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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 Secret to Selling Wine & Spirits On Premise

I call this is a “secret” because, it seems, so few people know about it. I recognize there are a solid number of you reading this who will say, “Duh, I’ve been selling this way my whole career.” And, I for, one salute you for it. We need more of you so keep setting a good example. But, for the rest of you ham-handed, self-centered hacks who don’t have a clue what makes someone buy one product over another, allow me to use this forum to enlighten you. Selling wine, spirits, beer (or anything) is not about you or your product.

Here’s what else it’s NOT about: price, taste, ratings, presentations, and all manner of “product attributes.” I’ve got news for you. Your wine is not that special and there are a thousand others just as good at the same price. You can sit there and talk until your blue in the face (or the buyer’s is red) and babble on about your oak regimen and lees stirring and soil types. At the end of the day, in a restaurant operation, none of that matters.

The best place to start having success selling wine and spirits (or anything else) to restaurants is to take the focus off yourself and your wares and put it on the buyer and the restaurant operation you are selling to. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, what makes a restaurant buyer choose one product over the other rarely has anything to do with the product itself. It has to do with the person selling it and that person’s ability to service the account.

Service. Dependability. Trust. THESE are the things that matter to restaurant operators! Will you make sure they don’t run out of product? Will you be there for them when they need an emergency delivery? Will you take the time to educate their staff (not just on your products but on all their products)? Will you honor the price you quoted? Will you keep all the promises you made? Can they reach you when they need you? Will you keep your excuses to yourself? Will you put their needs ahead of yours?

You see, restaurants are all about service. They “get” service and place a very high value on it because that is the “currency” of their business. As a seller to restaurants, you must understand what is important to your buyers. Every restaurant wants three things above all else: grow revenue, control costs, and improve guest satisfaction. How will doing business with YOU help them achieve those objectives?

Put down your spit cup and your aroma wheel for a second and ponder these things: The keys to growing revenue in a restaurant operation are to increase foot traffic, increase incidence, and raise the check average. Can you help your buyer do that? Controlling costs is about reducing inventory, increasing efficiency, minimizing waste, and stabilizing prices. Can you help your buyer do that? Improving guest satisfaction is all about delighting guests with quality, value and experiences. Can you help your buyer do that?

When you walk in the door with your sample back full of products you need to sell, where is your focus? It’s certainly not on the customer. When you do more talking than asking questions, are you exhibiting sales professionalism? Absolutely not and your ineptitude offends not only the buyer but every professional salesperson out there. You give sales a bad name.

Would you like to sell more wine or spirits? Would you like to blow away your quotas and consistently pocket hefty bonus checks? Would you like to win more incentive trips? Would you like to keep your boss off your back? Then, here’s the secret: the more you act like a “salesperson,” the less you will sell.

Selling is not about product presentations, overcoming objections, and closing skills. Not real selling, anyway. It’s about service, dependability and trust. It’s about providing business value to your customer relationships. If you consistently seek to provide these things to restaurants, bars, and hotels, you will “own” the by-the-glass list, the wine list, the room service list, the banquet list, the happy hour list, the late-night list, the well, and the back bar. You will have earned the right to dominate your territory. And all your competitors will scratch their heads and wonder who you slept with or who you bribed because their feeble minds are incapable of “getting it.” To the amateur, success in selling will forever remain: a secret.

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