Semantics: off vs from

So you made some wine. Awesome. Good for you.

At some point you are going to need to look at distribution options. And how you manage those people is utterly key to your ongoing distribution.

These people are the front line of your brand. They are the shoe leather worn out each day and the smiley face. They are the memory of names and who worked where and what their preferences might be this year. They are the accessible point for the venue or the store. They know luc and potential offers off by heart. They know immediately where else the wines are listed. They know scores and accolades. And they speak the language of the trade.

Well. Mostly. The good ones do so. And not all are great. Or even good. Some are just opportunistic, seeing a chance to get “freebies” more than actually seeing a chance to work closely with a winery to build that business as well as their own.

It is reasonably easy to weed these ones out. Sometimes.

Mostly, the differences between a sales rep and the winery distil down to the fact that venues buy “off” a winery, but “from” a rep.

Semantics. Except when it isn’t. Some venues will cut a wine because the winemaker is lovely, but never stops talking when they drop the order off, often about things the rep has either already mentioned or dismissed as irrelevant to this customer. Hospo people try to be nice. They have a quiet word with the rep – their prime, immediate, accessible contact. The one who can often swing last minute deliveries, or fix invoices in a blink. The person from whom they buy the wine. Rep. Agent. Employee. The seller.

The person who manages the relationship with the account, the buyer, the customer. The link in the chain.

It is this for which we recruit and pay. Accessibility. Knowledge. Flexibility. Adaptability. The tricks.

So. How do we, as wineries, foster and develop that arrangement?

The basics:
– Involve the rep. Make them a part of the business. Engage.

– Accept the fact that sales will generally not happen immediately. Groundwork must be done.

– Share knowledge. If someone pops into the cellar door who owns a venue in town and who might be a lead, then pass the rep’s details along, grab that contact’s details and set things up. Note down which wines they liked. Pass it along. Give your rep EVERY opportunity to make it work. Yeah. It’s tempting to just sell and make this one customer yours and yours alone. Imagine though, what happens when your rep walks in and the wine is there. And they didn’t sell it….

– Share events. If you ARE running an event to the side of your distribution channel, maybe let them know. You could invite them if you like but also just set the opportunity up for ongoing sales.

Because odds are? They are already calling on that venue. And it then looks unprofessional. For both the winery and the sales person. And everyone loses out in what is a perfectly great opportunity.

If your business partners, employees, friends and family eat out a fair bit? Maybe get them to send a list. Even just the favoured venues. A great way to open up an opportunity a little wider is to reference someone who had chosen to spend money at the venue. Not ALL of them will render sales. But why ignore the opportunity?

– Understand how a portfolio works. Not every call of every day is going to be about your winery. But the good reps understand the customer requirements and where to optimise their chance of a sale.

Every winery that comes to the portfolio brings new opportunity. They have existing sales channels (mostly) and these broaden the chances for sales for that rep. ACROSS the portfolio. And if this rep is the good one who sells without shoving, who understands the requirements of this bar/shop/venue, and who has the answers? They end up with multiple wines on the list from the whole portfolio. Which means more opportunities for ALL brands in the portfolio.

Some accounts? There is a personal relationship. Sure. But be up front. Tell the rep that venue A is a direct account. But do not make a habit of this. One or two is fine. More than that is cherry-picking. And it damages the entire portfolio.

If one winery is keeping accounts, or not passing details along? They are pushing their front line of sales away. The trust factor is non-existent, and the relationship is already faltering.

The person selling your wine should be a part of your business. The trade customer buys wine *off* a winery, but *from* their sales person.

You need not be friends. But there must be trust. These are the people building recognition, and telling your story. They are placing your wines into venues who can champion your brand. There are so very many wineries, and brands, and wines, and stories. Here’s hoping you have a representative on board who understands you and your wines and gives a voice to that out in the trade. Someone who can make your wine stand out. Because this trust runs in both directions.

It won’t happen immediately. For many, that person/persons is building your reputation and respect.

Do you trust them to do that? To speak for you and to be a voice for your winery?

Reps are either great or terrible, in general. If they are having issues, ask them to share those, and help work a solution. Appreciate that at the front line, business is done. Not the passing of compliments but business.

Opportunities. They are everywhere. Taking advantage of them is the key. Be the wines discussed in every meeting. Be the front of mind for that rep. Be the contact who makes the rep smile.

Because customers buy from people. And this is the person front and centre, talking about your wines.

Sometimes? It is not just about the wine….

Note: these points arose from a dinner the other night. Current distributor and a former general manager of distribution. A winery CEO. A couple of reps. A winemaker who has been doing the sales bit as well. A winemaker who hasn’t. And a friendly restaurateur. Who vented a little.

5 comments on “Semantics: off vs from

  1. Great points. It is about relationships.

    Some wineries know who their distributors are, but don’t even know the reps name/s.


  2. Let me tell you a long story —- I’ve been in sales, one way or another, for most of my working life. One of my most memorable experiences was when I worked back in the 1980’s for an American multinational selling telephone equipment to call centres. It was expensive gear, $2M in the mid 80’s was a lot of money. I won some good airline business but really wanted to crack the bank market and worked on Australia’s best known bank for two years and was really close to getting the business. Got the sack (on the same day my wife got the sack from her job which was rather interesting and gave us the opportunity for a good holiday) and the very next week I received a phone call from the head honcho at the bank saying they had decided to go with me but when they rang the office found out I was no longer there. The product I was selling was not the very best on the market but they trusted me and knew I would make the whole transition process smooth and sort out any problems along the way should there be any. Guess what? As I was no longer in the equation they changed their mind and decided to buy the better product even though they knew there would be hiccups and hated the rep. I was asked by my employer to go back to them and try and salvage the deal but declined. That employer pulled out of business in Australia five years later.
    Moral of the story? Read Kate’s words again.

  3. Alex says:

    A big part of this also comes down to knowing what you’re good at and what you want to out-source. Getting a rep on board is exactly that – outsourcing your sales because you’re too busy doing stuff you’re good at (and perhaps you don’t have the easy-going manner and excellent memory for names/faces/places …).

    Also – as someone on the other side of this equation – as much as I’d love to build relationships with individual wineries (& I’m sure I will over time), my life is a lot easier dealing a handful of reps (& thus just a handful of billing & invoicing systems) than many, many more individual wineries.

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