A quick rundown on what I look for in a new wine/beer distributor. First, I’m not looking for a new distributor. However, I said that when I had 3 and then I meant it when I had 4 and then I really meant it when I had 5 and then and so on. So I’m afraid this is going to be an uphill battle but if you’re ready for it here are some tips to help. These are also tips to courting most any new account that truly cares about its beverage list and sees it as an integral pillar of their restaurant philosophy.
- First and foremost: give me a current portfolio. I can’t stress this enough. Hardcopy is better but emailed is acceptable. I want to be as good a client as I want you to be a good rep and, unlike in dating, there is a quick and easy way to learn about what you have to offer and that’s your portfolio/price sheet. I will look it over (don’t tell me that it’s too lengthy to give to me. If you’re worried about my comprehension and desire to go through it, don’t. if your company has a book that big it can probably afford to print one out. If there’s another reason, fine, but don’t worry about the length of a book being too much for me.) and cross-reference it with the other companies with whom I do business (this is why I prefer hardcopy.) If there are enough products that are unique enough or priced more attractively to warrant fairly frequent orders then we’ve got ourselves a relationship. If, however, there aren’t enough then it would save us both a lot of time and effort if we just agree to go our separate ways.
- Make an appointment. Cold calls are tricky. One over the telephone is risky because I can easily ignore it and saying “no” is always easier over the phone. But showing up unexpected can often be an inconvenience and is almost always an imposition. The best approach would be to be a customer first and then introduce yourself as a rep. This also helps with the next thing.
- Be familiar with the menu (both beverage and food.) Before the first words of a sales pitch come out you should know what we do and what we offer. These days many restaurant’s menus are available online so if your company doesn’t reimburse or if you don’t feel like shelling out for dinner (fair enough, in these days of woe and want) you still have an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the style of the restaurant. If you don’t see anything mainstream on my list it’s because I don’t want it there. If you see that I’m selling varietals like godello and mencia by the glass this should indicate that I know a least a little bit about wine and therefore don’t need to be told that articles everywhere say torrontes and gewurztraminer work well with Thai food. It’s probably not on the menu because I’ve made the decision not to offer one. Unless I can’t find one I like, which leads me to
- Before suggesting what you think I‘m missing, ask me what I think I might need. Your opinion as a bev rep is valuable because, presumably, you know your products and any potentially attractive special pricing. But I know my market, my menu, what sells and, more importantly, what doesn’t. And I don’t think any menu “needs” anything specifically. My menu doesn’t need a cabernet sauvignon by the glass. Frankly, I don’t think it needs a chardonnay but I really like the one we’ve got right now. But sometimes I’ll find myself between varietals or styles and am therefore open to suggestions. Ask me my reasoning behind not having a pinot blanc or a tempranillo, don’t tell me that I need one.
- Ask me what I like to drink. I’m astonished at how almost nobody ever asks this. It’s one of the first questions that I will ask you. The menu is a good indication but this conversation starter will tell you what I look for in a wine/beer. When I ask you it’s partially to give me an indication of what you’re likely to bring out to taste as well as where we’re likely to stand with each other. If the bulk of your tastes and experience is Old World then we’ll probably have a lot in common. If your experience is primarily New World then we may not have as much but that’s a region with which I’m less familiar and one I’m eager to learn about. Our tastes may be different but that could mean that our different focusses could lead to lively conversation and the rounding out our educations.
- Please don’t tell me about points. I don’t care. This will not make a wine more attractive to me. In fact, the higher the points the less likely that it will be to my taste. I want your opinion and your synthesis.
- Have a hook. your portfolio should have at least one emphasis in which it excels. It suggests an understanding, an appreciation, and a style. We want to buy from a personality, not just a breadth of choices.
- Never bullshit about how much you know. Even if I don’t catch it, someone probably will and it’ll make you and your company look bad. “I don’t know” and “I’ll find out” are always perfectly acceptable answers.
So. That’s probably long enough, though by no means everything. But this should be enough to give some idea of how a bev rep should approach a potential account. We have a great deal on our plates already and many of us aren’t looking for anybody new but the allure of a wonderful new wine is always tempting. But what’s wonderful and new is different for everyone.
Good luck; this is a relationship so there is going to be an account out there with whom you’ll work great. Maybe it’s us, maybe it’s not but this town is still growing and the intelligence of its wine and beer landscape is growing, too.