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Experts Weigh In on the Biggest Obstacles and Opportunities to Sell More Wine

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Next week the virtual Wine Industry Sales Symposium we bring over twenty wine industry experts together across six conference sessions to share insights and experiences to help wineries improve their DTC and wholesale channel performance.

Six of them share their thoughts on what they think are important obstacles and opportunities for wineries to address.

What is a big obstacle to sales that wineries need to overcome and what’s the way to do it?

Jim Silver
Jim Silver

JS: One of the greatest obstacles to sales suffered by wineries in general is strict adherence to certain traditional mores, whether that be vainglorious price points and/or over-calibrated sales channels. If we didn’t know it before Covid, we should know by now that our customers aren’t always eating in the finest restaurants, nor restricting their shopping to the five top-rated independent retail wine shops in each market. Those time-tested methods of gaining visibility have been de rigueur for conventional luxury marketing for decades. But it is the rise of e-retail sites post 2008, the consolidation of distributors, the rise of big box retailing and Amazon, and the democratization effects of wine-searcher dot com (and similar) that are forcing us to consider sales channels previously thought antithetical to premium brand marketing. Indeed, the evolution of luxury wine marketing is already here, fed by social media, fueled by competition, so we must meet the customers where they are now – with humility, authenticity, and a sense of reality.

James Silver, Managing Director / Ren Acquisition, Inc.

Efrain Barragan
Efrain Barragan

EB: Keeping up with the current market trends taking place outside of the wine industry and implementing a pioneer mindset.

Efrain Barragan, Director of Digital Marketing / Clif Family Winery

SH: Personalization. Consumers visit a winery visitor center to have an experience that can’t be found when purchasing wine at a grocery store or wine shop. Today, in most cases, visitor information is collected pre-visit through the reservation form. This data can be cross-referenced against order management and CRM systems to determine if the visitor has been in before, their lifetime value, and status with the wine brand. Our winery clients who have built pre-visit workflows to take these steps and ensure every visit is personalized as much as possible tend to see higher average order values.

When a connection is formed and guests feel like the star of the show, hosts can go beyond the sale to position access over discount and inspire exploration. Taking a moment to personalize tasting menus, introduce guests to one another who have commonalities and personalizing the tasting experience go a long way in establishing rapport with luxury buyers. At time of close, it is much easier to apply consultative selling skills when a personal connection has been formed with guests. The invitation to return feels genuine as well as personal in this scenario. Creating a tickler system of calendaring reminders to check back in with well qualified customers after a first visit communicates that the wine brand is focused on building relationships that go beyond a tasting room transaction.

Sandra Hess, Founder / DTC Wine Workshops

Daren Cliff
Daren Cliff

DC: This is a pretty open-ended question so I want to take the opportunity on how important a strong story is. In today’s fine wine space it has become increasingly more critical that a winery has an authentic story and that they are able to get that story messaged effectively. Regardless of size, they need to start by leveraging all of the tools that they can to get that story out: Social media, DTC, vintner’s associations, consumer engagement events, 3rd party press (not just scores, editorial) etc.  Start locally in your home market/state and drive your authentic brand story to create a connection to the consumer. At Aspect Fine Wine, we see authenticity as the number one attribute our customers are looking for.

Daren Cliff, Senior Director Business Development, Aspect Wine / Breakthru Beverage Group

Eric Guerra
Eric Guerra

EG: I have found the biggest obstacles to sales is simply two things: 1) Wine & brand quality, and 2) Internal culture. First and foremost, the buyers (wine consumers, wholesalers, retail buyers, etc.), all need to feel that the brand is real and on point, and that the wine over-delivers at the price point. Without this, then everything else doesn’t really matter as there are just too many excellent brands on the market that can easily take your space. Secondly, and possibly shocking to some in the wine business, the overall motivation, positive nature, professionalism, and just excellent culture of your company reverberates internally and externally… and if excellent, this ALWAYS translates into quality sales. If your team has bought into the mission, if they believe in the wine, if they believe in the people and leadership, and if they are motivated each day to climb the hill and represent the wine in the most positive way possible, I have found this always translates directly into sales $’s – every time.

Eric Guerra, Galactic Viceroy of Wine / Reserve Tastings Wine Co.

What is a big opportunity for sales that wineries can seize and who should they go about it?

Jennifer Warrington
Jennifer Warrington

JW: Biggest opportunity? Cross train and hire for utility players. Leverage human resources and labor costs by having team members who can do multiple tasks depending on the business need and the priorities. For example, one person who can not only host in-person tastings, but also virtual hosting, answering chat on website, making outbound calls, etc. Wineries who are successful are hiring and training staff to meet the many needs, helping wineries find many ways to gain revenue. 

Jennifer Warrington, The Glue / WISE Academy

EG: This is difficult to answer in a specific way because each wine company has different goals that can be wholesale and large, D2C and boutique, mostly tasting room based, etc. So, I’ll go back to my statement earlier about Culture and Excellence. Regardless of the go-to-market and mission of the wine company, if the team believes in the strategies and leadership, if they believe in the wine and brand, if they are trained to seek excellence in all that they do, and if they are motivated to climb the hill each day with a positive approach… it will ALWAYS translate into sales dollars.

Eric Guerra, Galactic Viceroy of Wine / Reserve Tastings Wine Co.

EB: Harnessing technology to simplify the sales process will be key as we continue to evolve as an industry.  A good CRM will benefit any winery coupled with a very focused sales strategy to capture sales every step of the way.

Efrain Barragan, Director of Digital Marketing / Clif Family Winery

Sandra Hess
Sandra Hess

SH: With only 12-20% tasting room visitors converting to a membership program, now is the time for winery teams to rethink their DTC Reengagement Strategy. A big opportunity for hospitality teams to grow sales and increase reengagement is to extend Private Client Services to luxury wine buyers outside of a traditional membership program. In most cases, luxury wine buyers are seeking access to allocation-only wines, last of vintages, reserve collections, large formats, etc. Instead of the traditional “you sign up for an annual membership program and we will then offer discounts and membership benefits”, a private client services program is a proactive form of providing private access once minimum thresholds are met. We all enjoy being recognized when investing time and money with a luxury brand we admire.

Discount is not a part of the discussion when interacting with private clients and inviting to connect through unpublished experiences and events. This thoughtful approach to developing direct customers for life, is one of the most effective ways to build a community of well-qualified brand loyalists. This is also a key brand differentiator when catering to executive assistants and celebrity status customers. When analyzing our client’s customer records and lifetime value reports across the nation, we continue to identify great opportunities for brands large and small to introduce a new Private Client Services Programs. In some cases, the majority of top 25% of customers based on lifetime value fall outside of a “membership” contact type. We encourage wine brands to run their own analysis when deciding if it is the right time to introduce this new program and to reach out to our consulting team when ready to build new processes, update systems and train staff to support this new initiative. Program ownership is key to long-term success.

Sandra Hess, Founder / DTC Wine Workshops

The virtual Wine Industry Sales Symposium is broadcast on May 25 and 26, registration is free for wine industry professionals. In addition to the six conference sessions, symposium sponsors are offering several product demonstrations giving insights to innovative and improved sales tools.


By Kim Badenfort

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