How to speed up slow in-store tastings

Tips for when you're stuck standing behind a table

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I freely admit that some of the topics I cover in this newsletter veer toward the abstract or academic.1 My prerogative is not strictly intellectual. I enjoy providing grounded advice in practical matters, as well. This is why I’ve covered topics like “Making the most of your expense account” and “Besides bottles: what reps, managers, and suppliers should always have in their bag.”

To that end, I recognize the necessity of running in-store tastings. I don’t think they need to be radically reimagined or engineered. Tasting end-users on wines or spirits is arguably the best way to expose them to products in a place where there are lots of options and potential buyers haven’t yet made up their minds. There’s undeniable psychology to free samples whether you’re hawking mini pizza bagels at Costco or pouring Pinot Grigio at your local retailer.

There are other advantages to conducting in-store tastings. They offer salespeople the opportunity to provide their off-premise accounts with meaningful value in the form of another person on the floor pushing product. In-stores are a forum for intrepid salespeople to conduct informal market research with end-users.

Still, not all in-store tastings are created equal. A slow tasting—particularly one marred by bad weather—is a special kind of hell. A dearth of store customers can render the whole exercise moot. I’ve watched bad in-store tastings turn good salespeople into nihilists in a matter of hours. With a little planning and creativity, it needn’t be that way.

Here are four things salespeople can do to make the most of their time when conducting an in-store tasting (without looking at their phones):

  1. Gather data

    Get yourself a notebook and go old school. Track and tally how many people enter the store (or your area). Count how many people taste which items. Record how many people picked up a bottle for purchase. Success can be gauged in multiple ways. Salespeople tend to focus on total sales, but sales relative to traffic offer a better indicator of one’s personal efficacy. Tracking this data is the first step in deciding whether to refine your pitch. Make a list of what talking points seemed to help sell bottles.

  2. Make cocktails

    Anyone who has ever tried to sample consumers on vodka (neat) learns from the polite refusals and weak excuses that it is futile to expect others to try something in a fashion different from how they normally enjoy it.2 Meet them on their own terms. If you’re pouring vodka, bring soda and ice. If you’re pouring gin, bring tonic. If you’re pouring Fino Sherry, bring white vermouth and some bitters and make a Bamboo.3

    Making cocktails accomplishes three things. First, it increases the likelihood that a consumer will want to purchase the product by making it more accessible. Second, it gives you, the salesperson a little more time to talk to the consumer. Third, the process of making drinks rather than just pouring them seems to speed up time.

  3. Survey the competition

    When you begin to feel trapped in a store is exactly when you need to be using this opportunity to “read the shelves.” Which wines, spirits, importers, and distributors are favored? Can you tease out any patterns that will aid you in future sales calls? Are there any literal gaps on the shelves that could be conveniently filled by one or more of your products? Break out that notebook from earlier and jot some of your findings down.

  4. Educate the staff & let the staff educate you

    Good news! You aren’t the only one stuck in the store. While the manager or buyer is either busy or not there at all, other retail workers will want to taste and learn. You now have plenty of time to deputize the team. Indoctrinate them with your fanciful ideas and philosophy regarding all things drink. Learn their names and befriend them as you never know who might become a future buyer.

    This is also a phenomenal chance to learn what is going on. Be a genial investigator asking objective questions without injecting your own commentary. “I noticed you’re out of XYZ, why is that?” “What’s really flying off the shelves these days?” “While I’m here, is there anything you’d like to know about my other products?”

2

That feeling when a person who walked to the store tells you they’ll pass on a sample of alcohol since they need to drive home.

3

I’d also bring some almonds and/or olives to complete the experience. Sherry is a notoriously difficult sell. Food helps.