The Ugly Truth About Wine Sales Training: It’s Not About the Wine

holiday christmas sweater wine bottle wearing

Ask any winery owner or executive what constitutes “wine sales training” at their company; almost without exception, the focus is on product knowledge.

While wine knowledge is vital, it can never truly move the needle on SALES.

For many reasons, including tradition, historical norms, and long-standing conventional wisdom, the wine industry is “stuck” in an old-school mindset regarding how to train their sales teams to sell a lot of wine. 

It’s OK for wine to be “old world,” but your sales training should never be!


The Wine Industry’s Obsession with Wine Knowledge


The prevailing wisdom says that to sell wine successfully, salespeople must achieve a certain level of knowledge. 

On its face, there is some legitimacy to this assertion, but the ugly truth is wine knowledge is only part of the formula for success in sales. We use the word “ugly” here because failure to train your sales team FULLY will result in lackluster sales success. In other words, falling short of your sales goals is ugly.

Focusing primarily or exclusively on wine knowledge LIMITS your sales success, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here is a short list of things wine knowledge cannot do for you:

  • It can’t tell you how to manage your time better
  • It can’t help you provide flawless follow-up
  • It can’t help you to qualify the best accounts to approach based on volume potential
  • It can’t help you identify and provide solutions for your customers’ core business problems
  • It can’t help you to be a better negotiator
  • It can’t show you how to work more collaboratively with other internal departments, such as marketing and finance
  • It can’t help you develop accurate sales forecasts
  • It can’t show you how to bounce back from rejection
  • It can’t help to communicate clearly and persuasively
  • It can’t help you have more empathy towards customers’ needs
  • It can’t help you better manage the customer’s decision-making process

Wine knowledge must be balanced with solid business acumen and fundamental selling skills.


Wine Expert or Sales Expert?


Like the bumper sticker that says, “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student,” business acumen and sales skills beat wine knowledge every day of the week.

We realize this sounds blasphemous to many reading this, but it is the truth nevertheless.

We are not saying wine knowledge has no value; it certainly does. What we are saying is that it is nowhere near enough! If wine companies want to consistently and profitably crush their sales goals, they must provide training beyond product knowledge.

Practical sales training must also include the following:

  1. Learning to understand customer needs
  2. Relationship building skills
  3. Effective communication
  4. Problem-solving skills
  5. Sales process mastery
  6. Market and industry awareness
  7. Sales strategy development
  8. Time management

Let’s dive more deeply into each of these training requirements.


Identifying and Understanding Customer Needs


A sale does not happen in the salesperson’s world but in the customer’s world. 

A features and benefits selling approach that emphasizes the product itself is not only a horrifyingly outdated way to sell but is insulting to the buyer. It is a selfish way to sell. It’s self-focused, not others-focused. 

Many salespeople have never been properly trained to identify customer needs. The best evidence of this is the “presentation trap,” as outlined in Jeff Thull’s book, “Mastering the Art of the Complex Sale.” Most sales presentations suffer from three fatal flaws:

  1. Presenting too much information
  2. Presenting too early in the sales process
  3. Presenting to the wrong people

Salespeople believe their “job” is to persuade the buyer to purchase. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “job” of a professional salesperson is to identify, understand, and then meet the customer’s needs. This takes time, effort, and patience.

Most salespeople lack the patience to investigate what their customers need fully and want. They fail to see the process as a “journey.” 

Sales organizations devote copious amounts of time and energy to creating compelling sales presentations when they should be putting effort into getting into the heads of their customers.

Here is a very common and practical example. A winery salesperson has been tasked with gaining new distribution with a major national chain store. Straightaway, they start thinking about which products they need to sell, so they immediately begin assembling a sales pitch deck. Their presentation is filled with the features and benefits of the products. They believe if they can just get in front of the buyer, their presentation skills will win the day.

The problem with this way of thinking is the world in which we sell has changed. Buyers don’t need to sit before a salesperson to become informed about their products. They can very easily do this all on their own. 

In Daniel Pink’s must-read book, “To Sell is Human,” he posits: “In a world where anybody can find anything with just a few keystrokes, intermediaries like salespeople are superfluous. They merely much up the gears of commerce and make transactions slower and more expensive.” 

“Modern” selling is not about the product. It’s about identifying and understanding the customer’s needs. 




Unlike transactional selling, which is all about making the sale, relationship selling aims to build trust and rapport. 

Salespeople benefit greatly from training in how to do this effectively. Does your organization include relationship-building training in your curriculum? Probably not. 

The best way to build trust is by adding value. To use another quote from Jeff Thull, “The sale should be merely a byproduct of a much larger relationship.”

To call this a “consultative selling approach” would be a gross oversimplification. Asking questions and active listening are undoubtedly good starting points. But sellers must go well beyond, and this requires training.

One example is the use of data and business intelligence to build rapport. 

Most wine companies are sitting on a treasure trove of data. This vital business intelligence holds the power to be leveraged to serve buyers in powerful ways. How can you train your salespeople to use this data to help customers solve their problems? 

Here are just a few of the things buyers want to know about:

  • Who is the ideal customer avatar for your product?
  • How strong is the demand for your product? How is that demand trending?
  • How, when, and where are they using your product?
  • In what types of accounts (specifically) is your product gaining traction?
  • How much are you investing in building brand awareness? What channels are you using? Can you empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of marketing?
  • How large is your audience, and how engaged are they?

Most salespeople move too fast to stop and learn these critical data points. They will never instinctively make the time to learn them. It must be a required part of your sales training program. 

There needs to be regularly disciplined interaction with your brand marketing team. It’s simply not enough for salespeople to understand the product portfolio; they must also have a strong working knowledge of how to use data to solve their customers’ most pressing challenges.

Lastly, you must invest in tools and platforms that provide this data to the people who need it most with just a few mouse clicks. 


Effective Communication


Many salespeople are natural-born communicators. They have “the gift of gab” and easily navigate every conversation. But, these “natural” skills must still be refined and honed to a razor’s edge, which takes training.

Some of the practical ways these skills can be honed include:

  • Role-playing exercises
  • Personality testing to determine individual strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles. Some of the more common tools include CliftonStrengths and DISC assessment
  • Public speaking coaching

Almost every job description on requires “strong communication skills.” Still, few wine companies provide additional training opportunities to enhance these skills after new sales reps are onboarded. 

Effective communication is more than just knowing how to communicate clearly and persuasively. It’s also about conveying value in a way that resonates with customers.




Sales teams must be equipped to identify and address customer problems effectively. This requires problem-solving skills beyond presenting information about your product’s features and benefits.

Take selling to restaurants as an example. How can your wines help a restaurant meet its fundamental business objectives, such as growing revenue, controlling costs, and improving guest satisfaction?

Your salespeople cannot solve problems they don’t know about. They must be trained to ask the right questions.

Here are some great questions to ask a restaurant owner or buyer:

  • How much money is in inventory now, and how often do you turn your inventory?
  • What percentage of diners order wine with dinner? How is this trending? How does this break down by daypart and day of the week?
  • How does seasonality affect their wine sales, and what have they tried that has worked well?
  • What methods does the restaurant use to solicit feedback from their customers?
  • What is their process for monitoring their competitor’s assortment and selection?
  • When did they last do a deep-dive analysis of their pricing strategy?

No restaurateur lays awake at night wondering if they have the right Chardonnay by the glass. But they DO toss and turn about their need for more revenue.

Your sales training must include teaching your salespeople how to identify and solve their customers’ most pressing needs.


Sales Process Mastery


Salespeople must understand and follow a well-defined sales process which includes:

  • Prospecting
  • Lead generation
  • Account and buyer qualification
  • How to effectively move buyers through the sales pipeline
  • How to provide flawless follow-up

No better tool exists for achieving this mastery than a cloud-based, mobile-friendly CRM system. 

Left to their own devices, most salespeople do not instinctively understand the benefits of using a CRM system to close more sales faster and provide best-in-class customer service. Adopting these tools requires rigorous training, practice, and reinforcement from upper management. 

Understanding how to use a CRM system’s “opportunity pipeline” feature is necessary for high-performing sales teams.

Take a close look at your sales team’s process. Are they using an intuitive, just-do-it model or a far more disciplined approach?

In terms of their ability to deliver high levels of revenue generation, these skills go way beyond mere product knowledge!


Market and Industry Awareness


Any wine company with aspirations to cultivate an effective wine sales team must have systems to educate their sales teams on market and industry trends continually.

The good news is that most wine companies have this data already. They just haven’t yet institutionalized their application. This is easily remedied through training.

Staying informed about market trends, industry changes, and competitors is essential for staying ahead. But, it cannot be left to chance or osmosis. 

A great example is the use of category management data and space planning disciplines. The insights to be gained from these analyses can go well beyond off-premise applications. 

Basic training in category management principles benefits the entire organization, especially the sales team. 

Wine knowledge isn’t nearly as essential as market trends. Since trends are constantly changing and evolving, wine companies must have a disciplined approach to transferring this knowledge to their salespeople regularly and consistently.

High on every wine company’s list of priorities should be gaining market share. This objective cannot be achieved without a firm grasp of short and long-term trends. 

Some of the essential trends all wine salespeople must be fully aware of include:

  • Changes in consumer tastes and preferences
  • Innovations in packaging
  • eCommerce trends
  • Changing demographics (primarily generational differences)
  • Pricing trends

This knowledge is traditionally viewed as the realm of the marketing department, but modern sellers must be equally equipped with this knowledge. It’s what buyers expect from them!


Sales Strategy Development


Too many wine companies hire salespeople and then turn them loose to do whatever they need to close more sales. This often leads to an acute lack of focus.

Left to their own devices, most salespeople do not always act in the company’s best interest (or even their best interests). Just like professional athletes need coaching to achieve optimal results, so do salespeople!

And this requires – you guessed it – TRAINING. 

Market segmentation, positioning, and pricing strategies cannot be left up to chance. The data will tell you where and how best to exploit the opportunities. 

A proper sales strategy is a structured plan that outlines the actions, decisions, and steps required to achieve the sales goals.

A well-defined sales strategy allows salespeople to use their time and resources better and gives them much more control over their outcomes. 

FOCUS is essential to sales success, and your sales strategy must address HOW to keep your sales team focused. This has to be trained – it is not intuitive.


Time Management


No training need is greater than the need to manage time. Time is every salesperson’s number one asset. Time is money, which is crucial for sales teams as they tend to be the most expensive asset a wine company has (besides inventory). 

Your time management training curriculum should include, at a minimum, the following components;

  • Reducing or eliminating administrative tasks
  • Streamlining repeatable tasks
  • Reduce distractions and time-wasters
  • Prioritization
  • Allocating time to plan
  • Streamlining communication to cut down on the need for meetings and sending emails
  • Continuous feedback loop 
  • Being prepared to pivot and course-correct
  • How to structure a salesperson’s day, week, month, and year

A sales organization that neglects to provide time-management training for its salespeople has no one to blame but itself if it falls short of its goals. 

Properly selecting a CRM system and training how to use it is the best way to address the list above. 

Without the proper training and use of CRM, sales teams drift about in a sea of wasted activity and ambiguity of outcomes. 

CRM streamlines the following tasks for sales teams:

  • Calendars and reminders
  • Sales call records
  • Email communication (when integrated with Gmail or Outlook)
  • Inter-departmental communications

Think briefly about a typical sales team operating without a CRM system. Consider all the emails and meetings that are needed to keep everyone informed. 

Marketing teams, executive teams, and finance all need a clear line of sight into the activities of the sales organization. Because CRM software stores EVERYTHING in one place, these teams can easily access critical information on key customers in a self-serve way. 

If you want your sales team to focus on tasks that generate revenue rather than getting bogged down in inefficient administrative tasks, CRM is the right tool for you! 


Challenge the Status Quo: Take YOUR Sales Team’s Skills to a New Level 


Most wine companies don’t need any help with wine knowledge training. But most, if not all, need assistance with these other sales training components detailed above. 

Taking a more balanced, comprehensive approach to sales training can yield a considerable upside in your sales results! 

Reading and sharing this article with your team is a significant next step. 

At Andavi Solutions, we have the knowledge and resources to help your sales team. We invite you to reach out today!

We would be happy to review your current training curriculum and collaborate with you to develop a plan to enhance your sales training curriculum.