A short guide to a great (quick) staff training

You’re a wine sales rep and you sell wine to a restaurant. You ask the manager if you can come in for a pre-shift wine training. They say sure, swing by at 4:15 on Friday when all the servers are here but we’re not yet busy.

Oh, and you’ll only have ten minutes.

The irony is for a short training such as that, you actually have to plan more. Like a TED talk, your time is compressed and that should be see as a positive and an opportunity to be clear and to the point.

First what NOT to do:

I shouldn’t even have to say this but here it goes: show up on time. If you’ve been given a window of 4:15-4:25 don’t mess with it. Never show up late.

Once the group is gathered, do not simply pour the wine and ask the staff what they smell. This is the most amateur move of the worst sales reps, and achieves nothing.

In fact, it achieves far less than than nothing — it becomes a negative because you’re putting these kids on the spot and making them face the fact they don’t know how to taste and describe wine. Never do that.

Do not go into sales mode. You’ve already made the placement. Your job now is to educate and spark curiosity. Tell a story, don’t pitch a product.

Don’t just print off a bunch of the tech sheets from the winery and have those do all the talking. It’s your job to give the servers tools to help sell table side during a busy Friday night. A sell sheet doesn’t help with that.

A few things TO DO:

Plan ahead and rehearse. You only have ten minutes so know exactly what you’re going to say.

Develop an opening statement, or grab, or hook, to bring them into the conversation. Have a joke or something to break the ice. Get their attention. Know that some servers will wander in late.

*** Here’s a joke for you: “I enjoy a glass of wine each night for it’s health benefits. The other glasses are for my witty comebacks and my flawless dance moves.” *** #dropthemic

Follow your hook with a statement of importance on the wine in general terms. “This Pinot Noir represents bang for the buck and quality, which is the holy grail for Pinot Noir lovers. Wines like this are hard to find.”

Then start with a wide angle lens and zoom in.

Example: “So as you may know Pinot Noir is not easy to grow. In the world there are only a few places that grow truly great Pinot Noir on a regular basis. You need just the right soils combined with just the right climate. That perfect combination is like drawing the same card out of two decks …. it just doesn’t often happen. So one of those spots is the Willamette Valley …”

Always assume the servers you are talking to have never traveled. Remind them where you are talking about, pointing it out on a map (real or imaginary). Bring them into the specific spot you’re talking about.

Then, when they have a concept of the grape and the place, you can start to talk about why your particular wine is special. The winemaker, the family, the farming, the name of their dog. Make it personal. “The winemaker played basketball every night with her dad growing up, at the basketball hoop right next to the home vineyard where these wines are from.”

And then, after all of that and only after all of that, tell them what it smells like and tastes like.

You tell them. You don’t ask them!

Repeat your one line description of smell and taste. Repeat it again and encourage them to write it down. Then repeat it again. (This is why rehearsal is important.)

Then thank them for the time and wish them a great night with big tips. Oh and whomever sells the most glasses of that Pinot Noir by 10pm that night gets a free bottle.

Congrats, you finished with a couple extra minutes on the clock.

To review:

  1. Have a hook or grab to break the ice and get everybody’s attention.
  2. Thank them for the time and have a general statement about why this category of wine is important.
  3. Start with a wide angle and zoom in on place and variety, assuming the servers don’t know anything about where you are talking about.
  4. Tell a story of the family, the farm, or the winemaker that makes it personal.
  5. And only after all of this, tell them what the wine smells and tastes like.
  6. If possible, set up a one night incentive for the staff to try out their new knowledge.


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