Selling Wine and Spirits: The Art of Pairing Bottles with Personality Types

Puzzled young woman choosing wine

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Updated May 24, 2024

Buying wine, liquor, cannabis, cigars, beer, and most new foods is like choosing a book without reading it first. You decide on labels, descriptions, recommendations, or personal preferences.

While brick-and-mortar stores offer a tactile, sensory environment, retailers of food, drink, or specialty items—like wine or cannabis—face a unique challenge. Shoppers can't sip all the wine on the sales floor, so brands rely on evocative label pictures and descriptions to help consumers find their perfect match.

But for many of us - like me - it can still be overwhelming, so you revert to what you already know.

Sure, you can have events to feature a new bottle of Cabernet on a Friday night, but what happens at 7 pm on a Tuesday? It can be like that avocado you bring home for guacamole that night, only to discover it is rotten.

Or like buying a suit without being able to see it first. What to do, then?

In a store, customer experience is paramount.

Just as sommeliers pair food and wine, the retail frontline is tasked to pair customers with the wines they'll love—wines they may never have considered on their own. That's the only way to get them to buy more and boost sales. 

The Intersection of Personality and Preference

For decades, personality styles have been an indispensable tool for determining what kind of presentation to use to connect with customers. However, this tool is only half the equation. To turn the casual browser into a satisfied customer, specialty retailers must apply an understanding of personality styles to their product knowledge.

While four personality styles apply well to retail, the Driver, the Analytical, the Expressive, and the Amiable, we’ll focus on two that are opposites. Find yours in the quiz below.

Take the Sales Personality Quiz

The Driver

The Driver personality style is characterized by the desire for control and efficiency. They appreciate direct, results-oriented communication and want to avoid being bogged down with small talk or excessive details. A salesperson going on about pretty pictures or personal stories of growers can be a turn-off. When dealing with Drivers, it's about getting straight to the point—WIFM—what’s in it for me.

You could suggest wines like Bordeaux, Brunello, and Burgundy—the stalwarts of the wine world—to them. These wines command respect and offer the kind of assuredness that Drivers seek. Yet, to add real value, you could suggest lesser-known but equally complex and high-status wines such as a robust Rioja or a bold Barolo to. Remember Driver personalities believe in buying the best, not the best deal.

The Amiable

Amiable customers value relationships and harmony. They prefer people who can build rapport and trust; then they can be open to opinions or recommendations. Offering them the most popular, crowd-pleasing wines such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Cabernet Sauvignon might initially seem sensible.

To truly engage an Amiable, however, you might suggest wines with a story behind them—a family-run vineyard or an environmentally friendly winemaker. This added narrative helps to foster connection and will likely resonate with Amiable's inherent values. But not everyone wants to know that the grapes were picked under the Harvest Moon by virgins in the south of France on a family farm run by two lepers.

Your Sales Process: The Path to Discovery

Understanding the customer's personality style is crucial, as is knowing when and how to introduce new and unexpected options. Here are some key points in the sales process where this could happen:

Listening and Learning

Before diving into suggestions, engage customers in conversation to understand their preferences. Use open-ended questions to prompt insights into their wine history, likes, and dislikes. The key is for this not to feel like an interview.

Once you have rapport, you could give them a quick three-question quiz on a small clipboard to help you connect further. This initial stage builds rapport and can reveal essential information – I hate that, I love that, which will help guide your recommendations.

Educate and Inspire

Once you've identified the customer's personality type and wine preferences, you can begin to educate them about similar alternatives they may enjoy. Think about the old, “If you like that, you’ll like this.” Use analogies and storytelling to make the process fun and engaging. Remember, you are a guide, not a lecturer—keep it interactive.

I’m a gin guy, so when I’m at a spirits store, I usually must lead the conversation, “I like a sophisticated gin like Botanist, but if I have to, I can settle for Sapphire; what do you have?” That makes me do all the work. It would be so much better if someone took the time to get out from behind the counter and grab the reins of the sale. Using an analogy, they could say I have a new gin, like a lighter Motown sound compared to the heaviness of Sapphire in a smokey blues club.

The challenge with all of this is that your words have to do the hard work of engaging the mind via the shopper's ears, not the tongue.

So many fail because they revert to: This is on sale this week.

The Art of Suggestion

Based on your insights, suggest wines, spirits, cannabis, or chocolate that align with the customer's taste and offer something new. Avoid too many choices and make them feel part of the discovery process. For instance, "If you enjoy Bordeaux, you might be intrigued by this Rioja. It offers similar robustness but with a unique Spanish twist."

Post-Sale Follow Up

Reach out to customers after their purchase to find out how they enjoyed the wine, spirit, or cannabis. This not only aids relationship building but provides valuable feedback to refine your approach. That’s why every spirits, wine, beer, and gourmet food retailer should have a robust CRM to track preferences and mine the data for recommendations.

In Sum

The complex world of retail wine, food, and cannabis sales requires more than just product knowledge. It calls for understanding the drivers of personality traits coupled with a strategic sales process. By creating a selling environment that blends psychology, education, and discovery, you can connect customers with products they'll love—adding value and helping protect yourself from online discount competitors.

The evolution of your approach to sales continues beyond here. Continuous learning and adaptation, based on customer feedback will ensure your continued success.

By marrying customer personality styles with product profiles, you can take your customers on a journey of wine discovery—one bottle at a time.

How can you read your customers' personality styles? We have a whole course on it that covers not just customers but also employees and leadership styles. 

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