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There is nothing surreptitious about selling wine in a tasting room or at a tasting event; the visitor is there anticipating buying a new-found wine that will make life more pleasant. And tasting room staffs should understand - wine sales is not a debate forum; everyone has different taste and expectations. The visitor arrives with preconceived notions that they are predisposed to finding a wine in which they are emotionally enamored. At this point it is up to the tasting room staff to create the atmosphere that could be called the "romance of wine".
How is an effective atmosphere created that encourages the purchase of wine? There are a lot of factors in creating atmosphere: the setting, visual ques, lighting, sounds, smells, temperature, staff interactions, marketing and of course brand identity. There is a lot of research about the science of psychology in selling, everything from the type of background music, ambience created from special lighting, even the smells that stimulate the senses. All the elements that make up a tasting room, knowingly or unwittingly, do affect a positive disposition towards a product (wine).
As an aside. Assume you bought a $ 40 bottle of Napa Valley wine that you really enjoyed and wanted to visit that winery on a visit to Northern California. You have already conjured up in your mind what you expect that tasting room experience should be to you. Based solely on your experiences with the wine, the logo (branding) and the website (marketing). If that visit to the winery does not measure-up to expectations, you may not want to buy more wine from that winery. However, well trained and motivated staff can overcome many deficits in setting, ambiance, smells, sounds, etc.
If the tasting room experience does not support the brand and advertising message, there is a disconnect with the visitor and their willingness to bond with the product. Without an emotional connection, the sales function is almost an exercise in futility. Sales is not a dirty word or shady endeavor, it allows people to enjoy an experience, be informed, make buying decisions intelligently and, selling makes it possible for the wine enterprise to exist.
So, what should a winery tasting room be doing to maximize or improve their odds of a sale that allows visitors to be emotionally satisfied with the purchase? With wine, tasting room / direct to consumer selling is all about selling the sizzle and the steak. Wine is bought because it provokes imagination and emotional appeal, addresses a need / desire, and offers tangible benefits. Wine purchases (sales) are human senses working together to give a visitor an ah-has moment with a winemaker's creation. Tasting room sales staff are there to guide the experience of the offered wines.
If a tasting room is going to be successful in their direct-to-consumer sales effort, the staff needs to be a host, counselor, educator and understanding selling wine is about addressing the 5 senses. (Daven Hiskey in "Today I Found Out", says there are really 9 senses.)
Ideally, Marketing and branding have lead the way for a visitor's expectations. In the tasting room, the visitor is given the opportunity to touch and feel the brand and product and now it is time to get personally involved with the winery. This is the start and finish line of the actual sale process.
Having sat through or conducted, too many to count, sales seminars. There seems to be a standard blueprint for conducting sales meetings. The only difference may be that there are some nuances that are industry specific.
Looking at tasting room sales specifically, maybe we can tweak the diehard standard attributes of good sales practices and incorporate some current thinking.
Relative to tasting room staff: (We are assuming some consistency in personnel, which is a concern.)
- Know, or at least understand, the winemaking process from vineyard to the tasting room.
- Be familiar with and at least often read wine blogs and have an opinion of their comments.
- Staff should not sound like they are spewing out facts based on rote; make the comments sound like fresh thoughts. For example, the Ritz Carlton Hotel group train their staff to respond to their guests in a fresh welcoming manner and are rated on always following that standard. It appears to them, "if it is not broken do not fix it".
- Engage the visitor; find out what they should expect by way or aroma's and taste of the wine before they sample the wine. Ask if they are interested in a wine of a specific characteristic. Always direct expectations.
- Wine is never the cheapest or most expensive-it is either budget friendly or premium.
- If the visitor seems to be torn between what wine to buy, then offer them a "premium sample pack" at a multi-bottle discount.
- Offer the visitor a "private e-mail" address of the server staff because: "I want to hear how you liked our wine when you got home".
- Try to get the visitors name so they can be communicated with on a first name basis. Use the introduction process to get information about their favorite varietal, or where they are from, how many wineries they have visited that day. People tasting a lot of wine in a compressed time frame will not get a good tasting experience for example; that is good to know up front.
- People like to be made comfortable at their level of wine experience. When comfortable in a buying experience, the visitor will be willing to buy wine because they were directed by staff who understood the experience level of the visitor. People never want to be talked down to or made aware of any deficiencies in their wine experiences.
- Be passionate about the products / wines and know the wines first-hand and in one's own words.
- Be a keen listener, do not interrupt visitors when they talk. Look at the visitor to indicate the server is interested.
- Understand the customers options.
- Sincerity breeds trust in product options and suggestions.
- Through actions and communications, make the customers feel they are getting value.
- Lead the purchaser to concluding by employing a friendly smile and a personalized warm welcome. If they do not purchase still wish them well and "Cheers".
- Do not pressure customers, wine is an emotional / experience sale and not like selling a set of tires on a one day only sale. Persuade always and never pressure.
If selling wine successfully, direct to the tasting room visitor were easy, everyone would be doing such. Many are not doing it at a spectacularly high level of proficiency. A visitor who buys a wine is potentially a long-term customer and winery ambassador for life, because they have voted with their dollars that the connection they have with the winery is emotional. Now the task is to convert the visitor / buyer to join the wine club and be effective communicators with that customer going forward. Personal communications can be expensive and time consuming, but it can be rewarding with repeat sales.
"Selling is something we do for our visitors - not to our visitors," said Zig Ziglar.