Selling Champagne

There are a few fundamental differences between selling Champagne (and I’m only talking about real deal Champagne here) and other wine categories.

  1. Consumers tend to buy it one bottle at a time. And thus, without another glass next to it for comparison and assuming it’s served quite cold, it’s hard to make a call on the quality. Pretty much all Champagnes will taste good to most people in isolation.
  2. Big players dominate the marketing and advertising of Champagne like no other wine region. The impact of these advertising dollars is so heavily weighted toward the biggest producers that it’s almost silly who they can afford to hire and pose with their wines (note how we don’t see stuff like this when advertising Russian River Pinot Noir, or even Napa Cabernet).
  3. The seasonality of Champagne is unlike any other category of wine. Between now and when the retail shops close on 12/31 is when most Champagne will be sold this year.

These factors being equal, only one point of differentiation arises for most Champagnes: price.

And when price is the only point of differentiation, you have a race to the bottom (a race you never want to win, or even worse be in second place).

If you sell Champagne that is based on quality, on farming, on limited availability, on being ‘under the radar’ and ‘new to the market,’ you have your work cut out for you. A few thoughts for those selling artisan Champagne:

  1. Your sales will be low but you can dominate categories. Encourage retailers to separate out the grower-producers from the big houses, or the organic farmers from the commercial. If a retailer really wants to get geeky, have them arrange by dosage. Of course all of this must be clearly labeled and explained to the customer.
  2. This is when hand written shelf talkers can really work their magic. Get out those neon notecards and markers!
  3. The competition in the artisan Champagne market is even greater than in the commodity Champagne market, because each bottle sale represents a larger percentage of overall sales for the winery and rep. Don’t go into this category without a thick skin.
  4. To put it another way, the competition for artisan/grower Champagnes is no longer the big brands but rather the fellow RM’s.
  5. Smaller and artisan does not equal better. Just because it’s a grower-producer the quality and soul of the wine is not on a higher plane. Realize that the big producers do a pretty damn good job at making a ton of pretty damn good juice.

So what to do? For all sales reps:

  1. Know what sub-categories you are positioning in. It’s not just “Champagne” anymore. You can slice and dice this a dozen different ways.
  2. Envision and map out your target market. Not just your retailers and restaurants but end consumers as well.
  3. Know how to segment and cross-segment your brands and styles.
  4. Know more about your producers, styles, and Champagne history than your competition (a great start to a Champagne sales call can be learned here and here).
  5. Know who your real competition is (and this will be different for everybody): other brands, other styles, or maybe even yourself.
  6. Help your retailers and restaurants sell through. If you help sell the last bottle of inventory during the last hour the store is open on 12/31, then you’ve achieved full success (and remind the merchant of what you did!).

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