It's time we talked about supplier visits

Whether you call it a work-with, ride-along, market visit, or something else, we've been doing them all wrong

The world won’t be locked down forever, though admittedly one silver lining has been the absence of market visits. The phrase, “so and so from XYZ Winery is in town next week and I need you to do me a favor…” has not been uttered for months. When wine and spirit producers, importers, and distributors believe the pandemic is receding (whether it actually is or isn’t), you can be sure suppliers will flood the market as the pent-up desire to “return to normal” finds it no longer needs to keep itself in check.

Winemakers, distillers, national sales managers, brand ambassadors are chomping at the bit to unleash themselves like roving gangs from The Purge to disrupt a rep’s rhythm and their customers’ days.

If you believe the purpose of these trips is to make sales to customers, you are mistaken. Sales take time. Sales are dependent upon relationships. Sales require a coincidence of circumstances; the likelihood that the person who is in town that day is selling exactly what your customer needs right then is low.

Using market visits solely to push bottles is a waste of time and resources and an unnecessary drain on morale. Provide me an example of a satisfying and impactful market visit with long-term residual effects and I’ll introduce you to dozens of sales reps and managers who would beg to differ. The exception doesn’t prove the rule.

This all means it’s time to reinvent the market visit. Here’s how:

  • A market visit should, first and foremost, be a research trip for the supplier, the goal of which is to listen and learn what makes that geography unique. Before connecting with their importer or distributor, a producer should spend one or two days visiting stores, restaurants, bars, and clubs as an interested observer. Play the part of the anthropologist/sociologist; track behavior, browse shelves, scan wine lists and cocktail menus. You are there to learn. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Aaron Burr was right, “Talk less, smile more.”

  • Your number one customer during a market visit is your distributor. You sell them and everything else will follow. Sell the executives, the managers, the admins, and the sales team. Too much emphasis is put on seeing the end buyer, but with the limited time you’ll only be able to visit a dozen or two while you’re in the market. You could be using that time to get to know the entire company you trust will build your brand when you’re not there.

  • Skip the general sales meeting (unless you’re prepared to stand out). Will you really make an impression as the fifth person in line to present the next wine or spirit in a portfolio of hundreds, if not thousands of items? I’m guessing not. Unless you or something you do is memorable, you are wasting your time. After all, isn’t that the point?

  • Spend time talking to the bar back, the cashier, and the salesperson on the floor. These are the people that know what’s really going because they live it. A buyer is important, but the numbers they reference take time to reveal patterns and trends. The folks in the trenches can better tell you the zeitgeist. Plus, some of these people will rise through the ranks and become buyers themselves. They will remember those that made an impression by showing interest in what they do.

  • You are on a date (every time you see a buyer). You know the drill. A supplier comes to town and three days are spent visiting six accounts a day at fifteen to thirty minutes a clip. Remember going on any thirty-minute dates that were fantastic? One of the best parts of courtship are those early dates where minutes bleed into hours and, before you know it, half the night is gone. Well, take your buyers to a ballgame, a museum, a picnic, anything. Get them out of their store or restaurant. You are designing experiences. This will require work, but that’s part of the business. The idea is to see fewer buyers longer.

    Subscribe now