How to Work with Sales Data from Distributors: A Case Study from Paso Robles

Jason Haas head shot.jpg

This week we’re shifting gears away from consumer data and looking squarely at data that’s internal to the winery itself.

Inspiration for this post comes from Jason Haas (above), Partner and GM at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, who wrote in December about not being able to evaluate what you don’t measure.

“I hate it when I feel that the data that we’re capturing doesn’t represent the critical decisions that customers make,” Haas wrote on the Tablas Creek blog. “Because that’s the important thing about data: It lets you know, beyond anything anecdotal, whether you’re doing a great job or not.”

To which we say, Word.

Haas uses data in many ways to measure the effectiveness of their sales channels, including:

  • Relative effectiveness of different sorts of visitor tasting experiences, such as standard tasting versus reserve tasting
  • Measurements of value and happiness of wine club members, such as median length of membership and average additional sales to members
  • The effectiveness of offers and promotions
  • Engagement, meaning the percentage of people who open, click on or respond to emails.
  • Haas also delves into publicly available databases for insights, as he did in this blog about ratings of unfashionable grapes and this blog about how people age Tablas Creek wines.

And then there is the sales data that Haas requests from distributors who represent his wines.

To an outsider, this seems like a direct enough request – to be informed about where and how much of your own wine is being sold. But responses and results that Haas receives from the distributors is mixed.

“Some distributors are great and can (and are willing to) give you data in the format and depth you want,” Haas said. “Others are constrained by systems that don’t export data usefully, or can’t be automated to do so, and so you have to ask for it each time you want it, which with 60+ distributors is a nightmare.”

Yet he persists, with the goal of answering the following questions:

  • What wines are selling?
  • Where are they selling them, and how broadly? Were those 30 cases sold to 15 restaurants, say, or to two retailers?
  • What wines are being sampled by their salespeople?
  • What is in inventory?
  • What is the current pricing and what incentives/deals are being offered?

Haas said that, generally speaking, the more important they are to a distributor, and the more nimble and independent the distributor, the better the data and responsiveness to the request.

Most of the time, there is nothing actionable in the data he receives on a weekly or monthly basis. But he does try to look more comprehensively mid-year and at end-of-year, at the states for which he gets good data.

"If I see something that worries me I reach out to our brand manager to make sure he or she is aware of what’s happening, and maybe as important, aware that I’m aware of what’s happening," Haas said. "It’s not a guarantee of things improving in the way you want, but it dramatically increases the chances."

Haas is able to be more detailed when it comes to sales reports within California, taking these three steps:

  1. He sorts the sales data by region to determine where their market work will be most valuable in the coming months.
  2. He sends Thank You notes to reps or managers who are doing a good job.
  3. He re-sorts the data by item to determine any trends. Is a wine selling faster (or slower) than it has been? If so, why? Did we lose one or two high velocity placements? Or is there something broader-based going on? Should he ask the distributor to distribute some samples of a particular wine to a team or a group of teams? Or should he call the brand manager to come up with a more creative incentive program to help improve focus?

"None of these things are magic bullets in sales," Haas said. "It’s a crowded marketplace and there are lots of other smart people out there competing for your business. But knowing what’s actually happening in your key markets and communicating what you’d like to see to your distributors – who, after all, have the same goal as you, to sell your wine – definitely improves your odds."

Is your team already taking these steps? If so, I'd love to hear about it.

If not, how can we help move you in the right direction?

I look forward as always to your thoughts, and thank you for reading.