Increasing Tasting Room Sales- a salesman's perspective

I have been a salesman in one way or another all of my working life. I have built a successful business and in the last couple of years worked part time at two wineries as a tasting room associate (TRA). What follows are my ideas of how to get more sales from the tasting room staff.

First I think it is important to understand what motivates a person to work in a tasting room. It is most likely is not the pay, $10, $12 or $15 per hour can be earned at any convenience store or fast food chain. My experience and observation would argue that a good TRA has a personal interest in wine, wants to learn more about wine, appreciates the winery/industry discount on purchases and simply enjoys chatting with people. Most TRA’s see their role as serving, sharing their knowledge about the wines being served and creating an enjoyable experience for the guest. A secondary motivation seems to be the personal gratification of being associated with the wine industry and a specific winery. Sales, sure, it is nice to see a customer go out with a few bottles but “I’m here for me.”

So how to get more sales?
Give TRA’s an incentive to sell. Seems simple but most wineries do not get this basic principle of human nature. Incentives work, Casino’s in Las Vegas understand and utilize this. I’m not saying you have to make the TRA’s compensation based solely on sales but there should be some incentive to sell, a goal bottle if the team beats the day’s sales goal, a free bottle for a sale over $500 or $1000 or two cases or more, a $10 credit to the top 5 people to use in the winery gift shop or deli, a $10 voucher for groceries or gas, you get the idea. Sales goals need to be achievable and clearly communicated but not easy. Also track sales to know who your top sales people are, profitability and margin of sales, recognize them at staff meetings, post TRA sales monthly, top gross sales, top sales per hour/shift worked. If you post these sales numbers it makes sales become part of the mindset of a TRA. I always want to be the top salesperson! This costs you very little and has a profound affect on the people you count on to make sales at your winery. Track and report to staff the sales by person. Too many TRA’s are clock puncher’s, not their fault, that is how they get paid. Change that paradigm now and watch your sales surge. Many TRA’s are great at selling wine club memberships but not particularly excellent at up-selling wine in the tasting room. Why? most wineries pay $10-12 for new wine club sign-ups and not a dime for selling a case of wine instead of two bottles. It is human nature to do what we are motivated and compensated to do. I talked recently with some ex-co-workers at a winery which will go unmentioned, they said sales were down dramatically this year over last, even though their product offering is better than ever. The current economic situation was my first thought, but then after further discussion I learned that management had taken away the “goal bottle” the TRA’s used to receive if the staff beat the days sales goal. Incentive now turned dis-incentive, no wonder the sales are down.

Teach how to sell. When it comes to the Tasting Room: Knowledge about wine, does NOT sell wine, people relating to people sell wine! I can rarely remember a big sale that was based on where the vineyard was, the varietals, the winemaker, the chemical composition, tannins, Ph, alcohol content etc. These facts were merely tools in my belt, discussed in the process if the guest was interested and only if the guest was interested. In fact, I would argue that knowledge can at times in the wrong hands get in the way of a sale. Most people buy wine because they like it and they have a vision of themselves enjoying the wine in pleasant circumstances with friends and family. Most wine makers and owners think the quality of the wine will sell itself. Quality of the wine and perceived value are important, quality comes from the vineyard, the fruit, and the winemaker’s skill. Perceived value can be created with craft by the salesperson. Yes salespeople have a craft too. If as a TRA, I create a perception of perceived value, I have most likely made a multi bottle or case sale. I like to do this by telling stories about the wine, something unique about the vineyard, how I would enjoy it, the types of food I would pair it with, why this wine is different. I can paint a picture in which the guest begins to see themselves and desire. “This rosé, I think makes a great cocktail wine, I would serve it before serving my red wines at a dinner party, it pairs well with brunch foods such as quiche, or at a picnic, beautiful on the Thanksgiving dinner table, I would drink this sitting on my front porch on a summer evening or as refreshment on a hot day by the pool” A good salesperson can sell a bad wine, a great wine will rarely get sold by a bad salesperson. Too many wineries think the wines sell themselves, maybe they will but don’t go to the bank on it.

Make the guest feel special. There are many ways to do this. It starts with greeting them warmly, asking questions about them and the wines they enjoy (instead of reciting facts about the wine poured), gathering information to be used to close and up-sell later. This is not evil or manipulative, the fact that the TRA has paid special attention will make their visit memorable. If you are crushing chardonnay at the winery bring some fruit into the tasting room, wash it and have it available for the guest to taste as they sample your Chardonnay. If you have a special bottle open, offer an exclusive sample. If you have time and take the guest into the barrel room for a barrel sample, you have made a life-long customer. A simple gesture like this is invaluable. It is really about the experience they have at your winery.

Teach your TRA’s to build rapport by asking questions. I think of this as becoming the student instead of the teacher. Imagine going to a party and meeting two people, one who genuinely seems interested in you, asks many questions about you, what you do, what you like and more. The other person you meet seems uninterested in you other than as an audience for her infinite wisdom, she tells you all about herself and asks nothing of you. Which builds rapport? In your tasting room which builds rapport: imparting information about the winery and the wines or asking questions about how the guests drinks and enjoys wine. I have a friend who says when meeting someone ask 5 questions before telling them anything about yourself. You are now in a conversation! Asking questions, a no-brainer, and an easy skill to learn, then in the sales situation the key becomes using the information gained from the guest to close the sale in comfortable way that shows you were interested in the guest and actually listened and learned from them.

Scarcity Sells. If you are running low of a wine that got 90 points recently from Robert Parker, putting a one-bottle limit and taking it off of the tasting menu is a sure fire way to generate incredible demand for the wine. The guests will ask about it, what is so special that you have taken it off the tasting menu and limited sales to one-bottles? I can’t tell you how many times I have sold wine, $40/bottle or more, untasted, because the perception was that it was special and scarce. Likewise I have many times sold 6 or more bottles of a wine instead of two because I simply told the guest that we were almost out of this particular vintage and reminded them how much they said they enjoyed this wine when they tasted it. “We only make 80 cases of this port and it usually sells out in a month”, if they like the port, sold.

Encourage Up-Selling. Getting the guest to buy more is only slightly more difficult than getting them to buy the very first bottle. Suggestions can go a long way to boosting sales. If you have already built rapport by asking questions this becomes easy. “You know you are going to get home and open that Merlot you really liked and wish you had another”, I say as I’m getting the wine together, “don’t you think you want to take at least a couple more bottles home with you?” What is the worst they can say, No, Ok at least I tried. Use discounts to up-sell, “if you purchase another 2 bottles instead of the 4 your selected, you get a 5% discount on all 6 bottles” Have clearly defined discount policies that all TRA’s use fairly and equally. Nothing more frustrating than to be putting together a case for a client and have the TRA next to you offer their client the same discount for a 4 bottle sale. On the other hand I have moved a sale from 4 cases to 6 cases by merely offering an additional 5% discount to do so.

Treat Wine Club members as truly special. Do something special for your wine club members beyond giving them the traditional 20% discount on wines. Have a party, invite them to a barrel tasting with the winemaker and/or owner, have a separate tasting bar for them, come up with something that is unique to your winery and let the Wine Club members know they are truly appreciated. These are your best customers! Encourage the TRA’s to get to know them. If the TRA’s get to know them by name it can have a significant impact on retention. The easiest wine club sale is to the guest of an existing wine club member. They want to feel special too!

Lastly I would encourage your TRA’s to not take themselves too seriously, have some fun, take the wine snobbery out of the tasting room. After all this is not rocket-science or sex for that matter. We are selling grape juice, fermented and bottled. Many people make the same or similar product, on every continent in the world, what we really have to sell is an experience and relationship together. It can be fun. It is about sharing the experience of good wine, food, family and friends.

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Comment by Ben Martin aka Turbo Wine God on January 16, 2009 at 11:26am
I enjoyed reading your Increasing TR Sales. Could not agree with you more, it seems common sense but you're right some wineries forget these basic foundations of building relationships with your guests. If ever in Napa drop by Trinchero Family Winery. Cheers!
Comment by Emily Olds on April 4, 2010 at 2:19pm
This is great! Thanks for sharing an inside view on what is happening here. I love what you have to say on "Scarcity Sells"..

Thanks again
Comment by Dan Phillips on November 26, 2010 at 2:33pm
Good read! I think the last paragraph best summarizes the point here. I always tell my customers there are only two rules in the tasting room - 1. You don’t have to know about wine to enjoy it & 2. There are NO wrong answers. Wine sales are as much about creating an experience as they are about selling a product.


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