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Selling Wine in the Tasting Room

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Expert Editorial

There is nothing surreptitious about selling wine in a tasting room or at a tasting event; the visitor is there anticipating buying a new-found wine that will make life more pleasant. And tasting room staffs should understand—wine sales is not a debate forum; everybody has different tastes and expectations. The visitor arrives with preconceived notions that they are predisposed to finding a wine in which they are emotionally enamored. At this point it is up to the tasting room staff to create the atmosphere that could be called the “romance of wine.”

How is an effective atmosphere created that encourages the purchase of wine? There are a lot of factors in creating atmosphere: the setting, visual cues, lighting, sounds, smells, temperature, staff interactions, marketing, and of course brand identity. There is a lot of research about the science of psychology in selling, everything from the type of background music, ambience created from special lighting, even the smells that stimulate the senses. All the elements that make up a tasting room, knowingly or unwittingly, do impact a positive disposition toward a product (wine).

As an aside. Assume you bought a $40 bottle of Napa Valley wine that you truly enjoyed and wanted to visit that winery on a visit to Northern California. You have already conjured up in your mind what you expect that tasting room experience should be to you. Based solely on your experiences with the wine, the logo (branding) and the website (marketing). If that visit to the winery does not measure-up to expectations, you may not want to buy more wine from that winery. However, well trained and motivated staff can overcome many deficiencies in setting, ambiance, smells, sounds, etc.

If the tasting room experience does not support the brand and advertising message, there is a disconnect with the visitor and their willingness to bond with the product. Without an emotional connection, the sales function is almost an exercise in futility. Sales is not a dirty word or shady endeavor, it allows people to enjoy an experience, be informed, make buying decisions intelligently and, selling makes it possible for the wine enterprise to exist.

So, what should a winery tasting room be doing to maximize or improve their odds of a sale that allows visitors to be emotionally satisfied with the purchase? With wine, tasting room/direct to consumer selling is all about selling the sizzle and the steak. Wine is bought because it provokes imagination and emotional appeal, addresses a need/desire, and offers tangible benefits. Wine purchases (sales) are human senses working together to give a visitor an ah-ha moment with a winemaker’s creation. Tasting room sales staff are there to guide the experience of the offered wines.

If a tasting room is going to be successful in their direct-to-consumer sales effort, the staff needs to be a host, counselor, educator and understand selling wine is about addressing the 5 senses. (Daven Hiskey in “Today I Found Out”, says there are really 9 senses.)

Ideally, marketing and branding have lead the way for a visitor’s expectations. In the tasting room, the visitor is given the opportunity to touch and feel the brand and product and now it is time to get personally involved with the winery. This is the start and finish line of the actual sale process.

Having sat through or conducted, too many to count, sales seminars. There seems to be a standard blueprint for conducting sales meetings. The only difference may be that there are some nuances that are industry specific.

Looking at tasting room sales specifically, maybe we can tweak the diehard standard attributes of good sales practices and incorporate some current thinking.

Relative to tasting room staff, here are some thoughts: (We are assuming some consistency in personnel, which is a concern.)

  • Know, or at least understand, the winemaking process from vineyard to the tasting room.
  • Be familiar with and at least occasionally read wine blogs and have an opinion of their comments.
  • Staff should not sound like they are spewing out facts based on rote; make the comments sound like fresh thoughts. For example, the Ritz Carlton Hotel group train their staff to respond to their guests in a fresh welcoming manner and are rated on always following that standard. It appears to them, “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it”.
  • Engage the visitor; find out what they should expect by way or aroma’s and taste of the wine before they sample the wine. Ask if they are interested in a wine of a specific characteristic. Always direct expectations.
  • Wine is never the cheapest or most expensive-it is either budget friendly or premium.
  • If the visitor seems to be torn between what wine to buy, then offer them a “premium sample pack” at a multi-bottle discount.
  • Offer the visitor a “private e-mail” address of the server staff because: “I want to hear how you liked our wine when you got home.”
  • Try to get the visitors name, so they can be communicated with on a first name basis. Use the introduction process to get information about their favorite varietal, or where they are from, how many wineries they have visited that day. People tasting a lot of wine in a compressed time frame will not get a good tasting experience for example; that is good to know up front.
  • People like to be made comfortable at their level of wine experience. When comfortable in a buying experience, the visitor will be willing to buy wine because they were directed by staff who understood the experience level of the visitor. People never want to be talked down to or made aware of any deficiencies in their wine experiences.

Then the standard attributes of good sales attributes may include:

  • Be passionate about the products/wines and know the wines first-hand and in one’s own words.
  • Be a keen listener, do not interrupt visitors when they talk. Look at the visitor to indicate the server is interested.
  • Understand the customers options.
  • Sincerity breeds trust in product options and suggestions.
  • Through actions and communications, make the customers feel they are getting value.
  • Lead the purchaser to conclusions by employing a friendly smile and a personalized warm welcome. If they do not purchase still wish them well and “Cheers.”
  • Don’t pressure customers, wine is an emotional/experience sale and not like selling a set of tires on a one day only sale. Persuade always, never pressure.

Selling wine to visitors at your winery’s tasting room, as a winemaker or winery owner, probably requires skill sets that are not common for senior managers; there may be passion, but the psychology of the sale must be learned and developed through experience. For example, I know how a painter applies paint to a canvas, but I am not a painter and never will be a successful painter.

If selling wine, direct to the tasting room visitor were easy everybody would be doing it with ease. Even with product knowledge, many are not closing sales at a spectacularly high level of proficiency. A visitor who buys wine is potentially a long-term customer and winery ambassador for life, because they have voted with their dollars, validating that the connection they have with the winery is emotional. Now the task is to get the visitor/buyer to join the wine club. Then be an effective ongoing communicator with that customer. Personal communications can be expensive and time consuming, but it can be rewarding with repeat sales.

“Selling is something we do for our visitors – not to our visitors,” said Zig Ziglar.

Steven LayExpert Editorial
by Steven Lay, owner, Image of Wine

Steven Lay has spent 30 years in the travel exhibition industry holding C level positions in Marketing and Product Development. Most recently Mr. Lay was the Chief Marketing Officer for a major on-line travel company. Currently, he owns a company that produces wine related gift/award products for large corporate events and a produces a tour program to New World wine areas.

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