By Paul Vigna
There will be numerous changes that history will associate with 2020. For those involved in the wine industry, maybe the one that will best define the year is pivoting, adjusting on the fly to the additional ways to effectively do business.
Identifying those avenues is the primary goal of the Wine Industry Sales Symposium, a virtual series of sessions scheduled for Sept. 2-3. It is a hybrid program, taking aspects of the annual 3-Tier Wine Symposium on making best use of the wholesale channel and combining that with several workshops on Direct2 Sales Symposium, which will articulate the opportunities in the direct to consumer channel.
Designed for small- to medium-sized wineries, it will pack plenty of insights into every aspect of the sales process and offer it at no charge. It is, as Wine Industry Network president and CEO George Christie describes, the right time to assess all the sales options that now exist.
“We’re seeing our industry embrace technology at a pace we’ve never seen before,” he said. “Yes, it’s out of necessity, but that saying ‘necessity being mother of invention,’ it couldn’t be more true, and we’re definitely seeing it unfold right before our eyes in the wine industry.”
This inaugural program comes out of necessity, too. Last year’s first-ever 3-Tier Symposium was geared toward helping wineries find solutions to being more successful in the wholesale chain. Scheduled again for May this year, the program was postponed to September because of the pandemic, but already the wheels were in motion to tweak it. Christie said he had been thinking about converting it to a two-day sales symposium similar to the one coming up. “Basically, the idea was that, regardless of how you’re pushing your wine out there, we wanted to have something for everybody,” he said.
Using many of the panels and the speakers already tied to the May conference, they set up the sales symposium, its first-ever remote conference.
It fit with where Wine Industry Network, like most companies in the media resource world, have been moving toward in terms of embracing technology and increasing their use of webinars and video interviews, Christie said. Plus, the remote program makes it accessible to those in the industry who live far from the West Coast. Already, signups are far exceeding the 400 people that the in-person workshops could accommodate.
“We have people who are going to attend, we can see from the signups, that are registering from all over the country,” he said.
Day 1 includes topics such as the state of the wholesale channel, the pandemic’s short- and long-term impact on managing trade and media relations, and the perspective of distributors. Day 2 will move to the direct to consumer side, from what top performers are doing differently to consumer engagement strategies to sustaining sales minus any visitors to your tasting room.
In all, it will give wineries a chance heading into the busy sales season of October through the end of the year to incorporate new ideas and strategies. Plus, it will provide a chance for discussion and interaction and an opportunity to connect with people, said Eric Guerra, a co-moderator.
“The most important aspect of this is that it gives us an opportunity to come together when there’s really not an opportunity to do that in person,” said Guerra, a much-respected public speaker and wine investor with more than 17 years’ experience in wine sales and marketing. Echoing Christie’s previous sentiments, he noted how much he has seen the industry revolutionize this year. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this before,” he said. “So there’s no more important time to hear from the experts, and consultants; not just the winery people – like the PR companies, the marketing companies, the wholesalers – what they are going through and how they are approaching it.”
Co-moderator Laura Webb, a founder of Webb Brand Consulting and partner at Okos Partners, called the symposium a chance to continue the conversation from last year’s 3-Tier program and explore these other opportunities that have recently arisen.
It should compel wineries to think about “how is our world changing and how can we respond and understand the perspective of distributors, retailers, how technology is starting to play a role in bringing product and brands to consumers, how we can market effectively in this environment. I think there are some things that are going to be changed for the foreseeable future and potential forever for the market for many brands.”
Christie said among the changes that he has seen are wineries adopting technology like Zoom to maintain their presence in the market and setting up virtual tastings with buyers. One story he saw focused on a winery that traditionally does a market blitz decided to try a virtual blitz, and not only saved $15,000 in travel but sold twice as much wine.
“One of the things that people are going to find interesting with this particular conference are some of the things we’re going to be doing even after the pandemic,” he said. “I think we’re going to continue to see more virtual market visits in the future. It’s something I don’t think is going away. It’s too efficient and too effective.”