gno•sis (ˈnoʊ sɪs) n.
Knowledge of spiritual matters; mystical knowledge.

Let’s face it...

few people know how to “sell” in the liquor industry. When I entered this industry from the technology sales field, I was appalled at the lack of insight, methodology, process and product knowledge that distributor sales forces, and most brands, were displaying and practicing. Relying on “relationship” selling that is rooted in the post-Prohibition “gangster” era and heightened during the days of the Seagram’s empire, liquor sales people have low retention rates and an even worse productivity record on the street. The profession was spoiled by decades of being programmed by multi-national spirits company with a fat marketing budget and thousands of units of “vodka” to lay out at a low price. They forced route salesperson to shoehorn, dump and deal at favored spots in exchange for favors to be named later. But in the era of premium and small, hand-sell items, you actually have to know how to sell. And selling isn’t about steak knives and Cadillacs, ala Glengarry Glen Ross.

Its no longer A-B-C “Always Be Closing”.

Now it’s A-B-V: “Always Bring Value”.

Learning how to sell, one of the most difficult yet rewarding jobs in America, is typically passed down as oral tradition: young, inexperienced people are given a tour of the marketplace by a more experienced manager or veteran and told just to “do what I do, you’ll be fine”. Is it any wonder that the sales profession is considered lowly in the minds of most buyers, retailers and bar professionals? Few retailers and fewer bar managers trust them as a result. The sight of a thousand flailing arms all trying to keep their heads above water is the new normal of the marketplace.

And what perpetuates this condition? At worst, hubris and lack of commitment on the part of sales management. No one wants to admit that they came up the same way, as to do so would expose their own lack of insight into the art of selling and inability to adapt to the new paradigm. Most liquor sales managers, of all of the different marketplaces, place a premium on “do as I say”, style of management-by-fiat and Excel spreadsheet. And no one wants to invest in real training in their salesforce for fear of losing them to someone else.

Its time to bring this to an end.

Combined with a ground level understanding of market forces that produce true sales momentum, the goal of Spirit-Gnosis is to take learning out of the abstract and into the practical, and to convert product pushers into consultants.  This class will provide every sales organization the necessary knowledge to demonstrate and maintain a leadership profile with their customers as well as their brands.  Knowledge is valued by every part of the supply chain, it is a key component of trust.  And trust creates sales.


Using either the distributor's current spirits portfolio or a brand’s single product offering as the core, I'll create and execute a customized training program for the entire salesforce.  It takes place in two parts, in either one day or 2 days in a row: 

Part One: Spirits Mastery

  • Definitions of spirits: vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, brandies, vermouth, grappa, etc.

  • Process of spirits making and what that means to the brands you carry

  • History and effects of types of distillation: pot still, column, hybrid, Charentais, etc.

  • Wood effects, maturation effects, cultural effects on flavor and taste

  • Balancing competing or complementary brands in a portfolio

  • Cultural, religious and economic influences on spirits creation and production

Part Two: Getting to Yes

  • Creating a team and individual sales methodology that has meaning

  • Customer Relationship Management

  • Brand introduction and followup

  • Working with the brand story as a wedge

  • Pricing as a competitive tool

  • Working with a supplier/brand rep

  • Psychology of sales and how to use it without being a douchebag

  • Objection handling: effective use of the trial close

  • How to “read”: the shelves, the back bar, the buyer

  • How to gain, and keep, trust

  • Time management: How to make sure you feel like you accomplished something at week's end

Additionally, an engagement can offer the following

  • A train-the-trainer program if the wholesaler or sales organization has in-house education staff

  • Courseware and reference guides

  • Follow ups and updates to allow for new products

This training was a success…We have a lot of trainers in here, this was by far the best we’ve ever had…very productive. Your energy level was impressive, you had everyone engaged and the clarity of your material was easily understood. It went by too fast, so much so that we would love to have you back.
— Jay Frary, GM, Blueprint Spirits
Robin effectively trained on positioning, perception and connection to get the job done. Our team was fired-up post our training session. I can positively say Robin leaves a lasting impression. He is captivating and direct. Robin isn’t scared to tell you what you need to hear. My personal success and growth doubled in a matter of months. I am very proud to have a mentor with the experience and direction which Robin brings to the table. He cares about your success.
— Nikki Preiss, VP Sales, Preiss Imports


A Shared Culture of Knowledge

I believe in creating a culture of shared knowledge. As part of the Unified Vision of Knowledge, Whiskey-Gnosis focuses on the selling of the value of the salesperson as consultant as the foundation of brand training.

If knowledge is the key to sales;
And all sales is a service:
Then knowledge is a service that creates sales.

A Sales Allegory:

We brought this to your garden to grow and multiply...

We brought this to your garden to grow and multiply... we weren't expecting this! we weren't expecting this!

Something for distributors to consider, from a small brand's perspective: imagine showing up in someone's garden bringing a beautifully groomed potted plant, carefully nurtured, watered and pruned, ready to grow and multiply there.

But the soil is deficient, lacking the necessary minerals and vitamins, or it may be full of mineral content meant for other types of plantlife. When you return, you find no growth or worse: it's become brown, dry and choked by weeds, or overrun by competing growth.

roulette wheel.jpeg

Something for the small brand to consider: distributors are expecting you to show up prepared for the marketplace, to speak their language and ideally, with resources on your own to help build your brand. It is unreasonable to expect them to build their sales plan around you. You must be prepared to engage the marketplace with resources: money, time and people. They own the casino and the house always has the odds. Your job is not to lose your shirt.

A few points for both to consider…

  • The refrain of "lack of knowledge" is so prevalent in every market I've worked in the US it's practically symphonic: the complaint comes from retailers, bartenders, general managers and, most importantly, the brands themselves. With the internet in the palm of our hands, knowledge is no longer an option, it is essential.

  • The consumer public of 2018 is hungry for category knowledge and unique narratives of brands as a means of differentiation in an increasingly saturated spirits market.

  • The smaller producers must do their part by producing the best possible product and wrapping it in a narrative that is compelling, resilient, true and full of life.

  • But the sales force as a whole must fully galvanize around them to truly deliver on a brand's potential. They must now be as conversant in spirits knowledge as they were in wine knowledge 30 years ago.

“For our growing sales force at Catoctin Creek, the opportunity to receive an in-depth, informative sales training from a professional with the credentials and experience that Robin Robinson brings to bear is invaluable. Robin challenged us to seriously reconsider our approach to sales.“
Chad Robinson, National Sales Director, Catoctin Creek Spirits

Where has Spirits-Gnosis been successful? See Clients


  1. Pernod-Ricard’s “100 Proof” small brand seminars

  2. Moonshine University’s “I Just Made Some Whiskey…Now What?”

  3. Tales of the Cocktail’s “A Career in Sales: Are you Kidding Me?”