Working as a sales rep can be challenging. The ability to multitask, manage clients, and memorize a product portfolio—and be able to enthusiastically spin stories about the bottles—is just the beginning. But there’s nothing quite as nerve-racking as trying to land a new account. Approaching prospective buyers can be one of the most intimidating aspects of the job. With the right approach, though, scoring that first tasting appointment can go much smoother. SevenFifty Daily spoke with buyers across the country to get the inside scoop on how they prefer to be approached and what they’re looking for in a rep. Here are their tips.
1. Introduce Yourself Before Dropping In
Across the board, every buyer interviewed expressed a preference for a formal introduction rather than a random drop-in. “Email the buyer directly, and if you don’t have their email, call the store and ask for it,” says Talitha Whidbee of Vine Wine, a small retail shop in Brooklyn, New York, that features an array of hand-picked selections. “Attach your portfolio or a link to your portfolio, maybe highlighting a wine or two that you’re excited about.” Whether by email or phone, introducing yourself first is more likely to score you an appointment.
2. Get Acquainted with the Buyer’s Inventory
Andrea Lench, a fine-wine sales consultant at Grand Vin Wine Merchants in Olympia, Washington, says that the best thing a rep can do is study an account’s inventory first. “If I have no Barolos and 10 Chiantis,” says Lench, “don’t waste my time by trying to sell me a Chianti.” She also suggests that reps can possibly secure sales by pitching new vintages of wines that have been carried in the past. “Look at where there are holes,” she says, “and select wines that fit in those categories.”
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights. Sign up for our award-winning Daily Dispatch newsletter—delivered to your inbox twice a week.
3. Ask the Right Questions
You can build goodwill with buyers by making strategic inquiries about what kind of wines an account is currently looking for, what gaps need to be filled, and how you can help increase sales for the venue, suggests Jodi Bronchtein, a sommelier and buyer who recently departed from the Boston-based restaurant L’Espalier, and is now the sommelier-manager at Kokomo, a private island resort in Fiji.
Reps should also come to a tasting appointment prepared with prices, an updated inventory list, and wine scores on the spot, so they won’t have to waste the buyer’s time by looking those details up during the meeting. “A rep who takes an interest in my list, my program, and my changing budget limitations will get an appointment,” says Bronchtein, adding that if an initial appointment goes well, it’s essential to work on forming a connection. “It has to be about a relationship,” she says. “No relationships are as important as the ones with my favorite distributors. I have had reps move heaven and earth to get me wine, and to this day, I would do anything to give them more business and promote their portfolios.”
4. Know Your Products Inside and Out
“There’s nothing worse than a rep coming in and not knowing what they’re trying to sell,” says Ricardo Vides, the founder and owner of Davenport Wines & Spirits, an 18-year-old retail shop with 7,700 SKUs in Austin, Texas. He emphasizes that reps must really know their portfolio before showing up to a tasting appointment. “We like to educate our customers about the products they’re buying,” he says, “so a salesperson should know their products and have studied them.” Vides, a former sommelier, expects reps to share details about the wines they’re pitching, such as whether a wine was aged in concrete, steel, or oak, how long it was aged for, and some historical information about the vineyard or producer. “Knowing all of the specifics gives us an idea of the quality of the product,” he says, “and also [helps us] know that the salesperson put in the work to educate themselves.”
5. Take Notes
Being attentive can go a long way toward winning over a buyer. Show that you’re motivated to work with the account by being an active listener and dedicated note taker. “Don’t come in and ask me what I’m looking for and not take any notes,” says Lench, “and then ask me to email [the information] to you later.” The easier you make it on buyers, the more likely they’ll be to keep working with you.
6. Keep Things in Perspective
Whidbee points out that you shouldn’t be offended if a buyer doesn’t agree to sit and taste with you. “Don’t take it personally,” she says. “Sometimes the portfolio doesn’t make sense for the store, or the buyer has had a terrible experience with a previous rep or the company itself.” At the end of the day, business is business. The good news is that there are plenty of other accounts where you and your book will certainly be a fit.
Vicki Denig is a New York-based wine and spirits journalist and wine educator, discovering the world through the lens of a glass, one sip at a time. When not tasting or traveling, she can most likely be found running through Astoria Park or sipping on Cabernet Franc.