By Elizabeth Hans McCrone
The biggest difference between tasting rooms and wine clubs that perform beyond expectation and those that don’t, is an organizational commitment to employee training, according to the 2017 VinQuest direct to consumer benchmark report.
Given the reports that tasting room traffic in both Sonoma and Napa counties is down this year by close to 20 percent, the success of each customer interaction is increasingly important.
“Lots of wineries provide their staff with wine knowledge, facts of the winery and facts of the wine club – but not customer relationships,” Jim Morris, Vice President, Estate Manager and Guest Relations at Charles Krug Winery observes. “We need a different approach for our employees, about how to talk naturally. It’s about opening our eyes to how successful these interactions with customers can be.”
Morris is one of the featured speakers at the “Investing in Staff Training: The Big Return” session at the 7th Annual North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo), which deals specifically with this critical issue.
Morris believes that Charles Krug’s location in the famous Napa Valley where the wine train stops twice a day, makes a well-trained workforce imperative in a fiercely competitive environment that is only becoming more so.
“Nothing (in other wine regions) prepares you for the level of expectations you have in Napa,” Morris attests. “There are lots of different things we need to be really good at. There are 500 plus wineries to go visit. When people come to town, they’ll go to two or three maximum per day. How do you get people in the door?”
To that end, Morris has instituted a hospitality training program for the winery’s employees twice a year from consulting companies that specialize in marketing and sales best practices. One of them comes from within the wine industry ranks, but the other does not.
“We can get a little too close to our own issues,” Morris opines. “Let’s mix it up a little bit. There’s a lot we can learn from the hotel industry or from a high-level concierge business.”
Although Morris has more than 20 years experience in the wine business, he’s been at his current position for just over five months, so the results of his staff training investment there are not in yet, but Morris is sold on the concept.
“Invest in your employees, flat out,” Morris declares. “Think different, what makes you unique, find your voice. Above all, create a place your employees love to be, that they feel vested in.”
“Most people who get into the wine industry don’t do so because they want to sell. People do it because they want to talk about wine,” says Elizabeth “E” Slater, Founder of In Short Direct Marketing. “One way to differentiate yourself is to get to know your customer. Find out what it is that they are interested in and what they want.”
Slater has spent the last 24 years teaching staff and managers throughout the wine hospitality business the techniques of customer engagement and sales, and will join Morris on the “Investing in Staff Training: The Big Return” panel. For her, it comes down to one of her most often repeated adages: ‘It’s not all about the wine.’ She believes wineries must align the quality of their guest engagement sales abilities with the quality of their products.
“Don’t Create Customers, Create Converts.” she says, “Converts will spread the word about your winery and wines, far and wide.”
“If we’re trying to get people to convert to our brand, we can’t do that by giving them the same spiel,” Slater emphasizes. “People won’t remember where they went, but if you can tailor the experience to fit their needs, they’ll remember who you are.”
Slater is a firm believer that such customer-focused practices must come through the organization culture, from the top down, and must be an important part of the winery’s philosophy and commitment to quality.
“Everyone who works for you should have training,” she insists. “When I hear from wineries that we don’t have enough money for staff training, I ask, ‘why not?’”
“In an industry that experiences high turnover in hospitality, it’s important to create an environment where people want to stay,” Slater reasons. “In order to stay, they need to feel successful. After all, it’s hard to shine in a sky full of stars – and we have a multitude of wineries that make star quality wine. A well-trained staff will definitely help your winery shine.”
Registration for the 2018 WIN Expo is open. For more information on the Sales & Marketing Track Presented by Emetry, individual sessions and speakers, or to register for the WIN Expo trade show and conference visit wineindustryexpo.com/conference.