Sales and Customer Service
What tasting room staff should know before asking for the sale
The importance of analogies
Compare these two statements for the average wine drinker: “The oak barrel adds flavor to the wine.”
And: “The oak barrel is like the cinnamon stick you use to add flavor to your hot chocolate. It’s the same principle with the oak barrel.” Which of these two statements is more easily understood by the visitor to your tasting room? Clearly, the second one. Please note that analogies usually have the word “like” or “as” in them.
Other examples: “You don’t want to over-oak the wine.
That would be like cooking some rosemary chicken, and all you could taste is the rosemary.” Or: “Eventually the oak barrel wears out—not because the wood gets weak, but because the flavor gets weak—just as the cinnamon stick in the fifth cup of hot chocolate doesn’t provide as much flavor.” Or: “The body of wine is just like milk: skim milk doesn’t have as much body as 2% milk, and 2% milk doesn’t have as much body as whole milk.”
There are many more examples of analogies, but the point is that they take wine out of a mysterious world and put
it smack-dab in the middle of everyday life. Making the customer feel comfortable once again leads to trust and sales.
C.R. Whenever I coach tasting room personnel I bring up how to ask for the sale. I tell them that at some point during their interaction with customers, it is important to ask for the sale with a sentence as simple as: “Would you like to buy some wine today?” However, if you are working in a tasting room, you need to set the stage by interacting with customers so that this question comes off as constructive rather than pushy.
I don’t mean to imply that you should ask for the sale with every single customer. There are reasons it may not happen. If you haven’t achieved a very good rapport with the guest, for example, or your retail shop is some distance away from the tasting counter, asking for the sale may feel inappropriate. However, throughout the year there are numerous times in most tasting rooms when asking for the sale will greatly increase profits.
The best way to think of helpful sales is to remember what you do the day after you have seen a great first-run movie. Chances are that you tell all your friends about it. You are trying to enhance your friends’ lives. Helpful sales enhance the visitor experience and tasting room profits.
Always remember that your winery produces some of the premier wines in your area. Therefore, you are actually enhancing peoples’ lives by encouraging them to consume your winery products and join the wine club.
Please keep in mind that not all of these techniques listed below are possible all the time. Sometimes you are so busy, it’s all you can do to keep your head above water. However, there are numerous other times during the course of a year when these techniques can be very effective.
1. The importance of the tasting room: TV ad
Imagine that you successfully ran advertising on a TV station for your product. When you went to pay the bill, they refused the money and instead handed you a big check. Tasting rooms are not just profit centers; they are also highly effective public relations vehicles.
Remember: You are not just selling wine; you are also selling memories. If people have a good time, they tell five friends; if they have a bad time, they tell 10 friends. Now, with social media, they tell 500 friends.
2. Staff is the most important component of success, second only to wine quality
Good staff can overcome bad architecture; great architecture can’t overcome a bad staff. Many impressive wineries offer very poor service with staff that “pour and ignore.” They don’t act interested in the customer, and they expect all the energy to come from the customer’s side of the counter. This drags the experience down and diminishes the effect of the great architecture. It also shows disrespect for all the hard work that goes into making a bottle of wine.
We in the tasting room are the last in a chain of events before the wine is presented to the customer. To “pour and ignore” is like being the last person in a relay race and deliberately dropping the baton. It is the worst possible public relations we could provide next to outright rudeness.
3. Lasting positive impression
Just because you didn’t make a sale doesn’t mean that you dropped the ball. For example, people may be on bicycles and not want to carry wine. However, if they leave with a positive impression, they will be more apt to buy your wine the next time they see it at a store or restaurant in their hometown.
4. Grounds, rest rooms and cluttered counters
How do you feel when you are out dining, and you visit the rest room and it is trashed? Chances are that it doesn’t make you feel good about the food. Clean workstations, grounds and rest rooms are all parts of creating a lasting positive impression. While many wineries have maintenance teams to help accomplish this goal, a better rule of thumb is: When you find a mess, clean it up, whether it is on the grounds or in the facility.
5. Being “on”
Have you ever gone to a concert where the crowd started dancing five minutes before the band started playing? It doesn’t work that way. Always remember: We in the tasting room are the “band,” and it is up to us to provide energy—both initial and ongoing. This work is like performing arts, and this kind of hospitality can be draining. But we are not just paid to pour wine and conduct tours, we are also paid to be upbeat and charming.
Therefore, if you are coming to work and are feeling a little blue, you need to psych yourself up and consider being engaging and animated as an extremely important component of your work. For example, think about the employees whom you like to work with and who make you laugh. Challenge yourself to sell at least one or two wine club memberships. Focus on the quality of the product you are about to pour and the wonderful ambiance of your winery.
6. Fifteen-second rule
It’s absolutely necessary that people be greeted within 15 seconds of coming into your area, whether you are a pourer, stocker, cash register staff or performing any other duties on the floor.
It is particularly important when working in the tasting room that you acknowledge customers in the second row because, very often in tasting rooms, they can be totally ignored.
Also, a friendly good-bye is very important.
7. Open-ended questions
A closed-ended question would be: “Do you like sparkling wine?” This calls for a yes or no answer and does not lead to dialogue, rapport or sales. Open-ended questions use who, what, where, when, why and how. For example, “What kind of food do you like with white wine?” It’s best to use follow-up open-ended questions. If the answer to “What kind of food do you like with white wine?” is seafood, you may wish to ask: “What are your favorite types of seafood?” The trick is to ask at least three open-ended questions in order to get the conversational ball rolling. Obviously, we want to be talking about the winery’s wines; however, let the conversation go where it has the most energy.
The whole point of asking open-ended questions is that they lead to dialogue, dialogue leads to rapport, and rapport leads to trust. When the customer trusts you, and you ask: “Would you like to buy some wine today and/or would you like to join our wine club?” you are much more apt to make a sale. Being asked about themselves also makes the customers feel cared about. And finally, using open-ended questions can lead to lively conversation, which makes the day go by faster for you. Just be careful not to enjoy yourself so much with one couple that you forget the other customers—and your duty to support your colleagues.
8. Be adjustable
a. Some people don’t want conversation: If visitors do not seem to want to engage in conversation after you’ve asked two or three open-ended questions, don’t pursue any more dialogue. Do continue to pour and describe the wines with enthusiasm. Also, to repeat, if you do have a good conversation with visitors, you still need to work the rest of the counter and support your colleagues.
b. Be informative, not snobby (31 flavors): Americans go into Baskin-Robbins and don’t have any trouble choosing from among the 31 flavors. They go next door to the wine shop and feel intimidated. Whatever you can do to take wine off its pedestal will be greatly appreciated, particularly by the novice wine taster. For example, if a customer mispronounces the name of a varietal, don’t correct them but pronounce it correctly a couple of times in the ensuing conversation.
c. Talk with, not at, people: There’s a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to talk.
d. Women by themselves/younger visitors: Women by themselves and younger visitors continuously report poor treatment in tasting rooms. If you cater to them, you will stand out in relation to all the other tasting rooms that did not. In the case of younger visitors, they may not have as much money now, but they will remember who was nice to them when they do have more money. In this case, you are planting seeds for your winery’s future sales.
9. Educate yourself
There are a number of low-cost ways to continually educate yourself in addition to search engines. For example, read the food and wine sections of major newspapers in print or online. Check out books from the library about food and wine. Another technique is to talk with cellar workers as often as possible, and ask them what is going on in production. Production can also provide you with trade magazines they subscribe to that are devoted to winemaking. Please read them religiously (especially Wines & Vines).
Without continually educating yourself, you run the risk of becoming stale: a real turnoff to customers and sales.
10. You never know to whom you are talking
Never be negative about any other establishment. Maybe the person you are talking to isn’t a friend of the manager of that establishment, but the person 10 feet away, who can hear you, might be. I know of numerous examples of tasting room staff being rude or negative because they didn’t know who was in front of them, which can cause problems, such as having your wines removed from a wine list of a restaurant you just insulted. One trick to always maintaining proper decorum: Pretend that everyone you are dealing with is a mystery shopper.
11. Helpful sales vs. manipulative sales
Examples of helpful sales would be: “You are buying five bottles: If you buy a sixth, you get our half-case 10% discount.” Or: “You are making a big purchase there. If you join our wine club, I could save you quite a bit of money with the club discount.” Or: “I can tell that you really like that wine; we are almost sold out, so you may wish to buy a few extra bottles.” These gentle tips for the visitor are a non-pushy way to increase sales. Remember: sales are what pay for staff wages.
One line I use: When a couple is debating whether to buy a smaller or larger amount of wine, such as six or 12 bottles, I say: “Buy 12: The you of tomorrow will thank the you of today. You’ll be drinking that 10th bottle, which you wouldn’t have had if you had only bought six, and you will appreciate that you were generous to yourself.”
After using the many techniques discussed here, you need to remember to ask for the sale, as noted in the introduction. You are representing a premier brand. Encouraging people to buy your winery products is part of helpful sales—because you are enhancing their lives with superior wine at a great price. If you don’t truly believe this, it is extremely difficult to be an effective sales rep for the winery, and you should reconsider working at your winery.
12. Wine club sales
Wine club sales deserve a dedicated section of this article in addition to the specific training you will be receiving from the club manager.
You need to know the club backwards and forwards in order to sell it, for example, membership benefits and terms and conditions of the club.
Always keep this scenario in the back of your head: You are a gal in Sacramento, and you just had a rotten day at work. Your boss was a jerk, your feet hurt and you got caught in traffic on the way home. When you go into your kitchen, there is a two-pack from your favorite winery sitting on the table. Does this make you feel better about the day or worse? Next, you start chilling the sparkling wine while you change your clothes and take a shower. When you finish, you have a flute of cold sparkling wine. Now you are feeling even better. If you remember this scenario, it is easy to sell the club because, in essence, you are helping the customer give themselves gifts in the future, which make their lives more fun and joyous. That is a wonderful sales impulse.
Also keep in mind that wine clubs are one of the most profitable parts of the wine business—and a tremendous asset to your tasting room sales picture. In addition, the customers are paying to be reminded about the winery. They also frequently share the wine with friends and relatives, which influences those folks to purchase our products.
The other component is that there are excellent monetary and other incentives for you, the staff member. It’s a great way for you to enhance your income on a regular basis.
Here are some tips on selling clubs: You can say the following to potential club members:
1) You get 20% off, which means you save $40 on a $200 purchase. (The point is: It makes the discount more concrete.)
2) You can quit anytime you want: This isn’t like a CD club (for those who remember them). Or, you can quit anytime after you receive two shipments (if your winery has such a stipulation).
3) Any shipment you don’t like, you can send back.
4) For a party of four, you can say: If just one of you joins the wine club, your first savings will be $40 (the cost of tasting for four people).
In summary, when we work at a tasting room, we have many tasks such as being wine educators, being guides to local attractions and restaurants and being engaging. But never forget that we are sales reps as well.
Craig Root has 30 years experience working with tasting rooms, the past 17 years as a consultant. He has helped create more than 80 tasting rooms and 150 wine clubs all over the United States. He analyzes current operations and teaches tasting room design and management at the University of California, Davis. He still works one day per month in a busy tasting room in order to stay in touch with the public and the work.
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