VinQuest 2018 Reveals the Importance of the Human Touch in DTC Wine Sales
By Janet Perry
Bryan St. Amant of VinterActive LLC has been doing VinQuest research for more than a decade, producing data that illustrates which tactics have been successful for wineries seeking more direct to consumer sales. VinQuest 2018 Consumer Direct Wine Sales Report was created to help growth-oriented wineries succeed, utilizing this data.
The more than 200 wineries surveyed are predominantly from California, with 18 other states represented as well. The wineries range from very small, producing less than 1,000 cases per year to very large wineries producing over 42,000 cases per year.
St. Amant pointed out that the report has no great truths to it, to direct one absolutely to what will be the answer to increase direct to consumer sales. What it has is great data that is easily synthesized to show what would be the most beneficial, according to one’s viewpoint in the industry, to achieving one’s goals.
St. Amant said, “My main takeaways this year are old and new: the old takeaway confirmed by this survey is that the fastest growing wineries work harder, trying more sales methods and marketing tactics compared to slower growing producers; and the new takeaway is that wine clubs are now the main driver of sales growth for DTC wineries. So any winery trying to grow their DTC sales should prioritize wine club initiatives if they haven’t already done so.”
Laura Larson, Founder of Virtual Vines DTC Sales & Marketing Services had this to say, “The DTC channel of the wine industry has a unique opportunity to capture, nurture and grow their direct consumer base since their products incent an emotional type of purchase. Building relationships by creating an inspirational or lifestyle based brand story and delivering it throughout the customer journey is easier to accomplish than many other Industries. Delivering memorable experiences at the winery, engaging in digital conversations through social media and interactive web-based applications present many opportunities to build relationships with customers that promote sales opportunities and grow customer brand loyalty. As more and more wineries are entering the DTC channel, they need to set themselves apart by implementing sales and marketing strategies that appeal to customers in a unique and more personal way. Customers want to be part of something special, and they want wineries to help them feel that way.”
Tasting room sales were edged out by wine clubs in sales, but Larson pointed out that tasting room staff are more important than one might presume. “Front line tasting room staff are often the ones who have the unique opportunity to interact directly with customers,” said Larson. “In spite of that, we still see wineries place more emphasis on the hospitality side of the business and not enough on ensuring their tasting room and wine club staff know how to ask for a sale, upsell a buying opportunity or grow returns from existing, committed customers. I think wineries are often afraid they will veer too far away from their customer service based hospitality culture if they create salespeople. In my experience, good salespeople know how to be hospitable. To offer a quote I always use from Sir Richard Branson- ‘Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your customers.’”
Sales training does appear to make a difference. Larson said, “The learnings derived from training should become a culture or way of life- meaning taking the best practices or learnings and integrating them into daily practice. Implementing a comprehensive training curriculum not only builds knowledge and sales acumen, but it also helps build staff confidence, team building, motivation, and employee loyalty.”
Larson discussed the Marketing Benchmarks from the study. “One common denominator in the Top 5 marketing methods (customer referrals, customer Loyalty, Industry referrals, on-site events and email marketing) is tied to successful relationship development. The metrics prove personal attention and high touch marketing tactics garner much higher performance results. Consumers are looking for more experiences and want to feel connected to the business and that they are a part of something.”
“Coming from a couple of decades in the technology sector,” said Larson, “I have found the winery community is pretty far behind the curve when it comes to leveraging technology to manage the customer journey to capture new customers and foster relationships with existing customers. There are some decent tools out there, but it’s challenging to find too many that play well with others. Some of the older legacy applications which work well in the back office are reluctant to open the kimono to embrace newer, innovative tools which are more flexible, mobile and offer a better experience for their customers. If more of the manufacturers of the software solutions would work together and provide more seamless integration in the name of customer satisfaction, I think everyone would benefit in the long run.”
“Wine is an emotional product and an emotional sale,” said Larson. “People relate to wine based on experiences. So often wineries do a great job delivering memorable experiences if you visit them in person, but don’t do such a good job conveying that experience in the digital genre. Wineries should embrace digital tools as another way to talk to their customers. Wine consumers are using smartphones to browse, send messages, shop and purchase more and more every day. Wineries need to adapt and implement digital strategies that make it efficient for their customers to be inspired by their brand, see, shop, share and purchase their products. Digital channels offer a unique opportunity for businesses to be interactive, real-time, with customers and prospects from anywhere on any device!”
St. Amant said, “Based on feedback from our seminars, I think our analysis of the top-10 tactics used by growing tasting rooms, wine clubs and ecommerce operations always provides good fuel for thought. And there’s always interest in regional differences. For example, despite the historic success of Napa wineries in the DTC space, most of the growth in this segment is forecast in other regions.”
St. Amant stressed that if a winery, no matter the size, wanted to improve their direct to consumer sales, the VinQuest 2018 report would have valuable information for them to access.