Selling wine is not rocket science, but it does require a certain set of skills, and not all of them hinge on one’s knowledge of wine. It takes relationships built on authenticity, honesty, trust, and respect.
Nowhere is that more evident than the relationship between a buyer and their sales rep. When done right, it’s a mutually beneficial connection—one that not only serves you as a buyer, but also your customers.
Of course, it takes time to build any meaningful relationship, but there are ways to accelerate and deepen the process. To help you get the most out of the sales rep relationship, SevenFifty Daily gathered tips from experts across the country.
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Be Honest and Transparent
If you’re not interested in ordering a certain wine, just say that. Nobody wants to waste your time pouring a wine you’re never going to buy.
“If a buyer can be really direct about what their needs are, then they’ll get more out of the relationship,” says Mariel Wega, Pennsylvania sales lead for Skurnik Wines, who says she didn’t fully appreciate the power of transparency during her former days as a restaurant wine director.
Being honest with your sales rep will allow them to better curate the wines they bring to you. “There’s a nice way to say ‘no thank you,’ and that can really be helpful for homing in on what’s going to be appropriate down the line,” she says. “We all want to achieve the same thing. If you’re open and honest, you’re not going to hurt my feelings.”
Tell Them Who Your Customers Are
No sales rep wants to see a case of wine they sold months ago still sitting on the shelf. They want to help you move bottles, too, and that means they want to help you find the ones your customers desire.
“I want to build the relationship with not just my client, but the client’s client,” says Lourdes Arena, the New Jersey sales manager for MFW Wine Co. A rep can get a sense of a restaurant or shop’s following by the kind of wines they already carry, but any additional information you can provide them with about customers will only help them help you further.
“We can all get jaded with the ‘job’ aspect of the business,” says Drew Prazeau, the Portland, Oregon, account manager for Grape Expectations. “At the end of the day, we are all trying to find things that not only the buyer wants, but what the buyer’s customer wants.”
Stay Open to Creative Tasting Formats
The pandemic disrupted a lot of industry traditions, but it also helped pave the way for new ones. While on-premise tastings with sales reps are key to doing business, they’re not the only way to taste.
Sales reps know that buyers often wear many hats. Wine buyers might also be the general manager, run staff training programs, or have to check customers out. To weed out some of those added disruptions, reps have gotten creative by inviting buyers to attend off-site portfolio tastings, either one-on-one or within a small group. Prazeau says this is a great tool that “gives [buyers] a chance to try through lots of wines quickly and efficiently.”
Tell Your Reps How You Like to Communicate
A sales rep can sometimes meet with dozens of different clients in a given week, all of whom have their own unique taste in wine—and communication style. It’s up to a sales rep to be available, helpful, and responsive, but communication is a two-way street. Tell them whether you prefer to be in touch about orders through email, phone calls, or texts.
Mallory Smith, the founder of Alt Wine Fest and a buyer at 1856, a bottle shop and bar in Portland, Oregon, finds different methods of communication fit different needs. “I go back and forth between email and text,” she says. “Email is good for longer orders and inquiries in the evening or on weekends. But I also prefer the casual nature of text for quick questions and last-minute orders.”
However, “every person is different,” says Wega, who despite always asking buyers point-blank how they like to be contacted, always appreciates the directness. Knowing a buyer’s communication preference helps her know when and how to follow up with them after tastings, orders, and drop-ins—and that leads to wins for all parties involved.
Don’t Burn Bridges
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s always a good reminder to be kind. You never know what importer or distributor a sales rep might end up after their current gig. If you burn that bridge now, you might face a challenge when you want those wines in the future.
“You don’t want to burn bridges,” says Wega. After all, wine “is a small community.”
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Shelby Vittek has written for Wine Enthusiast, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, the Washington Post, Modern Farmer, National Geographic, Liquor.com, and Plate Magazine, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @bigboldreds.