Written By:
Chris Deutschman
Sales Manager, Elite Brands

We really love what we do—and everything that surrounds our industry, products, people, and culture. We are not selling paper, am I right? That love and passion fuels our hunger for learning and drives much of our programming for continuing education. Every week, classes are in session as our team is diving into some sort of educational programming or learning opportunity. Here is how we have taken a learning approach to our culture and how our team embraces a growth mindset of learning.

At Elite, we have taken a pretty nerdy approach to our learning initiatives. Our team is certainly not full of former straight A students or anything, but we have found a true appreciation and hunger for learning in the topics that we have all devoted our careers to. Whether it is cracking open a bottle and its history or challenging ourselves to be better people, we see our educational programming as a key foundation of our team’s core values. As such, we will cover a wide variety of topics every week as we lean on lesson plans from our curriculum bank, seminars from our company leaders and outside professionals, seasonal opportunities, suggestions from our team, supplier involvement, and hot topics happening in our industry.

So, what are we geeking out about these days? Our team works hard behind the scenes to create and lead engaging topics that are both relevant and valuable. In the last year, we have tackled everything from a mixology class, a book study on Influence, a breakdown of Sake, and even full on blind tastings across dozens of styles/regions. We’ve had winemakers show us their vineyards as the winter winds howled through their video call, a city by city breakdown of Scotland and Scotch by an expert that dove into the crazy intricacies between regions and bottles, and of course we tour the breweries, wineries, and distilleries of our brand partners as we immerse ourselves first-hand in technique, terroir, innovation, and styles. Considering in our sales world where we spend so much of our time on our own in the market, we are really grateful for the opportunity to get together regularly as a team in a fun environment to learn, bond, and challenge each other in subjects we all truly appreciate.

Our most routine and important learning opportunities happen every Friday, where we spend around 2 hours every week in a classroom environment digging deep into a specific topic. While we work to limit the time our team spends in an office (or in a Zoom meeting), we’ve found a great balance in “going back to school” on Friday mornings before heading back into the market to support our territories. During each session, we’ve designed a curriculum of topics that promote our learning in either product (how everything is made, origin stories, how to taste/approach/sell), location (terroir, styles, regional differences, old vs new world), brand specific (the people, stories, tours, ingredients, innovation, and more of our supplier partners), sales approach (book studies, sales psychology, self-improvement, positive habits), or industry (news, regulations, seasonal events).

We also have more opportunities for learning throughout the week as well, including more focused team training sessions, spending valuable field-time with our seasoned managers and specialists, and engaging our team to listen, read, and watch the library of resources available to us. Our team can spend a lot of time behind a windshield, so while the occasional music or sports radio can be found on in our cars, many on our team also share a love for using podcasts and audiobooks – much like a “do-it-yourself MBA.”

From great reads (listens) on topics like Grit and Culture to ongoing podcasts like Brewbound and Business Wars, our team makes the most out of our drive times. Plus, we love talking about and sharing our favorite articles, videos, documentaries, and more. Using Yvon Chouinard’s (the founder of Patagonia), weekly 15-5 team habit (I highly recommend a quick Google if you manage people), we have a continual stream of ideas, suggestions, and feedback loops to share among our whole team.)

Meet the Teachers

We do not wear tweed jackets with elbow patches, nor do we pretend that we can command a classroom (at least not as much as the hero teachers that teach our kids), but we sure do our best to pretend to be professors at Elite University. We also take the ancient saying to heart, “it takes a village to raise a distributor,” (that’s how the saying goes, right?) as we lean on different members of our team to create, guide, and lead specific topics and classes. This includes an incredible wine curriculum from our Wine Sales Manager, deep dives on sales and products from our Regional Sales Managers, history lessons from our staff “historians,” best practices and workshops with our tenured team members, a ton of sales theory, marketing, technology, and positive habits from myself, and topics from our team members’ areas of greatest strength, experience, and knowledge. It is truly an open curriculum designed to engage our team to learn and to empower our leaders to teach. Plus, I think these sorts of values bleed into everything else we do. Whether it is how we pitch products with more of a teacher’s lens or how we approach our industry with an understanding of the history and science behind it, we hope our growth mindset to learn and teach helps us be better partners for you, and ultimately, help your business thrive even more!

We also lean heavily on our amazing suppliers. One of reasons we believe our supplier partners are the best is the breadth of knowledge, experience, and care that they bring to this trade. From a lifetime of experience in their own family business, to iconic brewmasters like Garrett Oliver and winemakers like Cody Wright, to all our amazing “feet-on-the-street” sales pros that rock the market, our supplier partners include some of the most hard-working, bright, dedicated, and genuine individuals in the industry. As such, we look to leverage these amazing people to our advantage and work to book as much time with our supplier partners as possible. This includes hosting educational sessions where our supplier reps deep dive into their brand, new products, promotions, and innovations, and longer sessions with out-of-state (and out-of-country) partners to truly deep dive into their brand through tours, history lessons, team introductions, product breakdowns, and more. Honestly, there is nothing truer and more authentic to our industry than drinking at 10am with the wonderfully broken translations of our incredible brand partners around the globe.

Connecting through Zoom & a Library of Lessons

Covid-19 has certainly affected the way we approach our educational programs too. We went from longer, and more intensive, in-person meetings where we would taste through dozens of products, discuss each other’s tasting notes in a roundtable environment, all while diving into topics with collaboration, handouts, maps, and interaction. Now, we have learned to adapt to a 100% screen environment over Zoom with 30+ people in small boxes. We deal with bad connections, we drink every time someone is trying to talk while muted, and we break pretty much every cardinal sin of Zoom as we figure things out.

While we manage with the limitations of online learning and transition our format to more of a lecture-style of environment, we do our best to still include interactive elements, small team breakout sessions (an incredibly valuable tool over Zoom), and have even found ways of tasting with the group. It has been an excellent challenge, and in the end, we believe we will be stronger for it – and have some great takeaways and new traditions to incorporate in the future. Plus, all our efforts to figure out online learning has created the opportunity for us to improve how we record and use these educational sessions for future uses. This has been a huge asset for our sales teams; while in-person is ideal, our folks are not always able to attend these sessions if they have sales calls, tastings, events, etc. Now, our team can access all our classes and seminars on their schedule without missing a beat. Plus, this massive library of recorded sessions will be used in training, development, new hire orientation, and more. While we may not be like the pros on MasterClass (or at least we have not tried yet), we have found a ton of value in having this library of content.

Want to learn more?

We invite you and your team to tap into our learning energy and educational programming. Whether it is allowing us to host your team (or customers) in a specific training or seminar, sharing any of our educational videos, materials, or recommendations with you, setting up time with our suppliers to deep dive into a brand or style, or anything else you can think of, we are here to support the educational initiatives that best fit your business and goals.