5 Tips for Better Communication with Your Wine & Spirits Distributors

sommelier holding bottle in a wine glass wine and spirits

Can you take a message?

Communication used to be so much simpler. There were only three options: face-to-face, telephone, or snail mail.

It was hard to get overwhelmed in those days and easier to set boundaries. Remember, “Just leave a message”?

Today we can add modalities such as Zoom, email, and text to the communication list. Now include Slack, Teams, Whatsapp, and DM’s from all kinds of social platforms, and you have the perfect storm for mental fatigue.

This mental fatigue is due to the inefficiencies in direct, clear, and concise communication between business partners like suppliers and distributors. Avoid missed opportunities because of missed emails, prevent time wasted for all parties, and build better partnerships with our 5 Communication Tips below.

The Distributors’ Experience

Before we launch into improving communications between suppliers and their wholesalers, let’s closely examine what distributors’ level of communication from the variety of suppliers they are experiencing with the traditional tools we all know.

Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe their environment. Imagine trying to communicate with literally thousands of different suppliers. Or — far worse — those thousands of suppliers trying to communicate with you.

You see 400-500 new emails whenever you open your email inbox. Most are cc’s. Many have no subject lines. And for those with subject lines, they have absolutely no connection to the content in the body of the email.

And of course, a good portion of them are marked “urgent.” How does anyone prioritize communications?

When communication exceeds humanity

While receiving a ridiculous amount of emails is annoying, it ranks much lower on the pain scale when an insane number of meetings, work-withs, dinners, events, trade shows, and Zoom calls are added.

As a combination, it’s inhumane.

If you read no further in this article, please take away this plea: have empathy for the plight of your distributor partners’ sales team members before you hit the send button, send a calendar invite, or send another group text message.

As a supplier in wine and spirits, you’ll want to read on for the 5 best tips on improving supplier-distributor communications.

1. Practice Inbound Communication

In business communications, there are only two broad categories: inbound and outbound communications.

Outbound is the one we’re all most familiar with; it’s when you have something to say or ask someone, so you open your laptop, start typing, and hit the “send” button. You initiated the correspondence.

Inbound is when you create a “self-service” environment and make it easy for others to come and get what they need when they need it.

A great example of inbound communication would be ensuring your website’s trade section is well organized and fully stocked with every selling tool a distributor sales rep might need.

Another use case is having an online library of training videos, white papers, case studies, and webinar recordings available 24/7.

The key here is to create valuable content your constituents can and want to use. For a great example of this, check out what Chappelet Winery has on its Trade page.

Effective inbound communication relies heavily on value creation. Ask your team, “How can we create training and selling materials that people WANT to use and consume?”

This level of communication helps solve a lot of the miscellaneous and non-urgent correspondences that can save you and your distributor time and energy.

2. Enable Asynchronous Communications

Another way to avoid overkill of superfluous communications is by enabling asynchronous communications, which will take an effort of forethought and planning.

What is asynchronous communication? At a glance, it looks similar to inbound, and in a way, it is related to it. But it’s less about having a library of content available and more about a protocol or paradigm for communication.

It helps to talk about opposites, so what asynchronous communication isn’t are things like:

  • Knocking on someone’s office door or showing up at their desk
  • A phone call (with the expectation that someone will answer). The same goes for a text.
  • Sending an email and expecting a rapid response
  • Running into someone in the hall and striking up a conversation

Asynchronous communication’s purpose is to offer flexibility, reduce interruptions, and enable collaboration across time zones and schedules. It produces written records, reduces pressure, and can enhance productivity.

In other words, asynchronous communication is any form of communication that does not need to happen in real-time and has the forethought of the next steps.

The first step in executing this correctly is to shift your mindset enough to see that most communication does not require an immediate response.

Below are a few practical examples to consider:

  • Email, by its nature, is asynchronous. What ruins it is the sender’s expectation. Let go of your need for rapid responses.
  • Shoot a short Loom video. You can pack a lot of info into a 1 or 2-minute video. Opening an email with nothing in the body but a link to watch a video is so refreshing. If the contents of the 2-minute video were typed out, it would be overwhelming, resulting in too long; didn’t read. PRO TIP: never send a link to a video without telling the recipient how long it is.
  • Use calendar scheduling tools like Calendly to avoid the excruciating practice of trying to coordinate people’s schedules via email. Calendly and similar tools like Acuity and Google Workspace are great for setting “boundaries” (times when you are not available).
  • Project / Objective Planning management tools like Greatvines, Asana and Trello are powerful examples of asynchronous collaboration. Having everything you need to complete a specific objective or plan — whether coordinating a winemaker visit, outlining an event, requesting menu placements, bar recipes, or launching a new product — goal planning and objective management tools can be a game changer. Plus, it’s easy to measure the results.
  • Communication tools like Slack greatly reduce the number of emails sent and received – especially within “closed groups.” Slack enables you to communicate with more focus and directly to an individual without having to open that overloaded email inbox.

The future of work is asynchronous, and it’s already here!

3. Less urgency. More empathy.

In the business world of sales, empathy can easily get tossed aside in the pursuit of simply getting the job done.

But if you want to gain more trust (the ‘holy grail’ of business communications), you’ll need to practice incorporating the value of empathy as you chase your sales goals and try to track your objectives or key performance indicators.

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: If you want people to reply to your emails, return your calls/texts, or show up to your Zoom meetings, then show empathy.

How do you show empathy? Here are 4 easy ways to do it:

  1. Plan better and farther in advance (see tip 5 below)
  2. Keep your communications concise and clearly defined
  3. Keep the number of recipients/respondents “tight.” No blanketed communications! This includes the cursed Reply All style of communicating.
  4. Cut the small talk. Ironically, this is hugely empathetic!
  5. Not everything is urgent. Ratcheting up the level of urgency is annoying and a waste of time. Remember the saying, “Poor planning on your part does not create an emergency on my part?” More valid words were never spoken.

The only hope you have of “being heard” is practicing empathy.

4. Trust and Inspiration vs. Command and Control

The concept of exerting complete control over all decision-making and communication with your distributor is likely bound in the hearts of all suppliers. Who doesn’t secretly wish everyone would do as we tell them to? Maybe you know someone who loves to give orders and expect them to be obeyed without question.

It is a sad but true fact that not too long ago, many suppliers acted as if they were the overlords and their distributors were their minions doomed to a life of complete obedience. It goes without saying that this still occurs.

To be among the most respected and trusted supplier partners, you must purge this mentality from your organization and seek instead to build trust and be better partnerships with your distributors. Here are several practical ways to do that:

  • Listen more than you speak
  • Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood (thank you, Stephen Covey)
  • Respect each other’s time
  • Show appreciation at every opportunity
  • Practice being consistent and predictable (because no busy person likes surprises)
  • Provide clear goals with tactical, measurable objectives
  • Identify key performance indicators and make them visible
  • Keep all your promises without exception
  • Give with no expectation of getting
  • Show trust in others (no one needs to be micromanaged)
  • Transparency and sharing no surprises

In today’s market, the squeaky wheel does not get the grease from distributors, unfortunately, and due to the number of suppliers, too many wheels are already squeaking.

People don’t respect what you inspect unless they feel respected (let that mind-bender sink in for a moment), the objectives are clearly measurable and communicated.

For those who think showing empathy is a sign of “weakness,” consider that displaying and practicing empathy is one of the most courageous things a human being can do.

5. Unleash the Power of Planning Ahead

If we were to poll all US wine and spirits distributors and ask, “What is the one thing suppliers can do to make your life easier?”, planning ahead would be at the top of their list.

Time is a distributor’s most precious resource because it is finite.

The key to optimizing time comes down to three critical things:

  1. Clear Concise Communication
  2. Measurable objectives and prioritization
  3. Planning with visibility to all key performance indicators

And these three factors are intertwined.

Here are some practical ways of planning when it comes to interactions with your distributor partners:

  • Be intensely in tune with your partner’s activities and efforts around them or, at the very least, align with their planning.
  • Establish methods to have proactive visibility into current activities and tasks provided on your behalf
  • Get good at creating year-at-a-glance calendars and updating them once per quarter. Stretching out the time horizon immediately reduces stress.
  • Plan for contingencies. Stuff happens. Having a backup plan (or at least being flexible) can go a long way when it does.
  • Review your KPIs regularly with transparency as to next steps, as your measurable objectives are completed
  • Defining regular review and communication methods to share insights.
  • Keep things simple. Complexity is the enemy of efficiency. Nothing will inhibit great pre-planning like trying to accomplish too many things. Use a less-is-more approach.

And finally, if you truly cared, you wouldn’t send that email

Since email is probably the most painful communication between suppliers and their distributors, addressing it is a good way to end this article.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Every email you send is a potential tree falling in the woods for no one to hear.

Here are 7 questions you should ask yourself before hitting the send button:

  1. Who truly needs to see/read this?
  2. How can I say this with as few words as possible?
  3. Am I making optimal use of the subject line to tell the recipient what’s in the body of the email?
  4. Do I have a clear call to action?
  5. Am I using the right tone? Am I emotionally wound up?
  6. Do I need to include an attachment? Could I use a link to a shared document or folder instead?
  7. Would a link to a short video communicate more in less time?

Welcome to the era of digital collaboration and its new hub!

At Andavi Solutions, the distributor and supplier relationship is at the heart of all our products and services.

Our team of professionals has been in supplier, distributor, and retailer positions and understands the market struggles firsthand.

Our reason for being is to facilitate the seamless collaboration between suppliers, distributors, and retailers in beverage alcohol and bring the industry to the new age of digital and technology.

If improving relationships with your distributor partners is on your list of priorities, we’d love to help. Learn more about our collaborative solutions such as BevPath today.