The art of personalized service

Remarkable. That’s what I first thought when I finished reading the article about David Rosen, in the July/August 2010 issue of the Inc Magazine. After I finished reading it, I had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with David and he graciously agreed to conduct a quick interview for By the way, one of David’s first comments to me was: “Nice to be featured in the same column as Steve Jobs!” But let me tell you, that was not a coincidence. (Did I mention how I actually don’t believe in the whole coincidence concept? No? Well now you know.) You see, I feel that David Rosen and Steve Jobs have a lot in common:
First, they both make hard things easy.
Second, they both understand that style is substance.
And third, they both understand that feelings are the most important facts.

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Jenan: David, thank you once again for doing this interview – I really appreciate it. Your story is very captivating and very easy to retell. How did you get to be so easy to understand?

David: First of all, thanks so much for your column, Jenan. You’ve got a terrific website. I suppose my ability to communicate effectively comes from a number of places. First of all, having spent so many years as a performer, I’m used to getting messages across, and seeing immediate feedback. I also have given many seminars and presentations over the years in a variety of fields, and if you’re willing to be self-observant, you can see what works and doesn’t. And I’ve also taught high school and college kids, and they are the most reliable BS-meters anywhere! If you’re not genuine with them, you’re toast…

I really cringe at bad phone/internet/email/in-person/tv/etc…. sales folks, so I work very hard to make sure that I communicate in ways that are genuine and focused and do my best to always talk to people the way I would want to be spoken to. Since so much of my communication is on the phone, all I have is the sound of my voice and the words I use. Both have to be genuine or I’m not being authentic. And people recognize that, appreciate it, and respond very well to it.

I also love playing with the language, both in email and in speaking. There are LOTS of fun ways you can turn a phrase. Helps break people out of the moment, gets their attention, it’s playful, and shows I’m confident enough in what I’m offering to be willing to have fun with it.

Jenan: How do you set so snugly and deeply your simple core message of value in your marketing assets?

David: Snugly and deeply… Oooooooo, now see there’s some fun with language right there! Well, wine by nature is an enjoyable product to sell. It’s pleasing to people, and it’s something that generates warm fuzzies all by itself. So if I call you at your office in the middle of a day of annoying paperwork and start talking about a Cabernet with lush black cherry, sweet plums, velvety blackberry, mocha and toasty oak… this is likely going to be a verrrrrrry nice distraction!

The core value of my offering is essentially three-fold. One, the quality of the wines. We’re in a unique situation in that we’re not like a wholesaler or distributor and we don’t have to carry any particular wine we don’t like, even different releases from the same producer. All of our wines are created by very small boutique wineries doing extremely limited production, so they’re all really well made (whether they’re $10 or $100). Plus almost all of them would never be available locally for any of my clients. Two, I really DO give very personalized service. That’s an extremely over-used phrase, but the reality is that the only way this works is if I keep extensive notes in a database, and continue to refine my choices for folks. It’s a combination of keeping lots of good data, and being intuitively good at matching wines to people’s tastes after 15+ years of listening to people describe what they like and don’t like. Three, there is a real convenience (and fun) to getting to the point where you trust your Wine Guy enough to shoot me a quick email or text and say, “I’m ready, work your magic” and a week later a case or two of wonderful new wines show up at their door.

Jenan: Very few people are comfortable asking for referrals. How do you actually ask for a referral?

David: As I mentioned in the article, I think it’s important to wait until you’ve gained their trust. You need to be willing to be patient, because there is a very squeaky line between being Mr. Proactive and Mr. Annoying. And that line of course is different for each client. Some are more playful, some more serious. When I ask for referrals, I generally say something along the lines of “now that you’ve got a good feel for what I do, and the quality of the wines, do you know of any other folks you think may be interested?” And I remind them that for anyone they suggest who becomes a client, they get a free bottle of wine, which is a very nice motivator. But the reality is that as long as they trust that I am not going to bang away on their good friend or business associate (or Aunt Martha in Des Moines), a referral from The Wine Guy is generally a fun thing for them to pass along, because my service is so unique that most folks don’t even know such a thing exists.

Over the years I have very consciously devoted a good portion of my time to nurturing new business and expanding my client base for a couple of reasons. One is that you’re always going to have attrition, that’s normal. So it’s healthy to keep new clients coming into the mix. But the other is that with a good healthy database, as a commission-only sales guy, I wanted to never have to feel any pressure to hard-sell anyone. And having the depth of clients that I do, if someone’s not ready, I can simply leave them be as long as they need and not feel as though my livelihood depends on pushing them.

Jenan: What perception do you want your customers to hold when they think of your business?

David: I’d like them to feel as though they are being dealt with fairly, honestly, and that I’m offering them something totally cool that they would never find otherwise. I’d also like them to enjoy talking (or emailing) with me. I like to entertain them a bit. I feel as though I owe all of my clients more than just spending their money, because they are giving me the opportunity to stay in business. And that means a lot to me, and I want them to get something back for it beyond just the wines. I have some incredibly close friendships with people all over the country that I have worked with for years and have never met. It’s totally cool.

Jenan: Any advice for someone considering starting a niche business? (I often refer to this as the “If I started today…” segment.)

David: First of all: KNOW YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION. Before you dive in, figure out what you honestly need to survive: how much, how soon and for how long. If you’re starting a business, you’re investing your own (and likely other people’s) money. How long will your savings last? How long are you (and your significant others) willing to keep at this without money coming in? How much needs to come in and how soon? Don’t “ballpark” it, be honest with yourself. You can do the math. You have XXX in bills and expenses, and XXX in cash on hand. Figure out what you need to sell in what time-frame to stay afloat. It is MUCH MUCH easier (note the Double Much) to sell when you’re not feeling desperate! And if you don’t know what you need, you’ll be trying to sell against some nebulous number that will make you nuts. So first and foremost, figure out what you make per sale, and then break that down to a weekly and daily set of goals and you may be very surprised how do-able it is. (IMPORTANT: USE NET #s SO YOU ARE CALCULATING YOUR REAL INCOME AFTER TAXES.)

My other advice would be to be as candid and honest with yourself about what you’re offering. Do people really want or need it? Are you offering something that’s not currently out there, or does it offer it in a better or less expensive way? Get opinions from people you trust who won’t BS you. Fantasy ideas can be realllllllly expensive lessons to learn, so BE HONEST with yourself.

And finally: who is going to sell it, and TO WHOM? Who is your market? How are you going to reach them? Can you sell? Do you like people, or do you find them all annoying? Are you cynical and sarcastic? If so, stop. Do not pass Go. Because you won’t collect $200, that’s for sure. But if you DO love people, and believe you’ve got something worthwhile, and have crunched the numbers, and have the support of those in your life this will impact — GO FOR IT. Dive in with everything you’ve got, and make it happen.

Jenan: Thank you David!

To contact David please visit

July 2010