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The conventional wisdom is that all that’s needed to become a successful wine sales reps is a little knowledge of wine and a few advanced selling techniques to win over potential buyers. However, that only begins to scratch the surface of what’s needed to be a successful wine sales rep. In fact, it’s possible to highlight at least 10 different skills – including strategic financial planning and effective time management – that need to be part of your overall skills portfolio.
The obvious place to start when talking about successful wine sales reps is relationship-building skills. After all, wine sales are intensely relationship based. The world of wine can be very subjective, and the decision of whether or not to commit to a new wine purchase can often be influenced by how strong your relationship is with the buyer. If you have a long track record of offering high-quality wines and really paying attention to the needs of a business, it is much more likely that you will be able to close on a sale.
Deep down, buyers want to believe that you are there to help them. They want to believe that you are an advocate for their business and that the wines you are showing them are going to help them become more profitable. Just keep in mind, though, that there are many different personalities within the wine world, and you need to slightly alter your approach in order to sell to each of them. This is all part of building successful relationships.
Next up on the list is time management. As a wine sales rep, you probably have no set schedule and have enormous flexibility in scheduling your different sales calls. That can be liberating – in the sense that you can cram in a whole set of meetings early in the morning and make your daily quota by noon. However, it can also cause havoc with your schedule, forcing you into the mentality that you should be working around the clock to close on different accounts. To avoid this mindset, many sales reps set an end-of-day goal time, at which point their sales calls for the day are finished.
Getting into wine sales requires the ability to talk intelligently about the different wines in your portfolio. But it also requires the ability to listen to buyers. Are you listening to what they have to say? Do you fully understand what they are looking for, and how to anticipate their concerns? It’s important, say experienced wine sales reps, not to “over-explain” the wines in your portfolio. At some point, you need to let the wines talk for themselves. Listening is a fantastic way to connect with buyers. And the more that you know about their tastes, preferences and outlooks, the more that you will be able to sell to them in the future. And, going back to the whole idea of relationship building skills, it will also help you deepen the relationship with the buyer. If he or she believes that you are listening and really paying attention, they will be much more likely to sign that deal you’ve been trying to make.
There is definitely room for creativity during the selling process. This creativity can be expressed in many different ways. For example, if you are having difficulty selling a certain wine in your portfolio, it could be that you need to change your selling approach. Among your client accounts, there are probably hundreds of different personalities, each of them with their own wants and needs. Some buyers, for example, might want to taste every single bottle that they buy. Others might want to see something new every single time, even if they are only planning on ordering the same bottles as before. And others might want special concessions – such as case breaks or special promotional pricing – in order to commit to a sale. It’s up to you to come up with a creative solution for each of these specific needs.
Since you are out there, constantly meeting new buyers, you need a concise way to summarize who you are, who you work for, and a reason why the wines you are selling are special. This is known as the “elevator pitch,” and should be anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds, but no more. This can be your intro when you go out for dinner with colleagues, when you are making a sales call for the first time in a new territory, or, yes, when you are getting into an elevator and happen to run across a potential wine buying prospect. By the end of an elevator pitch, a prospect should be eager to ask for your business card, or perhaps even for an impromptu tasting of your wines!
Even though you’ll be spending most of your time travelling around from account to account, you will still need the sort of financial planning skills that you would need if you were working in an office all day. When the new sales goals come out for the month, for example, you will need to put them into a financial model in order to see how best to meet these goals. It’s important to take a high-level, strategic view so that you can appropriately plan your sales approach for the month. You might recognize, for example, that there are some parts of the year when buyers from a particular region (or neighbourhood) are all out of town, either on vacation or on business trips to the same conventions. That will require you to tweak your financial sales projections, as well as your schedule. Or, after running the numbers, you might start to find patterns in your sales that you can really leverage for better performance. It might be the case that Thursday or Friday sales calls are particularly productive, in which case you’d want to revamp your selling schedule around end-of-the-week sales calls.
While the art of the wine sale is still very much a face-to-face affair, there’s still plenty of need for solid written communication skills. Most importantly, there’s the matter of email. Many wine sale pitches are now crafted via email, and it’s important that you learn how to write short, punchy emails that get your point across very clearly and effectively. And, of course, if you are helping out with social media posting or updates, you will also need some solid written communication skills.
Many wine sales reps advise adopting a “hospitality mentality” when it comes to making wine sales. Think of how you are treated when you fly first-class on an aeroplane, or how gracious the hotel staff is at a five-star hotel. In the hospitality industry, it’s not uncommon for employees to go above and beyond what’s required in order to please a customer – such as the hotel concierge who is able to book a table for you at an impossibly overcrowded restaurant, or the employee at the front desk who is able to handle any request you might have. Think about ways that you can apply this hospitality mentality: treat each potential buyer as an incredibly valuable VIP guest.
In this case, meeting deadlines are not just about meeting your own personal deadlines. It’s also about meeting the deadlines of your customers. Think about the buyer who always forgets to order on time, or about the buyer who always has a pressing need at a certain time of the year. You can really boost your sales potential by reaching out and reminding them before you have any last call on orders.
Constantly pitching for a new business can take a toll on anybody. Not everybody is going to say “yes,” and it’s far more likely that you will have to deal with a lot of rejection along the way. That’s especially the case if you are trying to sell certain wines that are not a core part of your customers’ portfolios. Thus, it’s important not to take things too personally. As they say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” It’s important to be resilient, and not to take any rejection as a reflection on you as a person.
At the end of the day, you need to be able to provide value to the buyer. The wines you are showing them should work for them, and help them to make money. This needs to be your overarching priority as you prepare for a sales call. Think of yourself as a partner, as a confidante, and as a trusted advisor – not just as a wine sales rep. To do so, With a little experience, you will find that making a final sale is a lot easier than you ever imagined.