Top 10 Customer Service Count Down

This fall, I had the pleasure of presenting with Allan Wright, owner of Zephyr Adventures, at the first annual Wine Tourism Conference held in Napa, California.  Allan is well known in the industry for his wine and beer bloggers conferences; in fact, the wine bloggers will be coming to Portland in August!

We were asked by conference organizer, Elizabeth Martin-Calder -- a marketing veteran serving the wine, food, travel and art industries, to speak about the important connection between marketing and providing great customer service experiences.  Below is the top 10 list we created to underscore how a compelling customer service should permeate your entire organization:

#10 - Create a Philosophy of Customer Service that Stems from your Mission Statement
Define the "why" behind your company.  Decide what it is you are offering and how you're going to be the best at it.  Think about your target customer and the experiences they desire.  This is precisely where the marketing and hospitality teams should begin to engage -- well before the taster arrives at the winery.  Companies like Four Seasons, Apple, BMW and Target have a well defined customer experience, and it's not by chance!

#9 - Transform Ethos into Action
Translate your service philosophy into specific, measurable actions.  Think about how the hospitality team will tell the story, decide on specific and consistent talking points that all staff members can share, and don't forget to outline the greeting, during visit and closing actions.  For example, the Four Seasons personally greets each guest by name, provides a wait-free, quiet check in with a water bottle, and the staff is encouraged to ask about particular preferences early on and get feedback throughout the stay.

When was the last time you took your winery's tour?  What are the specific actions you take to follow up with visitors and re-engage them? 

#8 - Seek Feedback
In founder, Isadore Sharp's book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, he details how he built the company from a regional Canadian construction firm to the world's preeminent luxury hotel brand.  What most struck me is the company's "Glitch Report", which is a discussion held at every hotel every morning.  During the meeting, the team outlines anything that went wrong the prior day, and discusses the specific steps taken to correct the mistake.  This encourages people to be open about mistakes, learn from them, and helps create a culture of continuous improvement.  It also prevents further mistakes and identifies customers who may need special touches to improve their stay.

Feedback should be a two-way street.  Internal feedback of team members can come through staff and individual meetings, discussions, surveys and 360 reviews.  External feedback can be gained from Yelp, customer and supplier surveys, card drops and verbal asks during visits.

#7 - Address & Learn From Mistakes
When a customers alerts you to a problem, own it.  Apologize, state what you will do to correct the issue in the future, and offer some sort of unexpected "thank you" to the customer for bringing it to your attention.  It is important to remember that addressing in-person complaints is not enough -- I encourage you to monitor social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp, too.  In all of these mediums, you have the opportunity to respond and correct.  Performing excellent service recovery can create even more loyal customers!

#6 - Keep a Database
Do you have an email list?  Is it possible to sign up in your tasting room, on Facebook and on your website? Do you actually input those sign ups into the database?  Are you tracking your customers, their preferences and operating with a schedule of follow up communications?

#5 - Recognize Repeat Customers
Having a database will help you track them, but it won't do the follow up work with customers for you.  Send thank you notes, personal invites to events, offer special pricing and referral rewards, etc.  And don't just communicate via email -- a personal phone call is a powerful tool, and it's much more rare with all of the email marketing solutions.

#4 - Seek Outside Best Practices
There are some terrific examples of service within our industry.  While it's natural to stay in our own backyard, looking outside of wine and spirits can reveal additional best practices.  Train your staff to be "service spies" and create a game out of reporting on best or poor experiences from which everyone can learn.

Some favorite non-industry best practices that come to mind immediately are the way Starbucks encourages barristas to call customers by name and how Southwest mails you drink coupons on your birthday.

#3 -Answer the Phone

Return phone calls and emails promptly.  Fully engage the customer (i.e., don't be checking email) and smile while you are speaking.  Set up a Google alerts and Twilerts for your brand name and key wines to track press and social media conversations.  Pay attention to Yelp and Trip Advisor on a regular basis.

#2 - Engage Everyone
Each person involved in hospitality should have a sense of the "front of the house" jobs -- ideally, all team members would.  Remember how annoying it is when you enter a restaurant, are passed by several servers, and one finally says "a hostess will be with you soon"?  Customer service is not someone else's job -- we are all first in the hospitality business.

At every step of the hospitality experience, your customers are watching, and often reporting via social media.  The days of Don Draper's Mad Men telling people what to think are long gone (although I'm happy that the show is soon coming back!).  So embrace this customer involvement as an opportunity for authentic promotion.  After all, when your customers tell your friends to visit, they are much more likely to listen.

And finally, #1 - Audience Ideas...
We asked for audience participation to help us come up with the final customer service "do".  We received many great ideas, and the one I most remember was submitted by a woman who suggested that wineries take an extra step to promote their vendors before events, then ask for their post event feedback.  Associated parties like caterers, entertainers, etc. are also "watching" during your special events, and may see things that your customers don't report or you do not notice.  They will also appreciate the extra recognition.


Guest Blogger Janel Lubanski Shares First Winery Visit

When taking on new clients, it is imperative to get to know the people and the places behind the brand.   The first meeting allows the client to express the vision for his or her business and provides Trellis Wine Consulting the information we need to serve the client in the best way possible.

On September 14, I toured my first winery (and at that point our newest client) Abacela and learned the importance of a first visit.  From the introductions to soaking in new landscapes, and the actual "work", to ending the day with a ride through the vineyards in owner, Earl Jones’ Jeep Cherokee, it was an amazing experience.

We began with a tour of the grounds, first internally and then the vineyards.  The tasting room  features a large round tasting bar with an incredible open view of the vineyard and a private tasting room highlighting modern yellow chairs -- Abacela's signature color.  (They use yellow foil or screw caps  on all wine bottles, so these chairs are a very nice touch.

For our next stop, we were given a very descriptive tour of the winemaking process performed at Abacela.  Their method of transporting grapes by gravity flow is both time consuming and labor intensive but this method has proven to be more gentler on the grapes and wine. 

Earl recalled his garage reconstruction project that would allow space for a gravity flow system – a project that left many skeptical but he managed to pull it off.

After getting down to talking business, we ventured to the vines.  The stones leading from the winery to the vineyard map out the varied geologies that make up Abacela’s vineyard.  This 76-acre property on the southern tip of the Umpqua Valley,houses many different geological varieties:
  • Dothan formation;
  • Turbidite sandstone;
  • Mudstone Matrix Melange;
  • Fluvial deposits;
  • Bushnell Rock;
  • Siletz River Volcanics; and
  • Submarine basalt

Three mountain ranges, the Klamath Mountains; the Coastal Range; and the Cascades, meet beneath Abacela’s vineyard, allowing them the ideal climates for their internationally acclaimed Tempranillo, Rhone and other Spanish varietals.  

Another unique aspect of the Abacela vineyard is the trellis for the vines.  Earl’s layout of his vines includes an additional post on the end of each trellis, quite uncommon on most vineyards.  This additional post prevents tractors from running into the vines and protects the wires on the trellis. 

A few grapes were tasted and the tour was complete. 

So as I learned, the purpose of a first visit is to show our commitment to and learn as much as possible.  For me, the best part of a first visit is seeing our clients in action on their “home turf.”


Wine Discoveries in Idaho's Snake River Valley

This Monday I had the pleasure of judging the 2011 Idaho Wine Competition, which is run by Wine Press NW and hosted by the Idaho Wine Commission.  I truly enjoyed experiencing these new wine regions and discovering some gems. 

Idaho has grown from approximately 11 wineries just a decade ago to over 40.  The commission seems to have improved its marketing significantly, and I'll be following them to monitor developments and growth.  For those thinking of visiting, the greetings are friendly and Boise is a well-maintained college town that is easy to navigate. 

As is typical with me, I offer some of my favorite "gold" wines below -- these are not necessarily competition gold medal winners.

Williamson 2010 Riesling, $9 - This wine ultimately received a silver, but was nearly a gold in my opinion.  Tangerine, lemon cream, floral and basil notes filled the nose, which was confirmed on the palate that offered good balance and a clean finish.  For $9 it's a great buy!

Cinder 2010 Chardonnay, $18 - Lime, pear, green apple aromas were quite pretty, with noticeably nice oak integration on the palate. This is a polished Chardonnay that showed best in its class.  It could stand up against competitors from known Chard regions and with the quality:price ratio, knock them right out of the running.

Williamson 2010 Blossom Rose of Sangiovese, $12 - Another winner from this winery, the rose features pretty pear, floral, lavender and cherry aromas.  There is a nice acid balance on the palate which leads to a clean finish.  Great "summer sipper" all year long (we shouldn't give up rose just because the sun is hiding).

Snake River 2009 Arena Valley Vineyard Syrah, $17 - I gave this wine a gold, as did my colleague panelists, so it was rated a double gold medal.  I loved its smoky cherry, blackberry fruit aromas and notes of bacon fat and pepper.  The palate is filled with rich fruit and it brings a long finish.  (The website is beautifully done -- can't help the marketing note.)

Wood River 2008 Cabernet Franc, $28 - An impressive showing and gold for this variety, which tends not to be made on its own.  The nose has cedar, black fruit, raspberry and bell pepper.  The palate features great balance with good acid:tannin: fruit ratio for structure.  Delicious.  It won best red of show.

Koenig 2009 Riesling Ice Wine, $20 - Wow this was a fun wine to taste -- I may have even swallowed a sip :)  Aromas of apple, pear and lemon zest were complimented by slight graham cracker and herbal notes, which added complexity.  The palate featured very ripe peach and apricot notes and a very long finish.  In short, this is downright delicious.

If you haven't ever tried a wine from Idaho, I encourage you to look for these gems and explore -- afterall, one of the reasons that wine is so engaging is because it offers a way to discover the world.

PS - a special thank you to my colleague, Janel, who participated in research for this post


After Raising a Glass, What Should I Do With a Milestone?

All businesses that stay in business achieve milestones.  Since starting Trellis Wine Consulting three and a half years ago, I've been on a fast-paced learning path filled with them -- some more cheerful and inspiring than others.  The first milestones that come to mind include incorporating and registering a mark, getting my first client, getting my first big client, receiving a client's heart-felt thank you note (and wow did that mean so much), achieving a big win for a client, outsourcing some services to enable growth and focus, most recently, hiring a talented colleague and of course, celebrating each anniversary.

Owners and operators in the wine and spirits business go through many of the same milestones. Plus the first harvest, first bottling, achieving press recognition and distribution, hitting the "black" zone of profitability and so much more.  The industry tends to celebrate the big numerical milestones (5, 10, 20, etc.) with fanfare around the anniversary including press releases and parties, which are a well-deserved reward for a job well done and thank you to customers.

Where some brands may fall short is using these anniversary milestones as a catalyst for growth.  Why not think about the strategy for next 10 years while celebrating the last 10?

I am currently in the middle of an engaging research project for a supplier who is using a milestone as an opportunity to consider the company's next steps.  For them I designed a research survey of key stakeholders including internal team, distributor managers, and trade.  Each survey group requires a multi-step process beginning with survey creation and refinement, followed by list development, interviews, coding, analysis and reporting.  The final report will include a full SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and strategic recommendations for growth.

We are studying strategic possibilities, portfolio changes, industry trends, brand awareness, business practices, competitors and more.  For my client, gaining this knowledge will accomplish the following:

* create interest and buy-in given management's need for and desire to change to position the company for growth

* confidentially gather a range of diverse perspectives on the issues facing the company

* provide an organized format for all to voice creative solutions and an opportunity to analyze business and industry trends

* let customers and partners know that their insight is valued and considered -- this is a wonderful way to thank them intrinsically

* serve as a vehicle to reach and interact with the media -- our professional critics

So far, I've provided preliminary reports on the internal and distributor management audiences; my next step is to code and analyze over 500 trade survey response sets -- it's a huge number and double our assertive goals.  And I know it will be full of knowledge for my client and me.

Taking time to pause and consider goals and direction for the future is critically important for any successful business, especially in our industry, where the competition is fierce.

In my next post, I'll discuss best practices for survey design and present a case study to demonstrate how data can be used to position a brand for success.


Laying the Foundation for Innovation

Innovation begins with creating an environment where creativity and problem solving thrive.  Companies with cultures of fear, creativity blocking attitudes -- "no" or "we can't do that", and complacency -- "it's always been this way", struggle with innovation because they don't have the foundation.

Harvard Business School Professor, Teresa M. Amabile well described the link between creativity and innovation in a recent Harvard Business Review article, "Getting to Eureka! How Companies Promote Creativity". "Creativity is the initial production and development of novel, useful ideas. Innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas."

As a marketing and management consultant, one of the key practices I can bring to an organization is a process for engineering innovation.  That process, of course, begins with creating an environment that fosters creativity.  Scheduling a brainstorming session is an easy way to begin. 

I learned a long time ago that scheduling a traditional department style gathering is a no-win situation.  (I still laugh about the meeting in one corporate winery where we begrudgingly gathered around a conference room at 6pm and were tosses snacks from a vending machine so we could "quickly get creative and figure this out so we could go home".  Instead, I like to schedule these earlier in the work day, preferably in an off-site environment or at least free from distractions (with land lines, cell phones, and email announcements turned off).  Another welcome option is over a glass of wine, but this tends to work better with smaller groups. 

Giant Post-It Notes and colorful markers are always in my toolbox because I want to record ideas and do so publicly -- the idea is to fill up the sheet and "hear" all of the participants.  I also either come prepared with a list of questions (and always a few ideas), or ask those invited to highlight the most important things we need to ask before getting started.  Depending on the dynamics of the group, fun "prizes" for recognizing truly creative insights can be a way to lighten up the mood,

When hosting a creative brainstorming, it is important to focus on one topic at a time. For example, how to reinvent the wine club, re-engineer the tour, better communicate with distributors, or get the attention of the media. (Trying to cover a combination or all of these would create competing interests for the creative energy.)

Brainstorms work well in a couple different formats.  One is to gather for 60 to 90 minutes for idea generation -- a good tactic for producing ideas in a relatively short amount of time.  Another is to break a larger group into smaller sections so that multiple sets of ideas are generated, then presented and discussed as a larger group.  For annual meetings and retreats, I prefer the latter.

There are a few important "ground rules" prevent creativity killing attitudes, stay focused, gain full participation and promote creativity after the meeting has ended. 

First, "no", "we can't", "that won't work", and other associated remarks are discouraged from the beginning.  As the mediator, I gently remind people who revert back to this type of commentary that we're in a brainstorm, not a review or planning session -- all ideas are welcomed and respected, because even those not chosen may lead us to the break-through thinking we need to harness.

Second, for the ideas outside of scope that tend to arise, I create a "parking lot", which confirms to the people who offer them that they have been heard and serves as a gentle reminder for the group to stay on task.

Third, to include those who are less communicative in group settings or due to style, I engage them during the process with specific questions. And conclude the meeting asking people to follow up via email or phone with additional insights.

Finally, I encourage participants to compliment each other during and after the process.   All members of an organization can model creativity producing behaviors and attitudes, and being positive is fundamental.

When the meeting concludes, it is also important to let participants know the next steps.  For a simpler brainstorm, I follow up with circulated notes and schedule a planning discussion.  For a meeting that is being held to prepare a more comprehensive strategy, I add a marketing plan incorporating the knowledge gained with specific action items and metrics so that the effect of any changes can be measured.  The associated actions represent the innovation and the results the demonstrated success.


Tribute to an Inspiring Mentor

We can probably all relate to trouble with a current or former boss  -- lamenting one's superior is common practice; it's the sound of the chorus during Friday happy hours around the globe.

Over the course of one's career, it's not unusual to experience an array of bosses with quite a spectrum of management styles.  On the really tough end of the spectrum there's the mean-spirited low confidence type, the slave-driving workaholic, or one of the characters portrayed in the recent flick, Horrible Bosses.  One of my all time favorite jerk bosses is Lumbergh from the cult classic, Office Space.  (I will admit now that I used the movie as therapy when working for a boss who shall remain nameless.)

There are also the in-between bosses: the low confidence assurance needy but nice guy; the ineffective product of nepotism who wants to succeed but is in way over his head; the gal with one promotion too many; and the woman who is fine -- even likable in her personal life, but so caught up in making the right impression that she forgets that being genuine is a key part of doing so.

Then there are the good, solid managers who motivate, manage with dignity, believe respect must be earned, and work diligently for the team and the organization.  These are the people, like the teachers along the way, who shape us.  While we may not remember all of the details of the relationship, we appreciate the influence on our professional development and have fond memories.

Finally, there is the natural born leader whose spark is so magnetic that we never forget the details.  I'm lucky enough to have worked for someone like this, and his teachings inspire me to this day.

Chris could have been a jerk.  He was a former brand executive from Coca Cola in Atlanta with a really impressive resume including international work experience based in Paris, a MBA from a top school and knowledge of all of the finer things -- wine, art, history, culture. 

Instead, he was a gem.

I was an eager, driven, somewhat cocky 22 year-old woman feeling wonderful about a new dream job at an international wine company and a new Duke degree in psychology (big help for the wine industry) and French (big help in bonding with Chris).

From day one, Chris was a joy to work with.  He knew when to challenge me (frequently), and he knew when to back off.  For example, back then I was used to "pulling all nighters" and finishing semesters -- I hadn't yet learned that work never really finishes, so in my desire to please and perfect, I had a tendency to work very long hours which would render me less effective.  (I'm not sure that I've truly changed this, but as an entrepreneur I at least have a better excuse.)  Chris always encouraged me to find balance and better yet, demonstrated this with the way he lived (and continues to live) his life.

Chris took it upon himself to mentor me -- showing me the foundation of marketing principles and inviting me to understand the creative side of marketing.  (I remember a huge let down when I started studying marketing in business school; it was dry and nothing like the experience Chris created.)  I don't remember him ever talking down to me -- he treated me as an important member of his team.  I also felt supported by him; there was never a hint of inappropriateness and always the right amount of warmth blended with professionalism.

I'm quite sure there were times when he refrained from rolling his eyes at the naivete of my suggestions; instead, he gently explored my rationale and provided insight.  Chris actually made constructive criticism a compliment!  After seeking feedback, I would leave his office  feeling energized, happy and productive.  I still have a treasured book he gave me, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, which is essentially about fostering creativity in organizations, something at which Chris excels.

I loved how he would insist that we leave the office to conduct brainstorms, taste the wine while thinking of ways to sell it (surprisingly uncommon, especially in corporate wine), and always come back to the notion that wine marketing should be both challenging and fun.

I've recently been thinking about why Chris was so influential, probably because I just had the pleasure of seeing him in Napa a month ago, and these points stand out in no particular order:
* collaborative style; warmth -- more like a favorite coach than a boss
* ability to guide in a positive, constructive manner
* excellent listening skills
* respect for the contributions of all team members
* creativity
* enthusiasm
* intelligence; talent
* worldly, informed

* genuine nature
* true passion for his work
* consideration for well being of others

Chris's influence is probably deeper than I know.  If I'd had Lumbergh back then, I would have probably applied to law school as an escape route and abandoned my dreams of running a winery or a wine marketing firm. (Instead, I waited until working in corporate wine to do that, and it was Chris who recommended me to assume the position he was leaving, which was both an honor and a wonderful move for me.)

I only lasted 18 months at that first wine marketing job, not because of any problem with the company -- I was presented with an offer which allowed me to expand and departing was painful.  Chris's influence followed me to the next position and today lives in my company's office and mindset.  I treasure our friendship -- sometimes we get busy and go longer periods than we should without talking, but every time we come together it's an exciting adventure.

If you've haven't worked for "a Chris", may you do so soon.


Grapevine Harvest Issue Articles

Grapevine Magazine featured two articles of mine in its recent Harvest Issue.  "A Winery Leader's Primary Role" examines three common elements as identified by Silicon Valley Bank's Raymond Nasr -- Tradition, Struggle and Absolute Trust.  I tend to find that wineries are sufficient to strong in the first two elements, but may be lacking in the third, Absolute Trust, which is built by having a leadership plan and vision...

"Making Your Winery's Strategy A Reality" is about aligning the two strategies in your business -- implicit and explicit.  Closing gaps between stated vision and reality can solve many a winery issue ranging from low profitability and morale to customer service and retention.


Power of Leadership Style

What is your leadership style and how does it inspire (or deflate) your team?  A winery's culture is influenced by its team members, but begins with the owner or operator's vision for leadership.  As many proprietors enter the industry with a vision to make (rather than sell) wine, leadership style may be a secondary consideration or ignored all together.  Those who do thoughtfully construct a vision and corresponding plan to achieve it tend to enjoy better results according to my experience in the industry.

A recent HBS article by Mitch Maidique examines the six styles of leadership as determined by his Purpose-Driven model.  For wineries with complex teams including vineyard, production, sales, finance and marketing, the Level 5 Builder is my recommendation.  This style looks beyond the Achiever at level 4, who is driven by goal setting and winning, adding a broader approach to "build an institution".  A Builder never reaches the end point-- successful and motivating leadership is a process that requires research, planning, motivation for execution, and reflection. Builders "...have a grand vision for the future of their organizations, and they infect others with their energy, enthusiasm, and integrity."

Maidique notes that people are a blend of the six styles, so there is an element of nature versus nurture at work -- personality and choice affect leadership style.  Since leadership is both a process and mindset, it is important to be aware of your leadership tendencies, and develop a proactive plan to become or enhance the style that will best suit your business.  

Some of my favorite books on leadership include John Wooden's Wooden on Leadership and Good to Great by Jim Collins.   Gaining knowledge about leadership best practices is an excellent start.  The next step is to use independent research to evaluate your company's leadership strengths and challenges, cooperation between team members, and cultural dynamic.  I thoroughly enjoy offering these services and learn immensely each time I'm involved in a visionary project.


Characteristics of Good Design

Recently, while speaking at SOWine2, I had the opportunity to enjoy a design presentation given by Richard Roberts, Creative Director at Palazzo Creative in Seattle.  I was pleased to connect a name and firm with some work I'd already admired -- Palazzo did the re-branding for L'Ecole 41, a known Walla Walla based winery, which I saw during the Taste Washington event held in Portland two months ago. 

Richard noted that good design has three key characteristics: consistency, transferability and ability to project extrinsic cues about the brand promise.  For a new brand, design consistency is about keeping look and feel similar throughout all marketing materials.  (In a broader marketing sense this also means consistent messaging, placement and promotion.)  With an established brand like l'Ecole 41, consistency can be more challenging -- with a redesign, there is a question of what design elements should remain the same and what should stay in the past.  I love how Palazzo maintained the brand's iconic school house image, but elevated its positioning by transforming it into a more serious package with less classic color and polished design.

Transferability means that the design works in different mediums.  For wineries, this typically means that it works for logo, packaging, and marketing materials.  A very important area for wineries to consider is how the design will appear on the shelf.  I've seen beautiful work that just doesn't work given the rather small amount of label "real estate" on wine bottles.  Additionally, fonts and nuances need to be easily translated to other marketing arenas.  L'Ecole 41's new website features its revised logo with the new color palette and tone.  An example of poor transferability would be a wine label that doesn't translate to a website, ad or other collateral.

The ability to project extrinsic cues is perhaps the most challenging since it's multi-dimensional.  The l'Ecole 41 label sends a message of an upscale experience that has an element of the old world but is not stuffy.  It speaks to the very good and consistent quality in the bottle.  When designing for a wine brand, you must always consider what message the design is sending, and make sure that it appeals to the audience of buyers you've targeted.

This of course means that you should start with the buyer in mind... in my next post, I'll discuss how to get the most out of your experience working with designers and creatives.


My WA State Fair Favorites

This month I had the pleasure of judging the Washington State Fair wine competition held annually in Yakima.  Wade Wolfe, noted winemaker who with his wife owns Thurnston Wolf, was my panel's head judge.  Together, the six of us on the panel tasted about 150 wines including white blends, Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignon and dessert style.

Some of my top scoring wines are listed below. (Note that these are not necessarily the medals awarded by the competition.) 

Coyote Canyon Horse Heaven Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - smoky raspberry with slight toffee note; nicely oaked with a herbal character.  Good length.

Kiona Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - raspberry, mocha, peat moss and graphite aromas with cedar, sweet curing tobacco notes;  great structure and length.

Kiona Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - blackberry, cedar, leather -- a deep, inviting notes with tea leaf notes; rich and ripe on the palate; nice structure and finish -- well integrated.

Maryhill Tudor/Gunkel Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - inviting notes with cigar box, blackberry, tea leaf; cool herbal note at palate; good structure.

Windy Point Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - mint, black cherry, boysenberry with a solid structure and pretty finish.

Cougar Crest Cougar Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - cedar, black fruit, graphite -- very pretty!  A hint of a peppery note with a solid finish.

Vin du Lac Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - cedar plank, blackberry, tea leaf with a hint of almond; good length.


Success at SoWine2 - "Secrets" to Creating a Great Industry Event

Yesterday I had the honor and pleasure of presenting "Building a Winning Marketing and Sales Plan" to an enthusiastic audience at SOWine 2.  I was impressed by the enthusiasm, energy and attendance at this second annual event held in Central Point targeting Southern Oregon producers.  In fact, my mind is still racing with thoughts about the knowledge gained from thoughtful audience questions and my colleagues' presentations.

A terrific industry event starts with a strong vision and commitment to planning, organization and service.  It follows through with strong presenters and like a good marketing plan, collects feedback and seeks continuous improvement. If its truly impressive, an event like this leaves attendees and presenters alike feeling energized, connected, educated and ready to take action.

Marilyn Hawkins of Hawkins & Company PR, a b2b PR firm based in Ashland, is the visionary behind SOWine and she gets it!  Marilyn created this event to gather and educate Southern Oregon wine producers (she also owns a small winery there) and her abilities as an event organizer are downright impressive.  This year, to enhance her inaugural program, she partnered with the fast-growing Southern Oregon Wine Institute of Umpqua Community College, directed by the equally energetic Chris Lake.

Below are some of the highlights of my notes:

1. Good design is consistent, transferable, and projects extrinsic cues about the brand promise (the marketing value proposition) - Richard Roberts, Palazzo Creative

2. Don't just "build and blast".  Best practice email marketing starts with a goal, list segmentation, and compelling contest. It includes testing and analysis, focuses on deliverability, and is compliant with CAN-SPAM laws. Terry Miller, CRM Group

3. Consider rotating your email signature to include great press quotes about your winery - Sheila Nicholas, Nicholas Communications

4.  Your social media campaign needs to consider that over 80% of millenials sleep with their smart phones (myself included, although depending on what definition you use, I'm more likely a Gen Xer) - Jeffrey Kingman, Chalkboarder

5.  Before you can build a successful marketing plan, you need to know who you are, to whom you're selling, what differentiates you, when and where you will sell and why anyone should care - moi, Trellis Wine Consulting

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay until the very end of the day, so I missed the late afternoon presentations.  Given my experience at the beginning of the day, I'm confident that they were equally as interesting.  This was a couple of days out of the office well worth taking.


Portland Business Journal's Take on OR Competition

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by writer, Jon Bell, for his Portland Business Journal piece.  I spoke with him about the importance of recognizing the extremely competitive nature of the industry and subsequent need for a strong business plan and marketing effort in addition to great wine that over delivers on value.

Read the full article by visiting my website's News page in the Published articles section.


What Winery Operators Can Learn from Casino Management

Why look to gaming to provide best practices for the wine industry?  Because we're all in the hospitality industry first.  Many in wine prefer to focus on the product attributes (variety, oak treatment, aging time, etc.), but given the tremendous competition, it is much easier to differentiate and sell profitably given a winery's service attributes (customer experience, club member benefits, etc.). 

Oregon provides a great example -- there is a lot of excellent Pinot Noir produced here.  It tends to be costly, relatively scarce and quite similar from a broad consumer perspective.  It is much easier to differentiate based on the winery's story, tasting room/ customer experience and overall brand sentiment and loyalty.

Just like casino hosts, tasting room staff are on the "front line", dealing with customers daily.  Despite excellent training and customer focus, there will always be problems needing solutions and situations needing service recovery.  To achieve a better return on service efforts, a recent Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Casino Payoff piece recommends "freedom within a framework" approach.

Author Dennis Fisher reports that giving casino hosts more autonomy to make customer service and recovery decisions results in better return on investment and enhanced staff knowledge. For example, a host with five years of experience working in a loosely monitored environment gained 32% better return on comp investment than a counterpart working in a tightly controlled environment ($1.82 versus $1.38 for every comp $1).

Therefore, the researchers found that staff who have the opportunity to learn in a more loosely monitored environment encouraging experimentation with reason make better service decisions leading to bottom line profit.

What types of service policies are in place at your winery?  Do you encourage knowledge acquisition through experience realizing that mistakes will be made, or focus too intently on singular experiences and individual one-time errors?  Do your incentive policies encourage innovative thinking?  Do you recognize and reward customer service recovery efforts?


The "Score Revolution"

I recently attended a seminar about wine reviewing during the Washington Wine Commission's Seattle Taste Washington weekend.  Panelists included Sara Schneider, Sunset Magazine, Becky Murphy, Director of the Dallas Morning News wine competition, W. Blake Gray, Gray Market Report blogger and moderator, Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report.  Each described his system for reviewing wines -- 20 points, medals, 100 points and stars, respectively.

A debate about the value of the 100 point score ensued.  Gray argued that he must use the system because that is what the publications for which he writes desire.  Others argued that this scale is skewed, misrepresents some wines (i.e., the lack of 90+ point Sauvignon Blancs relative to number submitted), and is ultimately damaging to the industry and consumers. Christophe Hedges, from Hedges winery, advocates a complete departure with  "Score Revolution". He eloquently described his goal of eliminating all scoring and passed out the below bumper stickers.  A fun way to create awareness of the effort, but I was just surprised to see that the website to which it referring is under construction with no message nor link to the Hedges page. (As a marketer, I always recommend having your materials complete and consistent before launching anything.)

As is typical in an argument, I seek to understand both sides (I'm not a good debater!). In this particular situation given my present and prior posts in the industry, I can personally relate.  As a wine marketer, if a client's wine scores above 90, I am the first to post it on a wide range of marketing materials -- Facebook, product sheets, e-newsletters to consumers and trade (with additional content, of course), website, etc., etc.   Good scores sell wine, especially to distributors and consumers. Period.

However, as a former wine buyer/sommelier and professional taster and competition judge, I do not like this scale.  It doesn't make sense to me given its breadth -- what is the difference between a 10 and a 69, for example?  I don't want to drink either!  A buyer is paid to evaluate, so it's not surprising that she would have her own scale.  (When I worked selling wine, I respected this -- I always had a score or two handy, but I did not immediately present it to the buyer -- this is simply knowing your audience.)

I've always used a simple 1-2-3, where the 1s are average/not distinctive, 2s are solid/interesting/recommended and 3s are something special.  There are of course rare circumstances where a flawed wine is a 0 and spectacular bottling is a 3+, but the vast majority of wines are in the 1 to 3 range.

I once worked for an owner who insisted that all wines had to be above 90 points.  This frustrated me given the sea of beautiful 87-89 wines that would never make the cut -- I used to joke that I would open a shop next door with all of the sub-90 "rejects".  It also encouraged distributor reps to be less than accurate with their score reporting, which in turn created more work for me going into each of the publication's systems having to verify scores.  Despite working within a policy with which I disagreed, I respected it because it was the owner's prerogative.

As an industry member, I at first had conflicting positions given my experiences.  At the end of the day, the only side of this equation that truly matters is the business side -- once again, demand is the star.  If the buyer or the consumer want scores, they will stay.  If they decide to forgo them given better wine education and more polished palates/confidence, the situation will change.  I think it's wonderful that there are a range of scoring types and styles -- it's a free market of sorts, and it should remain so.


Time Management & Customer Service

Today I read an interesting article, Inanity of Immediate Response by Daniel Markovitz, Stanford and Ohio State professor. While written for the Institute of Management Consulting (IMC) members, it also applies to wineries, which are first in the hospitality industry and second in wine production.

Markovitz laments the common consultant cry, "I didn't get anything (strategic) done today because I had to respond to my clients". We all get a flood of communication these days, and it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by the amount, frequency and desire to respond. Since it doesn't look like the tide will recede, those of us serving clients and customers need to re-think how we process all of this communication.

Your inbox and phone should not plan your day -- your brain should. Just because you receive a communication, it doesn't mean you need to interrupt your work, particularly if you are deep in higher level strategy or an important project. (I typically schedule strategic thinking and planning work in the early morning and conduct it with my calendar and email account logged out to resist the urge to check them.)

Instead of constantly checking email throughout the business day, do so on a regular but timely basis -- say every hour or two, or once in the early part of the day and again at the close. If someone has a true emergency, they will phone.

When phone calls with requests come in, schedule the follow up in your calendar and communicate the timeline to your customer while you have his attention (versus the type A urge to drop everything and handle incoming needs immediately). Excellent service does not have to be immediate.

Managers should speak with staff about communication policies and develop a corresponding protocol. For example, phone calls are returned the same business day and emails within 24 hours. In establishing process, you will help your team prioritize which will enhance efficiency, service and ultimately, case sales!


5 Phases of Consulting Process

I'm often asked by potential clients how I will work with them to get a specific result -- for example, improve distribution in a particular region, gain more media recognition, or improve overall sales. Some people are surprised that my approach to brand development/launch and turn around projects is always the same, even though the individual client needs may be quite different.

Delivering superior client ROI is my goal, so the approach I take to achieving it is very important. After a few years in practice, I'm confident that the Institute of Management Consultant's five phase scientific approach is the best out there. (In January, I began an intensive six month course, which is the first step to achieving the Certified Management Consultant designation recognized in 43 countries and awarded to less than one percent of practicing consultants.) It reflects the methodology I've developed as a brand champion over the years and my belief that marketing-driven wineries are more competitive in today's overly crowded market place.

I begin each engagement with the Entry phase, where I meet with a potential client to learn as much as possible about the company vision, goals, issues and concerns. This is also when I ask a series of questions to assess potential mutual fit and gain an understanding about the scope of the project. Next I deliver a proposal outlining goals, deliverables, scope and fees.

Assuming a contract is signed, the next phase, Diagnosis, begins. In this important research-focused period, I gather data using surveys and informational interviews to assess winery strengths and challenges. Then present a report synthesizing these findings and outlining areas for opportunity and challenge, as well as recommended direction.

The third phase is Action Planning, where I deliver a strategic marketing plan that will guide all winery efforts to achieve the client's goals. This detailed plan outlines the 5 W's (who, what, when, where, why) and how results will be measured.

Sometimes potential clients want me to jump directly to what is the fourth phase, Implementation. (In a few engagements, such as a creating a relatively straightforward website in a more limited project, this is possible, but most integrated marketing communications efforts require the full process.) During implementation, I am typically working with a small team to make sure that what is in the marketing plan gets accomplished.

The fifth and final phase is officially called Termination (I prefer Close or Transition). At this point, I've delivered the project as outlined in the original contract, and either need to transition out or create a new engagement letter.

Operating with a defined process enables me to use best practices, manage expectations, provide realistic timelines and ultimately, deliver results.


Make Your Winery's Strategy Your Reality

Strategy is critically important in every business. But it is meaningless if it resides only on paper or worse, "in your head". One of the primary challenges of any owner/ operator faces is how to live his business strategy, aligning goals with successful execution.

A few months ago I read an HBS article interviewing the authors of One Strategy: Organization, Planning and Decision Making - Iansiti of HBS and Sinofsky of Microsoft. Their comments were impressive, and I immediately ordered the book.

In One Strategy we learn that companies have two strategies -- one explicit; the other implicit. The former is what's directed by management and visible in presentations and marketing plans. The latter is reality -- the actual execution of the strategy by team members based on their decisions and behavior.

A winery is therefore "living the strategy" when both explicit and implicit are aligned. Iansiti argues that strategy is a function of the way the company operates: "Strategy therefore becomes the product of the firm's incentives, structures, and patterns of behavior, not the other way around."

Are your winery's compensation structure, processes and patterns conducive to rewarding your team for making your intended strategy your reality? If so, you are achieving and operating as you set out to do and adapting to ever present change in your company and the industry. If not, you are likely struggling with issues ranging from increasing inventory, decreasing sales, operational inefficiency and/or team turnover.

In my practice, I specialize in aligning strategy with results. If you are struggling with these issues, contact me (360.210.5551 or info@trelliswineconsulting.com) to discuss how we can work together to help you achieve your ultimate vision, enhancing sales and efficiency.


Process for Evaluating Marketing Capabilities

In a recent post I discussed the four critical roles of a marketer (instigator, innovator, integrator and implementer) in the context of an article about how GE transformed marketing from a support function to a leading capability driving company growth.

In addition to changing the way it viewed marketing, GE invested time in evaluating its marketing teams and establishing benchmark criteria to guide success and development. Their system can be applied to the way the wine industry evaluates its marketing efforts.

The key capability areas were identified as follows:
* strategy and innovation
* branding and communications
* segmentation and targeting
* value creation and pricing
* sales force effectiveness (this can be internal and external)
* new world skills (think technology, CRM and social media)
* market knowledge
* commercial activation

In each capability area, GE outlines important skills which total 35 for all capabilities. For example, in market knowledge, key skills are the ability to identify trends, collect and manage data, analyze markets and recommend directions.

In breaking down the marketing function into capabilities and relevant supporting skills, wineries can identify strengths, challenges, and areas with competitive advantage. This practice can help focus the person(s) charged with the marketing role toward greater efficacy and efficiency -- leaving more time to build relationships and drive sales.


The Problem with Bosses

In a recent HBS working paper, Linda Hill, Harvard business school professor and author of the widely read, Becoming a Manager, discusses her latest book, Being the Boss. She outlines three imperatives for managers including self management, team management and network management. Hill also critiques relying on formal authority as a management technique. I look forward to reading her new book and in the meantime, give some thought to what it means to be a boss versus a manager versus or leader.

The word "boss" has always bothered me. It isn't encouraging and seems somewhat dismissive. Perhaps this is because I've heard too many "bosses" use phrases like "because I'm the boss" or ask "who is the boss" rhetorically when their authority is questioned.

It takes only a title to be a boss. To be a manager, you must have a philosophy of team building and development, and work to create an environment that breeds success. To be a leader, you must additionally have a compelling vision and a glowing energy or attractive force made possible by your love of and respect for the "game" and your "players". In the latter two cases, formal authority is rarely, if ever used.

In addition to a compelling vision and motivational style, a strong leader engages his team in creating goals and expectations. When these are co-created versus handed down, "buy in", or true commitment is possible. Once there is a clear game plan, a leader creates a measurement and rewards system, and processes for providing and receiving regular constructive feedback. A strong leader encourages and models integrity, open communication, respect and commitment. She celebrates successes and seeks to gain knowledge from failure versus judge or over react. She works with humility, understanding and empathy, but balances these humanist values with strong business focus. And most of all, she is always learning, seeking to improve her understanding, skill and knowledge base.


A Winery Leader's Primary Role

Wineries operate with many different structures. Smaller ventures tend to have the "mom and pop" (or just mom or pop) doing everything from vinifying to selling to books. Medium-sized wineries typically either have a President, GM or shared management team, and larger corporations employ officers with ranks of reporting teams and divisions. In every structure type, there is a primary role for the leader or leadership team -- creating and helping implement the vision.

I often write about the importance of operating with a strategic business plan. At the heart of these plans is the leader's vision for success and his or her plan for achieving it. In a recent Silicon Valley Bank blog, Raymond Nasr, Director of Wine Programs, discusses "What Makes Entrepreneurs and Winemakers Tick". He identifies three common elements -- Tradition, Absolute Trust and Struggle, and compares cites examples of best practices in the tech and wine industries.

Wineries are typically pretty good at developing Tradition given the annual celebration of harvest and natural inclination to share great meals with beautiful wines. It's a fun, passionate industry so tradition is almost a given. The only structure type where I've witnessed struggle with meaningful traditions is the corporate winery given the constant M&A activity, role changing and other factors.

Wineries are also naturals at incorporating the Struggle element. Any time Mother Nature is a key player in an industry, there is challenge. Add vineyard maturity, the relative high cost of goods sold and slow inventory turn, and incredible competition necessitating investment in brand marketing and sales, to the equation and the industry is ripe with struggle.

What I find lacking in many wine businesses, especially in small to medium-sized organizations, is the Absolute Trust part of Nasr's equation. To have absolute trust among people, there must be a compelling vision and plan to achieve it. Many operators in the industry are most concerned with the art of producing wine -- not the equally important art and business of selling it. This tendency can create additional financial strain and risk, and human resource issues, further adding to the Struggle and eroding Tradition.

In my practice, I help wineries improve Absolute Trust in three steps: 1)by creating or helping to create a vision and strategic plan; 2) then developing specific goals and performance incentives tied to the plan, which helps focus and align teams; 3) and finally, designing processes to track progress, celebrate successes and swiftly and professionally deal with challenges.

When you have a fully engaged, high performing team, beyond expectations results are both possible and common! And that this starts with the vision and plan should be inspiring to owners and operators -- it's very doable, just a matter of whether you are willing to commit to the process.