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The importance of hang time

Making the most of time in the market

I had a distributor tell me last week that I should provide "supplier training" to their other wineries.  I laughed; it's good to feel appreciated.  But then I thought, why not?  There are lots of wineries, across the spectrum, who are realizing that they need to spend time out in the market if they hope to survive or grow in the current economy.  Many of the people spending time out in the markets haven't done it much in the past.  And I'm always amazed how grateful the reps I work with are for the follow up I do.  Is it really that rare? 

Effective market work includes things to do before you arrive (even when you are scheduling your work), other things to do while you are there, and follow-up to complete after you get back.  Here is some basic advice for all three phases of your market work:

  1. Ask your distributor for what you want.  If you know what accounts you want to visit (or even what types of accounts you want to visit) let your distributor know.  If you have a specific salesperson you'd like to work with, let them know that as well.  You won't always get what you ask for, but you're more likely to get it if you ask for it.  At the same time, be reasonable.  You can't spend all your time visiting the same top downtown accounts that everyone wants to be in.  And, you probably can be more effective by being more creative.  For example, we made a point a few years ago to visit the college towns in as many states as possible.  We figured that these areas would be more progressive in their wine tastes, and more receptive to the fact that we farm organically, and both turned out to be true.  Distributors don't always think this way.
  2. Make your days as productive as possible by scheduling evening consumer events.  When you're on the road, you can expect to spend your days (say, 10am to 6pm) working with your distributor.  But what about evenings?  Are there restaurant and retail accounts with whom you could set up dinners or tastings?  These evening events give you the opportunity to market to consumers, to build your mailing list, and to help the accounts who buy from you actually sell some of that wine they bought.  And you're there anyway.  Setting up these sorts of events requires some advance planning, but they are usually well worth the effort.
  3. Before you arrive, check to confirm that the inventory and pricing you expect are in place.  Distributors are busy.  They represent hundreds or thousands of wines, and typically shift their focus from week to week to whoever is coming to visit them in the market.  It's in your best interests to confirm 3 or 4 weeks in advance that the wines you expect to show are in inventory, that the pricing you'd like to see has been implemented.  There is no better time to ask a distributor to bring in wines than when you're about to visit the market, and your visit can be more productive if accounts who are interested can be shipped what they liked.
  4. Discuss with the salesperson you're working with who will ask for the sale.  It's easy to coast through a day of market visits, meeting and speaking with the buyers, and end your day with a series of "to follow up" visits.  Of course, once you leave the premises of the buyer, the chances of a sale decrease dramatically.  These visits are sales opportunities.  Make sure that someone is asking for the sale at each visit.  If a buyer doesn't feel able to commit right then, see if the distributor can set up shipment for a future date... in two weeks, or at the beginning of the next month.
  5. Take notes when you visit accounts.  A day that a winery representative spends riding around with a distributor will typically involve visits to 5 to 9 accounts.  I've always found that by the end of the day the specifics of which account liked which wine gets fuzzy.  If you take notes when you leave an account, you'll be in much better position to follow up later.
  6. Keep track of who you see at trade shows.  Trade shows are a challenge, because your table is often overwhelmed by waves of tasters.  Some will be wearing name tags, but many will not.  Some will have business cards, but many will not.  But the more people you can record (with, ideally, the name of the account, who you spoke with, and what they were most interested in) the better able you will be to give your distributor the tools to follow up effectively. Bring a legal pad where you can jot down notes and record as many as you can.   And don't be shy about asking someone who comes by your table who they're with and what their role is, or (even simpler, because it has all the information in one place) for a business card.
  7. Send your notes to your sales representative and his or her manager.  When you get back home, take a little time to write up your notes and send them to who you worked with and to his or her manager.  This shows that you expect them to follow up, and gives them a very useful tool for that follow-up.  And check back in a few weeks to see which of the pending sales have come through.
  8. Send a thank-you note to the key buyers you met.  Restaurant and retail buyers see dozens of salespeople each week.  It's remarkable how effective sending a simple thank-you note after you get back can be to fix a positive memory in the buyer's mind.  I don't think it really matters whether this is sent by email or written by hand.  It is, as they say, the thought that counts.

I hope this proves helpful.  Anyone with good strategies for successful work in the market (or, if you're in the restaurant, retail, or wholesale world, things that you've appreciated your suppliers doing) please share!