How To Sell

I’ve searched the Intertubes, and I can’t find anything on the topic. Perhaps some of you can point me in the right direction. In the meantime, let me know if any of this sound familiar:

  1. Ask customers what they want. Often, they know. When they do, give them what they want, not what you want. Period.

  2. Ask customers what they like. This can be difficult, because many of them have been trained to ask for “dry” wines when they don’t really know what “dry” means. This does not mean they are stupid. It just means they don’t know. You can’t impose your definitions on them; you have to figure out what they mean.

  3. Ask customers whether they’re buying wine for cocktails, dinner, whatever.

  4. Ask customers how much they’d like to spend on a bottle. Or a case.

  5. Don’t act like you know something they don’t. They already know that, or they wouldn’t be talking to you.

  6. Know your inventory. Know what it is, and know how much of it you have.

  7. Tell the truth. As Mark Twain once said, if you tell the truth, then you don’t have to remember anything.

  8. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

There’s lots more. Agree, disagree…what else?

I worked in quite a few fine dining establishments for about 10 years, before finally getting into the retail side of wine. I treat every customer as if they were sitting in my section or assigned tables for the night.

  1. Greet them, and say hello… my name is XXX, please let me know if you’re in need of some assistance with your selections.
    This is like offering them a cocktail menu, wine list, etc.
    Of course there are going to be a few different steps conversations pieces that are quite distinct, the restaurant scenario vs. retail but I’m sure that most would be able to figure out how to make those adjustments.

A few pointers and suggestions that I have are the following (work them into your dialogue as you like):
Try and recognize if they’re repeat customers or first timers, great them by name if possible.

I try to avoid the silly questions, or the ones that I deem superfluous: “Are you looking for some wine today?” - and they’re roaming around in the wine section, obviously looking for wine. Think Bill Engval and his famous signature “Here’s your sign”. For those that don’t know, many of his pieces revolve around his personal idea of a perfect world in which stupid people must wear signs so that the rest are forewarned and can avoid possible pit falls.

A thought that stays in the front of my mind always is: I want them to come back. People are creatures of habit and I’d for their habits to include coming back to my store. Also, people are curious and like surprises, the nice ones. Create an interest for them that would make them want to come back. During your initial hello and your offering of some assistance, simply state that you have some new arrivals and would be glad to point them out.

By this method I’ve been pretty successful at silently training my customers. Many of them that now frequent the store come right up and ask, “Hey JP, what’s new and exciting?”

A note on how to approach the ever so difficult side of interpreting what their standards of “dry”, “oaky”, “”… Ask them what particular wine they’ve been enjoying while at the same time they tell you what they like in a wine. I kid you not, I’ve had people tell me they like dry American whites, no butter, no oak, and then proudly point out that they absolutely love Kendal-Jackson Chardonnay. So instead of pointing out that they’re wrong, find them a wine that along the style of what they like, and hopefully someday they’ll read the back label of the wine bottle and say to themselves, “I’ll be damned, this IS a buttery-oaky Chardonnay”.

This is it for now, I hope it helps. Now to see what the others think.

Thank you. This is the ultimate goal: To get them to come back.

From the gritty streets of wholesale wine slangin’…

Treat everyone in your accounts with respect. Besides being the morally correct thing to do, from a strategic viewpoint, it’s the smart one, too. Those waiters and wine department assistants may not be the buyers today, but sure-as-shit they’re going to be your buyer in the not-too-distant future, either there or elsewhere, and, they are your front-line force in presenting, suggesting, and selling your wines to the common public (what am I, channeling T. Herman Zwiebel, here?).

Spending a few minutes in conversation with them, offering them to grab a glass and taste, will imprint in their minds your name, and grease the way for more business in the future.

Know your food.

I once went on a ride along with a sales rep who NEVER even glanced at restaurant menus. He was trying to sell syrah at an Italian account with handcrafted pasta. I stepped up and sold 3 cases of sangiovese plus 1 case of viognier, and had a delightful discussion with the owner. That evening, said rep and I had dinner (Italian again) and he asked me explain the whole food-and-wine concept.


Good advice. To which I’d add only that it is a good idea to ask buyers what they’re looking for before waltzing in with a bagful of bottles. I’m surprised at the number of reps who believe that stopping by with “something new”–without asking first whether it’s something of potential interest–is a route to success. It is not.

I don’t really deal with on-premise stuff, but it seems obvious to me that selling to restaurants might require at least a cursory glance at the menu.

One other bit of advice, from an old friend in the biz: Look at the menu and see where the spread is on appetizer, entree, and dessert prices. Odds are it is pretty narrow. One of the few places you can really increase the size of the check is from the wine list. That’s something all restaurant owners can relate to.