the middle of doing it. Managing distributors and their accompanying geographical scope is a very difficult job. It’s really hard to get a meeting with their management. It’s like pulling teeth to schedule salesperson ride-alongs. At times it feels like you’re getting nowhere. But a blitz! Oh, my heavens. It feels like everyone at the distributor has stopped what they are doing for a day or two and is focusing solely on you and your products. The happiest day in a winery salesperson’s life is at the end of the blitz day crowded around a small table in a dive bar quaffing cold beers (it’s always beer) with their “crew” swapping war stories and tallying the cases and placements. Sheer euphoria!
There’s only one problem. It was all for show. An illusion. A farce. A charade. And, if you ask me, a very poor substitute for doing the real, very un-sexy work of building high quality distribution that STICKS. Not sure how to do that? Give me a call and I’ll be happy to help you out of your straitjacket.

Posted in Dealing with Distributors.

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