Marketing Matters


The ABCs of Making Account Sales Calls

January 2008
by Dixie Gill Huey
In the Broadway play-turned-movie "Glengarry Glen Ross," there is a gem of a sales monologue: "ABC! A: Always. B: Be. C: Closing. Always be closing. Always. Be. Closing!" While sales manager Blake (played by Alec Baldwin) is harsh and quite crude in the delivery of his selling tactics message, his ABC acronym can be expanded to include key points that wineries should consider when selling to accounts.

In addition to always, "A" means approach

Approach the client in an effective, professional manner. Be sure to show up on time and at a time that works for the buyer. Just because you happen to be in the area doesn't mean your audience will be ready or willing to taste your wines.

Getting dedicated face time with buyers is easier said than done, especially in top markets with top accounts. Paul Mugnier, vice president of sales and marketing for Premium Port Wines, offers this advice for securing appointments: "Each time you're working a market, set aside time to introduce yourself to new target buyers--or those with whom you were not able to obtain an appointment."

In these introductory sales calls, simply drop in, ask for the buyer, shake his or her hand and exchange business cards. Remember, this is not the time for a tasting. According to Mugnier, "It's an opportunity to establish an initial rapport. That way, when you call to follow up and make an appointment, the buyer will be able to put a face with a name, which will make it a lot harder for him to say no to your request." Sure, this requires extra effort, but it's time well spent, "and it's much more personal than sending an e-mail," Mugnier advises.

When you do sit down with the buyer, refrain from immediately launching into a premature and lengthy sales pitch, insisting on why the account should buy your wine. "A" is also for attitude. Yours should be positive and demonstrate a genuine interest in the buyer's needs. Show your desire to understand his or her business and possible constraints by asking thoughtful questions about the wine program or shelf set. Inquire about the account's customers--what they're seeking, how they select wines, and what sells best.

Ask about the account's approach to buying and goals--is the establishment looking to build a cellar or inventory, more focused on volume and inventory turnover, fairly rigid or open to suggestions? Probe to see if your buyer is currently looking for anything in particular, or if there are any gaps in the list or shelf set. Perhaps there is a focus on California Cabernet Sauvignon, wines of the Pacific Northwest, or a broader selection of interesting values from around the world.

Leave the pile of paper detailing your family tree and lengthy blending decision-making processes at home. Instead, bring a one-page sheet detailing your winery's unique selling propositions, listing your wines with pricing, identifying your local distributor (or sales information if you're in a direct-to-account state), and summarizing any top press you might have.

Know your talking points ahead of time. If you get the feeling that the buyer is not interested in scores or medals--and many aren't--then mention that these items are included "just in case," but that you certainly understand that her palate is the most important judge of a fit.

"B" is also for your behavior

The good news is that your behavior is in your control. The bad news is that many people forget or fail to do the simplest things. For example, look the part--if it's an upscale establishment, you should have on a suit. In short, dress like a customer.

Also, be sure to park appropriately. If it's a busy establishment, do not pull into the most convenient spot--reserve that for the customers. If you're in a busy city, do not "steal" a coveted parking place: a potential patron who arrives to find none left may instead decide to leave.

Smile, be polite, and think and communicate positively. This is no time to bash your competition. You only have a few minutes with the buyer, and spending this precious time being negative is wasteful. Furthermore, it reflects poorly on you and your brand. You should, however, know your competition, especially if you use this knowledge to point out areas in which your winery particularly excels.

Be patient. Know that restaurants will first focus on their primary business--serving the patrons. And shop owners will stop you mid-sentence to answer a customer's question. This means that you may have to wait a few minutes or longer. If you haven't already studied the shelf set or restaurant, this is a good time to do so.

When the sales call does begin, remember your manners. Start on a positive note by thanking the buyer for his time and letting him know how much you appreciate being considered. Then, determine how much time you have, so that you can divide it effectively, covering your approach questions, tasting, and closing. The thoughtful questions you ask during the initial part of the sales call will help you select the most appropriate wines to taste, and demonstrate your ability to meet the buyer's needs.

No matter how many fabulous wines or stories you have, both of you have limited time. So remember that a sales call is not the time to show everything you make (unless you agreed to do a comprehensive tasting and the buyer is truly interested.) Narrow down your selection by looking at the list of offerings ahead of time. If the restaurant has seven Chardonnays by the glass but no Pinot Gris, and that happens to be something you make, this is the wine to show. If the shop focuses on a certain price range, be sure to stay within this business model.

While this strategy may not lead to an exact match with what you want to sell, it improves your odds in a key area more important to your long-term success: establishing a relationship of trust and understanding with the buyer. Be comfortable with leaving the account wanting more--it might even get you a future appointment.

"C" stands for communicating wisely

If the conversation wavers, use gentle persuasion and a return to get back to your talking points. Avoid interrupting, talking too fast and waxing poetic while the buyer is tasting and taking notes. Try to adapt to his method--if he's speedy and wants to move through the wines quickly, go for it. If she wants to ponder each wine and take notes, let her. Before resuming your pitch or moving on to the next wine, look for a cue t hat she's ready, such as a nod or glance toward you.

Try to determine what the buyer liked, and be sure to ask for feedback. If nothing is of interest at the moment, ask if he or she might want to revisit anything at another time, or perhaps offer something else you have in your bag if the buyer is open to more. If there is interest in a particular wine, make sure to ask for the sale. For example, if the buyer says, "I like the Pinot a lot," you could respond, "May I send you a six-pack?" If you're with a distributor representative, encourage the buyer to place the order on the spot.

There are some common deals in on- and off-premise establishments. In the former, the by-the-glass pour is often the most coveted placement. In the latter, it's the case stack. If you're seeking one of these deals, you need to arrive with the pricing already in mind.

"Work backwards from the offering price. If it's a $10 glass of wine, you should make sure that $10 is your net bottle price to the restaurant," Mugnier advises. In the off-premise, some common deals are "one on three" or "one on five," where you are effectively pricing in a free case for every three or five purchased, respectively. These deals aren't legal in every state, so you must know the laws ahead of time. Also, be prepared to split these costs with the distributor, if one is involved.

Lastly, be sure to follow up on any promises you make. If you agree to pricing or staff training, make sure it gets done. Winemaker Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars in Washington state, who addressed sales calls at the Walla Walla Wine Marketing Summit in June 2008, likens account sales to dating. Selling wine is as much about building relationships as it is about having excellent wine to sell. Not every establishment will love or buy your wine, but if you have the ABC mindset and keep over-delivering on quality and value--both in the bottle and during your sales calls--you'll develop strong relationships that will create some of your top brand ambassadors.

Dixie Gill Huey, proprietor of Trellis Wine Consulting LLC, provides management and marketing solutions to wineries and related business. She is an instructor of wine marketing at the Northwest Viticultural Center. Reach her at (360) 210-5551 or For more information, visit To comment on this column, e-mail
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