Selling as Meaningful Conversation

Investing in Your Staff is Key

The term “upsell” carries a double entendre of implied meanings. To some, it infers profits; to others, It’s a greedy and offensive sales tactic. Your experience with upselling will bias your sentiment towards it; nonetheless, both associations carry some level of truth. The trouble lies with how upselling is handled: are you upselling solely for profit, or are you upselling to enhance your customers’ experience? Fortunately, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive; the catch 22 is that you have to shift your focus away from profits, and towards your customer. Elevate their experience, and you will gain their trust and loyalty, leading to referrals and repeat business.

Incentivize your staff to put this knowledge into action on the floor.

What does it look like to elevate a customer experience in a liquor store? As a private market, Alberta has no shortage of product in the world of liquor and wine. Liquor stores’ selections are abundant and ever-changing. With such freedom, however, comes responsibility. You and your staff must be able to navigate and converse about these products with ease and expertise.

Who are you Putting in Front of Your Customers?

Staff knowledge is absolutely critical to engaging with customers in a meaningful way. If you walk into a liquor store looking for a bottle of red wine to go with your duck, and the staff member auto-points to an $80 bottle of Pinot Noir with no explanation, you’ll be underwhelmed to say the least, if not offended or embarrassed if you hadn’t wanted to spend over $30. Alternatively, were you to walk in with the same question, and the staff member enquires about your personal taste, what you are serving with the duck as well as your price point, suddenly your engagement is piqued. From there the conversation could lead to a dialogue about whether this $30 village-level Burgundy might fall flat against the tomatoes and olives in the dish, but here is a stellar $42 Chianti that could be a bold alternative. Wine amateurs and savvy pros alike will be impressed as they feel heard and engaged, and that impression will draw them back.
Spirits are no different. Having confidence navigating a conversation around single malt, single grain, and single barrel whiskey is a necessity when some chain stores host a wall of hundreds of different brands and styles, and allows you to accurately lead the customer to the right purchase. Clarifying the differences between Tanqueray London Dry, Tanqueray Ten, and Tanqueray Special Dry, and their respective production methods, profiles, and qualities, will empower the customer to understand where their money is going and appreciate what they are getting in return. If you want your customers to feel comfortable spending more money, your staff must be able to justify why product X is pricier than its counterpart.

Create Staff Experts

Investing in staff is a hugely underutilized business strategy, both for enhancing customer experience, and for staff retention. It is easy to place the responsibility on your staff to learn on their own accord, time, and money, or to only hire employees who have credentials on their resume. But if you want to put the right experience in front of your customers, this is your chance to acknowledge the power you have, as an employer, to customize your own staff experts. If you take the time to know your staff, discover what motivates them, and empower them with your trust and investment, you will regain control of the boat, and navigate your sales in any direction you want.
There are many ways to invest in and educate your employees. Depending on the scope of your business and the staff you have on hand, you can get creative with your methods, or individualize them for each employee. The key is holding your employees accountable. If you offer to pay for an employee’s WSET Diploma, a 2-year course that costs $10,000, this should align with a time commitment from the employee to your business (should they leave before 2 years, the course would need to be paid back, etc.). If you choose to reward an employee with a Napa Valley weekend wine tour, have the employee share what they learned with other staff upon their return. Host product seminars regularly (most liquor brands have ambassadors or reps who will gladly host for you) and incentivize your staff to put this knowledge into action on the floor.

Having confidence navigating a conversation around single malt, single grain, and single barrel whiskey is a necessity.

Education Options

So where do you educate your staff, and which courses should you use? Proper classroom education is important for building a foundation. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses offer relevant textbook content on wine and spirit production around the world, in addition to building on tasting techniques, and classes include tasting through thoughtfully selected and classic expressions of wines and spirits from around the world. That said, there is huge merit in the tangible experience of being on-site in a winery or distillery with the proprietors themselves, so don’t be afraid to complement classroom education with trips. Talk to your reps, and perhaps offer a trip to the Okanagan Valley as a prize for employees with top sales.
Note that in 2019, the WSET is splitting Wine and Spirits apart, to allow for deeper content exploration in the world of spirits (an excellent improvement). So these courses are bound to change over the next few months, as course divisions occur. Courses range from WSET 1, a fundamentals course on basic level wine knowledge, to Diplomas, French Wine Scholars, and courses on the Business of Wine. Visit to see a full list of courses available in Calgary and Edmonton.
Successful upselling manifests naturally when your staff engages in meaningful dialogue with your customers. You can know every customer buying trend and hard-selling technique in the world, but it will all fall flat under an employee who doesn’t know the product.