Keys to success selling wine in the US -What?s IN and what?s OUT?,

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I recently completed a survey from a wine trade organization that was seeking insights about what wineries from outside the US need to know to be successful in this market. I could tell by the questions they asked, this organization was clueless. I kept looking for ?none of the above? as a response to the questions they asked.

So, once again, I find myself providing a public service to all wineries (both foreign and domestic) who are still operating under the delusion that somehow their story, their wines, and their marketing programs are unique enough and distinct enough to merit placement on wine lists and store shelves.

?Winning? in the marketplace today requires much more than product, package, price, and promotion. The four P?s are important, no doubt, but they are no where near enough. So, the big question is, if those things aren?t enough then what CAN you do? ?What, then, ARE the keys to success selling wine in the US Market? ?For those who are ready to hear it, here?s my list of what?s ?in? and what?s ?out.?

What?s ?IN?

Working smarter not harder.

Less is more. Leverage the 80/20 Rule in everything you do. For heavens sake STOP confusing activity with achievement. Too many sales people spend their time on extremely low value activities. Selling one case of wine at a time should be a first-degree felony if you?re drawing a salary plus a company car and an expense account. Don?t step over a dollar to pick up a dime.

Direct to Trade.

Just about every major retailer ? both on and off premise- plus any wine buyer with an IQ above room temperature has realized cutting deals directly with small, independent wineries and using clearing distributors to fulfill their orders is the way things get done nowadays. Why? Fatter margins, that?s why. Go to the websites of Merchant 23 and LibDib and read everything you can. Or don?t- and continue to wander aimlessly in the desert of despair.

Data and Technology

Buy your own RAD data. Implement CRM and then develop the intestinal fortitude to have everyone use it. I?ve got a short message to owners and sales leaders who pay good money for these things but let their highly paid sales team skip out on using them: grow a pair.

Key Account Targeting

Don?t rely on anyone outside your organization to determine where your products should be sold. Don?t rely on anyone outside your organization to identify the 20% of the accounts that drive 80% of the volume. Use your data and technology to restrict sales activity to only these accounts.

What?s ?OUT?


This is really very simple. If it?s important to your winery and your brand, you?re going to have to do it yourself. YOU take responsibility for your own outcomes. Don?t blame it on the distributors if you?re not meeting your distribution and volume goals. They are doing the best they can amidst unimaginably challenging circumstances. The best they can do is amplify YOUR efforts. Help them help you. I guess it?s not so much that distributors are ?out? as your unrealistic expectations of them are ?out.?

Wine Education

Is it important? Yes. Is it compulsory? Yes. Will it drive sales and distribution? F? No! Wine knowledge is important but it?s nowhere near enough. Put down the wine glass, pick up a calculator. This is a BUSINESS! In fact, it?s one of the most capital-intensive businesses on the planet. Go have coffee with your CEO. Ask her about the company?s return on assets. Ask to see the Statement of Cash Flows. Ask her which she thinks is more mission critical to the company?s success ? achieving the next level wine certification or a shit ton of revenue.


Our prices are too high. We didn?t get a good score. We sold all that wine to Costco last year and now we?re lapping those numbers. Our label won?t stand out on the shelf. We need better POS. We need to spend more on incentives. We need more salespeople. On and on it goes. Excuses are crutches for the weak. This is a very tough, very competitive business. Winery owners and sales leaders, here?s a nickel?s worth of free advice: Fire every sales person who can?t consistently deliver their numbers and use the money to implement the things on the ?IN? list above. Don?t put up with excuses for one second. Don?t put it off, either. The best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree? Today.

Our industry puts up with too much coddling. We?re WAY too in touch with our ?softer side.? Times have changed. Times are tough and tough times call for INNOVATION, new methods of operating and modern strategies. As a consultant to wineries ? both inside and outside the US ? one of my greatest joys is watching the light bulb come on for a winery owner. Seeing their eyes brighten as they realize there IS a better way to consistently sell all the wine they make and do it much more profitably. Then we BOTH smile as we realize so few people have really caught on to this. They are still running plays out of the old wine-sales playbook. ?And that is great news for the rest of us who are all ready implementing the new one.

About the Author

Ben Salisbury is the Founder and President of Salisbury Creative Group, Inc. which specializes in helping wineries and craft distilleries achieve high levels of sales effectiveness.? Leveraging his knowledge and experience from three decades in the industry, Ben and his team deliver sales, marketing, and distribution expertise to a wide array of adult beverage clients.? Prior to starting his own company in May of 2014, Ben spent 17 years as VP of On Premise National Accounts for both Ste Michelle Wine Estates and Constellation Brands.

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