Direct Wine Sales – Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid

[March 28, 2024 – Sandra Beals]

In 2023, I shared a “Good to Great Blog Series” to showcase how our top-performing winery clients leverage the ideal blends of talent, tools, and technologies to grow their direct business. In today’s blog article, I share “Direct Wine Sales – Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid” as leadership teams need to know what not to do when developing proven models. Taking risks sometimes leads to mistakes that we can learn from if we want to achieve greatness. I hope that you and your respective teams find this article helpful as you plot out your Summer Season sales and engagement plans. Reach out to share your thoughts or set a call to explore service options. Cheers!

Mistake #1 – Not forming a connection with tasting room guests before positioning purchase options and access. High-performing tasting room teams don’t wait until the end of time with guests to ask for the sale. They apply Consultative Selling Skills early on to build trust, uncover interests/desires, and position access. Slow down and prioritize time with guests when getting acquainted to convey that they are the stars of the show. If a group is celebrating, celebrate with them. If seated guests are asking a lot of questions about your vineyards right outside, get up and take a short walk about with them to connect the sense of place. Train the hospitality team to create remarkable experiences that lead to higher average order values and reengagement opportunities.

Mistake #2 – Over-presenting to tasting room guests instead of leveraging Active Listening Skills to tailor the wine presentation based on interests. Wine enthusiasts want to be inspired, intrigued, and motivated to take an action. Give them what they want by training your hosts to ask the right questions based on what they have learned about their guests early on. A remarkable host first knows the desires of their audience to be an effective storyteller/wine presenter. We have developed the “3-Pillars of Storytelling” technique to help DTC teams better organize stories based on the interests of various audiences. How can your respective teams go from good to great and respect the time of tasting room guests and brand loyalists leveraging such tools?

Mistake #3 – Expecting to increase visitation and direct sales without putting a “Reengagement Plan” in place. I can’t say this enough – stop leaving opportunity on the table by not training tasting room hosts to position a meaningful invitation to reengage. What are your 2-3 alternative invitations to the membership program? Traditional wine club membership program sign-ups have been declining for the past five years regardless of wine region or winery size. How your DTC sales teams get to the second sale more effectively should be a key point of conversation these days. Train hosts to associate a name and email address with every qualified new order in the POS system. At minimum, 50% of first-time guests will offer up their email address to be invited back when a connection is formed and a customized invitation is extended. Gone are the ways of Newsletter Sign-Up to grow consumer contact lists. Determine your cost of acquisition for new, qualified consumer contact records and develop smart reengagement tools for your hosts and inside sales teams to best position.

Mistake #4 – Not asking for permission to stay connected. In our Mystery Shops, we still find that many winery marketing teams begin the Drip Marketing process within a few days of visiting without permission. This is not the ideal way to develop brand loyalty and in most cases is a turn off. Email addresses shared in the online reservation or at time of setting up the ship-to order in the tasting room are being obtained for transactional purposes. Be an admired wine brand and teach your hosts to extend value-based invitations to invite back through permission-based outreach. The same applies for website pop-up invitations to “Stay Connected”. Follow up with a personal invitation to visit and don’t rely solely on Drip Marketing campaigns to increase reengagement numbers.

Mistake #5 – Using One-Size-Fits-All marketing and communication plans to stay connected in between visits. At the very least, take time to segment new consumer records by contact type (first-time visitor, repeat visitor, member, VIP, etc.) location (how often guests can revisit based on proximity to the visitor center), and PIL notes (passions, interests, lifestyle points). Ideally, date of birth date can be sorted by generation to best plot out the most compelling invitations and offers based on interests. Move away from sending email campaigns from Club@ emails. Club members are your bread and butter – treat them like individuals by connecting with an individual email note. Don’t invite out of state contacts to join your event coming up next week with a “Final Days to RSVP” email campaign. Invite out of state contacts to join events at least 3-4 months out and connect at offsite events in their area if possible. Invite to Virtual Meet-Ups based on interests of various consumer groups to deepen community building around your brand.

Mistake #6 – Not leveraging digital outlets to extend a warm invitation to explore. If consumers choose to engage with your winery website or social sites, don’t lead with a bunch of content about your wine brand. Lead with a meaningful invitation to explore based on your wine brands’ unique access points. Along this line, be sure to update the winery website on a regular basis with fresh content to reflect current offerings, hours, news, event information, etc. Too often, we uncover this no-no when completing Digital Audit Reports. Winery websites should be in interactive tool where brand loyalists can book tasting reservations, purchase event tickets as well as wine, and stay up to date on exciting updates. Our clients who use Website Live Chat tools have the ability to extend a warm welcome and capture transactions faster.

Mistake #7 – Not leveraging shipping offers to sell more wine online. Is your wine brand offering 2-3 minute shopping experiences with 2-3 day shipping turnarounds? If not, your business is no longer competitive. To take web store visitors from exploration to transaction, position a clear call out with a competitive shipping offer at the top of the Shop page and have it appear again in a pop-up when items are added to the cart. Flat rate shipping costs are easy to opt into and don’t conflict with member discounts typically 15-20%. Think $10 flat-rate when online shoppers purchase 6 bottles and shipping included on a Case – UPS Ground anywhere you ship. OR for Allocation Style brands, extend a Shipping Upgrade to Overnight on all orders of $500 or more. Our tech partners have done extensive studies on cost analysis when extending shipping offers at six and 12 bottles. Determine your cost of acquisition for incremental web store sales to be most effective here.

Mistake #8 – Not developing a “Direct to Consumer Inventory Strategy”. This smart business strategy should be in place regardless of production size or price points. Talk the talk and walk the walk. If your tasting room hosts are offering “Winery Exclusive” wines, ensure that those products will never be found in retail locations. This has been such a big miss when it comes to member dissatisfaction. The moment a long-standing member finds a “Member Only” or “Winery Exclusive” wine at a grocery store, your business loses credibility with that brand loyalist. Once the DTC Wine Inventory Strategy has been blessed from the top down, take time to train all members of the sales and marketing teams on how to best position each wine. Every tasting room host or inside sales representative should know exactly how much of each DTC wine is available to extend at all times. Regular flashes with sales tracking and forecast details should be delivered to each member of the DTC sales and marketing teams. Pro Tip: leave a few Sold Out wines in the web store and on the tasting room price list. This opens up an excellent opportunity to share stories about “Fan Favorites” and “Limited Production” wines. Scarcity models go a long way in increasing average order values.

Mistake #9 – Not providing a Warm Welcome upon arrival and at the front. Would you invite guests to your home and not greet them upon arrival? Your tasting room greeter has the important job of setting the right tone from the moment guests arrive. Our mystery shop team is asked to score the Warm Welcome and too often, we find a miss here. When guests have to wait at the front without attention for more than two minutes, a negative interaction with the wine brand begins to form. This lack of attentiveness can convey that your tasting room team is unorganized and unprepared. Ideally, a manager on duty can fill in the gaps if a greeter is away from the front to ensure every guest feels excited to begin their journey with your tasting room team. On busiest days, have a plan for staging reservation groups in 3-4 areas at the front with a welcome pour in hand until everyone in their party has arrived. Offer to take a photo or provide a suggestion for where to take a great selfie while waiting.

Mistake #10 – Forgetting to let loyalists share their favorite wine brand stories at events and through digital outlets. This is the most underutilized marketing tool in the direct wine sales space today. There was a time when Robert Parker and Wine Spectator scores were the main source of credibility when asking for wine and winery recommendations. Today, the majority of wine consumers want to know what their family, friends and trusted advisors have to say about their favorite wines and wine brands. Empower your brand loyalists to share their favorite memories or first time experiences with your wines and winery team through focused campaigns. Take time to recognize those who socially share, bring friends and refer. Is it the right time for your winery to develop a Brand Ambassador program to extend brand reach in key markets?

About Sandra Beals

Sandra Beals, founder of DTC Wine Workshops and the DTC Consultant Network, is a subject matter specialist and public speaker on the topics of direct to consumer wine sales and consumer engagement strategies.