Born To Sell

You may have noticed a drop off in my Bruliam blog posts. I could give you a litany of excuses, not the least of which would be the distractions from our recent move to Healdsburg. And then there’s the little matter of my return to full time employment, which I’m sure will be the subject of a future post. But excuses are like…..well, never mind. The bottom line is that I’ve been very remiss in my regular blogging duties, leaving most of the heavy lifting to Kerith. But in the immortal words of Frank Costanza, “I’m back baby!”

So here we go:

One thing I’ve learned in my professional career is that I’m not a salesperson. I’ve never been comfortable trying to convince someone else to buy anything. I try to build the best gadget and then let the product speak for itself. And when that approach inevitably fails, I hire salespeople.

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve hired and fired a lot of salespeople. The best are professional, thorough, and passionate about what they sell. The worst are moody, incapable of taking direction, and in a surprising number of cases, clearly coked-up. In managing these very unique people, I’ve employed every imaginable motivational technique – from the carrot to the whip. I’ve sat though more Tony Robbins-esque sales training seminars than I can possible count, and I can recite any number of “guaranteed” multi-step sales processes in my sleep.

The only thing I’ve learned from all of those experiences is that people are either capable of selling or they’re not. You can make a good salesperson great with some training and direction, but you absolutely, positively cannot take someone who was not born to sell and make them a viable salesperson.

And that cold hard fact was one of my big concerns when we started Bruliam Wines.

We knew going into this project that selling wine was a whole lot harder than making wine. And when the Great Recession hit about 6-months after our launch, selling high end wine became even more difficult. Since I’m not a salesperson, the role of selling fell to Kerith (in addition to winemaking, baking for bribes, and being the pretty face of the brand).

Fortunately, she’s proven to be a fantastic salesperson. And we’ve been fortunate to have a great story to tell in San Diego. Positioning Bruliam as a wine made by a local couple with all the profits going to charity is an “easy sell” and a novelty for local restaurants. When people taste the wine and realize it’s not just bulk juice or some other plonk, it only reinforces our brand positioning.

But translating that SoCal success to Healdsburg is no easy feat. The local market is very competitive and our “cute story” of a local couple making a few hundred cases of wine doesn’t really cut it with the jaded local wine buyers.

So it was with much finagling that Kerith finally landed a coveted meeting with the head sommelier at Dry Creek Kitchen last week. Dry Creek Kitchen is one of the great, iconic restaurants of Sonoma County and features a wine list almost entirely devoted to Sonoma wines. Getting placement there was unlikely, but potentially a huge win that we could then leverage with other restaurants. Being able to say, “….well, Dry Creek Kitchen buys our wine….” carries a lot of weight around here.

So on the big day, Kerith donned her fanciest business suit and carefully carried two bottles of each of our 2009 Split Rock Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel to the tasting. Her 5-minute meeting was sandwiched between salespeople from big wine distributors.

I wasn’t there, so what follows is a re-telling of Kerith’s account:

“When my time came, I gave Drew (the sommelier) a quick rundown on Bruliam, our mission and philosophy, and then poured the wines for him. He tasted them and then after not saying anything for a couple of seconds, looked up at me and said, ‘You know, you should be really proud. These are both great wines’. And then I started crying. And then he got me a Kleenex and bought a case of each wine.”

In all of the sales training courses I’ve sat through and all of the sales management books I’ve read, I’ve never heard of anyone crying to close a sale. But you’re either born to sell or you’re not.  Clearly Kerith is born to sell.

And as her sales manager, I’ve instructed her to pull out the tears on every sales call going forward.

So wine buyers – beware!