The half-life of tech sheets
Like radioactive isotopes, they’re dangerous when not handled with care
Those who work with wine and spirits are familiar with the ubiquitous tech sheet. These seemingly innocuous documents detail the particularities of production for a certain bottle, can, or keg: specifics like cépage, mash bill, abv, g/L of sugar, distillation technique, oak regiment, or any number of other minutiae. Tech sheets exist because of the belief that well-educated reps sell more than uninformed ones. The logic appears sound—those who know more, sell more—but is faulty because tech sheets don’t guarantee that reps are informed any more than textbooks ensure students are educated.
Think to yourself: when was the last time a tech sheet actually sold something?
I have yet to meet a successful rep that needed to reference a tech sheet to close a sale. No buyer has ever said, “I wasn’t going to buy that, but then I was handed a tech sheet, and what I saw changed my mind.”
Mere facts don’t sell wine and spirits, humans do. You buy a ticket to the concert for more than the setlist.1 Alcohol is no different. Customers buy what they buy because they like the palate, the price, the packaging, any of four other reasons that start with the letter “P,” or ideally, some combination of the seven.2
What then is a tech sheet?
A tech sheet is a source of false confidence. It equips a sales rep with enough facts to make them feel more knowledgeable than their customers (whether or not they actually are). Tech sheets arm inexperienced reps with just enough knowledge to be dangerous to themselves.3 When just starting out, it’s not unusual for a new sales rep to try to memorize tech sheets as if what their customers wanted was a parrot instead of a person to liaison with. Don’t be seduced by trivia. It won’t do your job for you.
A tech sheet is a constant drain on company resources. It takes time to collect the data found in tech sheets. This time costs money. Furthermore, a change in vintage or some other aspect demands the details be updated, at minimum, yearly. As the accuracy of the information on a tech sheet declines with time, so does its usefulness. When one piece of info can’t be trusted, the veracity of all data points is called into question. All of this doesn’t mean tech sheets should necessarily be done away with, but rather that they require real attention.
A tech sheet is a potential liability. When mistakes are made, companies and, by extension, their employees look bad. After all, it’s their job to convey the correct info about the products they represent. It’s more work to try to explain away bad information that’s been acted upon (aka purchased) than it is to wait to deliver good information. Another snare exists because people confuse exactitude with accuracy. A tech sheet that says a spirit has an abv of 42.37% sounds more accurate than one that lists that stat for another spirit at 42%, even if both are true.
A tech sheet is a reference book. Tech sheets do have their place; they are to be consulted for specifics, not read from beginning to end. However, much like leather-bound encyclopedias, they can be wildly out-of-date and inaccurate which means that… (see above).
Maybe not the best metaphor in the age of COVID, but you get the gist of the idea.