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Recruiting and Retaining Talented People

Matthew Johnson, SVP and National Sales Manager for Opici Wines, outlined some of the crucial steps for organizations to improve recruiting & retaining.


In the wine and spirits industry, recruiting and retaining the right people is critical. That’s especially true for members of your sales team, who are on the front lines of selling your product, says Matthew Johnson, SVP and National Sales Manager for Opici Wines. At the ABID Conference in New York, he outlined some of the crucial steps that organizations can take to improve their recruiting and retaining practices.

5 steps to better recruiting

Based on his own experience in the industry, Johnson outlined five key recruiting practices that importers and distributors can use to find the very best talent. First and most importantly, he says, you should start looking for talent with your distributors. After all, they have a vested interest in your success. And when you reach out to them for recruitment ideas, it shows that you have trust and faith in them. The “frontline for hiring,” says Johnson, should always be your distributors.

The next step is to reach out to your supplier peers. Your supplier network will usually be aware of the great talent that is trying to find a new job elsewhere and can help you put candidates on your radar long before the hiring process starts. The best part about reaching out to suppliers, says Johnson, is that they will give you “the real truth” about candidates because they have no legal ties to them and can afford to be candid.

The third step that you should take is to post jobs as frequently as possible, as widely as possible. “Post, post, and post some more,” advises Johnson. The best places to post your job openings, he says, are industry-specific job sites like That’s because people looking for jobs on those sites are already likely to be in the business, and you won’t have to worry about getting replies from candidates without any previous relevant experience. Other helpful sites include and

“Trust your instincts,” says Johnson. The more you know about a candidate, the more you can understand his or her goals. “Go with your gut” is the best advice. After all, sales are all about likeability, and you will usually be best off if you choose to hire candidates that you like from the outset. “You can train for business acumen,” says Johnson, “but not for personality.”

And, finally, Johnson says that you need to be cognizant and empathetic. “Only put a person in a position where they will succeed.” And you should also be very careful about not drawing out an interview process for too long, otherwise, candidates will simply go elsewhere. At most, there should be three rounds of interviews. For example, you might have an interview with a regional manager, a divisional manager and then the ownership of the company.

8 steps to better retaining

Once you’ve hired the very best talent, how can you ensure that they will stick around? To answer that question, Johnson outlined a few practical steps to retaining the very best talent.

First and most importantly, you need to pay competitively. If not, you will only get entry-level people. “Your best talent knows their worth,” say Johnson. Thus, if you are offering them 10, 20 or 30% below market rate for their salary, they will eventually end up leaving and you will lose them.

Next, you need to offer a good benefits package. You should think of your employees as your family, and make efforts to provide them with great medical coverage and other benefits.

In terms of compensation, Johnson advises creating an “achievable bonus target” that sales professionals can reach. The bonus target should not be easy to reach, but it should not be impossible each. If employees reach their goals and are rewarded, they will achieve them over and over again, advises Johnson.

You should also establish a culture of trust in your organization. That means you should trust your sales staff. Give them room to create their own schedules and the flexibility to achieve goals in ways that make sense to them. If you don’t have trust in your sales team, says Johnson, then you aren’t hiring properly.

You also need to give your team a clear direction and proper training. There’s nothing worse for employee morale than people not knowing what they should be doing. And you should also give them the training to grow in their jobs. “The more they know,” says Johnson, “the more they do.” So if your sales team needs a few wine classes to learn more about the products they are selling, offer them.

Another key retaining tactic is giving credit when credit is due. The worst thing senior leadership can do, says Johnson, is taking credit for someone else’s success. So if members of your sales team are doing noteworthy, creative or productive things, make everyone else aware of it. “People will fight to be in the spotlight,” says Johnson.

You also need to take into account travel, weekends, and long hours, and how all of these factors impact families and significant others. It’s best to create a “family atmosphere” at a company, says Johnson.

And, finally, you need to focus on the growth plans of team members. Continually rate team members, and see who consistently comes out on top. Those are the people that you can accelerate career plans. And, likewise, see who continually scores near the bottom. Those are the people that might need more guidance and resources.

Final thoughts on recruiting and retaining

In terms of finding the best talent, the best sources for potential hires are distributors and supplier peers. Johnson notes that it might be tempting to ask sales accounts for possible ideas, but that this practice often backfires. If they provide a name, and you don’t hire that person, you could end up looking bad. In a worst-case scenario, you might end up losing that account in the future.

One final tip that Johnson provides is that you should be willing and able to move quickly during the hiring process. Limit the rounds of interviews, and be fully aware that candidates have families depending on them. So treat them with respect, and look for candidates with the right career goals. You don’t want to hire candidates who view your job as only a “stepping stone” to something bigger – instead, you want candidates who are looking forward to building a long-future future with your company.

Overall, the two-day ABID Conference in New York City provided a detailed, comprehensive, and eye-opening approach to the U.S. import and distribution business. Participants walked away with real, actionable steps on how to grow their business and optimize its future profitability.

2020 ABID super early bird offer is now on! The event is on May 26-27, 2020 in New York. Register here to book your seats at the lowest price. Offer ends August 31, 2019.