How Robust is Your Outreach Program?

How Robust is Your Outreach Program?

Bribery or Bonus?

A fair amount of outrage has grown recently about the topic of ‘bribing’ gatekeepers (by gatekeepers we mean concierge at hotels, other wineries’ staff, drivers, restaurant wait staff or host/hostess, etc.).  What you ask???  Are some wineries actually paying gatekeepers to send us qualified customers?

Bribery is defined as money or any other valuable consideration given or promised to persuade or induce a particular behavior. Corruption need not be present. As any parent or dog-owner knows, bribes work! If we give them a ‘treat’ we get the behavior we want… ideally.

Competition is Fierce

We need to think about ‘gatekeeper bribery’ in a different way.  How is this different from commissions for sales that we payout to staff every month?  We don’t think about those commissions as bribes. This is no different. We are incenting the behavior we want – great customer referrals – and paying for these referrals with rewards.

The dilution of visitor traffic in our industry is rampant.  Every month there are new wineries opening, and guest traffic overall isn’t really growing much, so just to maintain our sales we must fight for each and every customer. Gatekeepers are a wonderful source of referrals, and therefore, maintaining great relationships with them is of paramount importance.

Create a System that Works

We must put a system in place to measure our results so that we know if we are achieving our goals in order to justify continuing the program and to know we are able to ‘fish where the fish are’.

  • Start with a laser-like focus on capturing the referral source for each guest
  • Monitor guest sales and loyalty by the source to see which gatekeepers send us the winners (aka ‘qualified traffic’)

While this is an important part of each tasting room host’s job responsibilities, some wineries are paying an incentive to staff to capture this key referral information.  Is this a bribe or is this a bonus?

Once we have cleared our mindset about this topic, let’s make it a formal program.  There are two relationships at stake here – one with the gatekeeper personally, and one with their business.

 Reward Individually

  • If we reward the gatekeeper, their business will be happy that the gatekeeper can make more money/wine/other rewards, and they don’t have to pay for it. It allows for immediate rewards for behavior – we all know if it’s delayed too long, it loses its impact on reinforcing the behavior.
  • For example, if a specific host at a winery sends us guests to our winery who buys a lot of wine/join the club, then we need to reward that host as soon as possible. Just dropping off a bottle of wine to the winery isn’t as effective, impactful, or powerful as handing ‘John’ a bottle of wine for recommending and sending great new guests…that same day.
  • When the concierge moves on to another business, they will remember us and continue to refer. We now have doubled our network of referrals because we will also develop a relationship with the new concierge. And thus, our business continues to grow.

The key here is to make it personal, consistent and immediate and grow the network of people who will refer qualified guests to us.


Gatekeeper relations programs might include: thank you notes, pizza on Fri evening for front desk staff or limo drivers, VIP tastings for key referrers, unique offers for guests and/or tastings at hotels & B&Bs, trainings at local restaurants, offer a relaxing place for limo drivers, schedule regular ‘special events’ at the winery for the gatekeepers to sell, etc.

Some wineries have created wine clubs for trade.  From there it’s just a short hop to expanding on that idea to create a true loyalty program for our referrers.  As with any other program, we need to decide what we can afford for rewards, and then we can explain features and benefits – how it will work and how rewards will be paid.

Best Practices for Gaining Referrals

As a reminder, here are five WISE best practices for building relationships with key gatekeepers and gaining referrals:

  1. Create a target list of desirable outreach partners who are key influencers – both current and aspirational partners.
  2. Formally decide on the top 10 to 25 accounts to focus on first
  3. Set up categories and assign source key codes
  4. Track partner referral performance in detail
  5. Develop a special, unique offer that is easy for our partners to sell

Gatekeepers also get tips from their customers directly, so it’s in their best interest to send them to all the A-list places where they will have a great time.  Email marketing to gatekeepers is a must to let them know about all the terrific experiences their guests will have at our place.  Events, special offers available only at our tasting room, new releases, photos, location, map, phone, and email address are key components we will want to include in our communication.  Ideally, we will do this weekly. Thursday updates to local gatekeepers about weekend appointment openings will help our concierges direct their clients to our wineries.  When those customers buy wine or join the club, we want to reward the referrer.  Bribery or bonus?

Are we really upset about bribing in general, or are we just upset because we didn’t think of it first?  Consider how healthy your program is and ways that you can be more competitive in a shrinking market.