The old refrain in-effect says that people are all different and that is what keeps things interesting and makes the world go around. Or maybe said another way, differences in individual tastes is what makes the wine world go around. Competing wineries all produce wine from basically the same varietals, bearing in mind that there may be differences due to terroir, blending techniques, time in barrels and yeast used, just to name a few. In spite of all the idiosyncrasies in wine making, people do buy wine based upon an experience they had when being introduced to a wine. That is why people save corks, write tasting notes to themselves and relate stories about the wine to friends.
Winery owners I have talked with over the years have said that they try to keep a consistent profile of their various wines, from vintage to vintage, because their customers like specific wines. But, they still need to introduce new converts to their wines. Tastings, in a winery or at a tasting event, are an important means to expose new customers to wines, because people’s tastes do evolve; remember when you only liked White Zinfandel (and maybe still do)?
Tasting rooms are one of the few opportunities in business where the potential customer spends their own money to travel long distances to a winery, then pay (in most cases) to experience a winery and the wines, and joyfully expect to hear a sales pitch that ends with the sales person asking for the sale. I submit, in a tasting room, selling knowledge and stories creates an experience that can overcome some flaws and negative perceptions. “If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful,” says Jeff Bezos. In reality, aren’t wines a lot about experiences, a love of people in the moment, community, and romance?
In the October 2015 “Wines & Vines Newsletter” – Tasting Room Focus with Wise Bites, the author has a position that wineries should, in their tasting rooms, be selling their brand first and wine second. I would go one step further and say that the tasting room staffs are ambassadors and their “shtick” is telling about their winery and then wines.
Wines and Vines say, the public is interest in the people behind the brand first and the wine second; I buy into that thesis. Just look at all the reality shows and TV shows that feature the people doing interesting things. For example, Shark Tank, West Texas Investors Club, Robin Leach in the Rich and Famous, American Pickers, and home remodeling shows; these are all shows that feature the people and the other interesting people they encounter. A few years ago I wrote stories about “People of Wine Country”. These stories were well received, I believe, because I presented people who wanted to make great wine, their personal struggles, and some providing services to the makers of wine; never mentioned were the wineries, just the people. One such story was about a very young mother of 2 who lost her husband in a vineyard accident and struggled to make her husband’s dream reality.
Never losing sight of the fact, in the end, tasting rooms are really about selling the product. I would call the tasting room consultative selling-talking about the history of the product and its character (the way it is made and why). Therefore, let me present a few ideas relative to what makes a successful tasting room host/associate (and the same attributes can apply to most any industry):
· The person should have an open style that can draw people into a discussion. If it is a concierge style tasting room this is critical. Always asking for opinions from the guest. Listen more than talking.
· The associate needs to casually present their views/love of the wine culture and some fun facts about his/her experience in the industry. Even the young associate has a perspective that even the most senior can appreciate.
· Before the glasses are on the table or counter, the associate should explain the process the customer has paid for and why it is in place. For example, why the winery charges, why appointments only, etc.
· Tell an antidote about the owners of the winery and their beginnings and accomplishments. People want to be included in inside stories about the brand.
· Make people feel they are getting more than they paid for. This can be done with inexpensive give-a-ways such as imprinted coasters or a subscription to the winery’s “Insider Newsletter” or waiving the fees for the Wine Club with benefits.
· Once the tasting sample is poured, talk about the AVA of the grapes, the wine makers approach to that particular wine and the wines personally drank and his/her spouse. Do not tell people they will like something before they even taste. Obviously, if not married a significant friend will fill in the blank. Conversation will always deliver a trove of information to aid in the sales process.
· In a service industry, visitor accommodation is recognized and appreciated; it shows the winery appreciates a valued visitor.
· Nothing is ever gained from being critical of anything and goes for politics, religion or people.
· Having led sales teams in the service sector and technology sales, my tenet of successful selling was to make the exchange between customer and sales person as personal as appropriate. That experience can only be created by people with a heart toward service, open to building new acquaintances and displaying a real interest in getting the visitor to talk about themselves.
An old expression in the sales game is: Sell the sizzle and not the steak. In the wine business today with 2,000 tasting rooms in California alone, sell the winery and the visitors will come. Everybody can be an expert in wine because we all have different senses and know what we like and why we like it.
Most overlooked sales tool is training. In the sales game, training is always a must do, especially in the wine industry. I am personally familiar with a company in real estate sales that conducts sales meetings monthly and requires 100% attendance, but does allow make-up training. Certainly the wine industry is changing and staff needs to be prepared on how to handle customer/visitor comments and questions. I once ask a tasting room person how many cases of Merlot they produced and they did not know.
Here is a quick thought about training. Specifics of a wine– aromas, taste, tannins, and acid percentage are all relate to the final product. For the moment and to illustrate the point about training, let’s just focus on the subject of wine chemistry. For example, the importance of yeast selections, oak, aging, blending and the specific grape varietals; these are just a few things a good tasting room associate could be trained in to enhance visitor experience and perceptions. All translate into the ultimate sale of wine and follow-on purchases of a brand.
Consumers are getting more and more attuned to wines by brand. Wine consumption is continuing to show some growth, especially with Millennials. Wineries are changing their approach to the customer and on premise visitor as is witnessed by constructing well planned tasting rooms and concierge services. Just like the design of a grocery store, there is a science to selling wine. Wine sales is a customer centric business first and foremost.