Wine Industry Career Series: The Digital Sales Rep

 By Karen Wetzel
WSET L3, NVWE, AWE, Career Coach

I’ve spent the better part of my wine career either selling wine or teaching others how to sell it. As technology began to emerge, I always viewed face-to-face selling as the gold standard, and I felt that relying on technology would lead to lost business. But times have changed and so have the ways in which sales reps do business. In this article, I’ll discuss the digital pivot, the impact of the pandemic, and the pros and cons of becoming a Digital Sales Rep.

PERSON-TO-PERSON SELLING

Back in the day you, and all of your competitors would see every account at least once a week. You’d walk in, head to the back of the house, take inventory, and tell the buyer what they needed to buy. You’d also drag a bag of samples around and taste as many buyers as willing that day to get the best bang for your sample allowance buck.  This meant that buyers might see several sales reps on any given day.  

Face-to-face selling is a great way to start and build relationships, but it keeps buyers away from their day-to-day responsibilities and sales reps often spend a good part of their day waiting for their turn to see decision-makers.  Add to that, a little thing called Covid-19, and face-to-face selling has come to a screeching halt.

VIRTUAL TASTING & TEXTING

Virtual sales calls and tastings can be a viable, effective ways to conduct a sales call, as it offers a personal look and feel, without the risk of getting sick. But getting samples into the hands of buyers is expensive.

This has pushed suppliers to produce sample-sized bottles and create “tasting kits” to keep costs down. However, one issue that is hard to overcome—pinning decision-makers down to a specific day and time. It can often be a bit like herding cats.

Another solution is the use of Business Texting Services. Companies like RedTie and Quiq, have been around for a while but, thanks to the pandemic, this type of communication is now a “must-have” as it can provide easy, touchless, secure B2B communication solutions that keep a sales reps and buyers connected without eating up the clock or risking transmission. According to RedTie, texting has the highest “open” rate of any type of communication and is widely preferred over email or voicemail. Texting also allows a sales rep to reach their customers quickly and encourages them to get creative by incorporating photos and videos that can instantly capture a buyer’s attention. Just beware, relying solely on texting or emailing opens the door to your competitor who is out there knocking on doors.

And, in this new digital world, we no longer need to talk to an actual human being to make dinner reservations, book travel, or even buy a car or a home. Today’s wine buyer wants the same convenience when running their business. 

Digital platforms such as SevenFifty offer solutions for businesses inside the three-tiered system.

  • Suppliers and Importers can post their entire portfolios on the platform along with marketing and educational materials.  
  • Distributor sales reps can track customer orders and sales history and use supplier information to create presentations to deliver to their buyers.  
  • Buyers can browse, shop, select and order from thousands of products online and even provide printable fact sheets and other educational materials.  

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits took this concept further by developing their own eCommerce platform called “Proof,” which goes beyond ordering and educational materials by providing solutions for buyers. Food and beverage pairings are a click away and they feature content to help better manage their business.  

Ultimately, eCommerce platforms like SevenFifty and Proof provide customers convenience and control while giving sales reps more time for meaningful consultative selling. But these platforms are not without their limits. Providing accurate, real-time pricing is a challenge as each state has its own minimum markup and discount rules which can make it hard to communicate to buyers.

The bottom line—digital sales isn’t just coming: it’s already here (to stay.) The companies and sales reps that embrace this type of technology early and often will be the ones running the future in the Wine Industry.

For personal, one-on-one career coaching visit us at https://napavalleywineacademy.com/expert-coaching/  to schedule a session with one of our experienced mentors. To book a session with Karen Wetzel directly click here

Karen Wetzel is an employee of the Napa Valley Wine Academy.  The views expressed in this article are hers alone and may not reflect the views of the Napa Valley Wine Academy.

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