To be sold is to be liked

I came across an article in Food & Wine in which Lettie Teague follows three different distributors on their sales calls. One line in particular caught my eye, spoken as it was by the most accomplished salesperson:

“I’m in the business of selling personalities.
I represent winemakers, not just their wines.
If I don’t like someone, I can’t sell their wines.”

Parsing this nugget, three things are clear to me: 1) Winemakers are expected to provide their wines with personality. That is, it’s not just what’s in the glass, as winemakers are fond of saying. 2) Not every winemaker has a winning personality. Hell, most don’t even have a compelling story. 3) No personality = no sale.

If what I just said is something that every winemaker already knows, then why do I always get funny looks when I tell them they need spend more time articulating their brand? Why when it’s the exact same thing?

Maybe if they understood how — without a compelling story, without a brand — it’s nearly impossible for all the other folks who sell their wine (brokers, distributors, retailers and waiters) to do their job. With no symbolic attributes — that is, whatever ideas you can attach to a wine — there is no point of differentiation, no meaning, no feeling.

Very few wines have value propositions that they can reliably sell on. A high score. A low price. A desirable provenance. A celebrated winemaker. Since most wine marketers can’t think beyond these attributes, they cling to them, saying things that are either untrue or unimportant. And in either case, saying things that are undifferentiated.

This is no way to sell.