Meet the Man behind the BBG VA Wine and Spirits Training Program

Dec. 29, 2015

As the Breakthru Beverage Director of Learning and Development for the state of Virginia, Rob Baxter manages the educational progress of the state’s employees across job functions. With 22 years in the industry, including time spent as a Sales Representative, Field Sales Manager, and Key Accounts Manager, Baxter possesses a strong understanding of what it takes to be an effective agent in the field, – applying his experience to his role in the organization for the past four years.

“Often, I work with our Field Sales Managers to offer another set of eyes for them in the field,” said Baxter. “My goal when working with our field sales managers is simple: to help ensure they are providing our sales representatives with the developmental coaching they need in order to maximize their potential as a sales professional, and prepare them for the next step in their career. It’s referred to as our ‘Building Leaders’ initiative. Our Field Sales Managers are all very dedicated to their teams, and tend to make my job very easy.”

BBG Virginia’s devotion to training a Sales Force that is equipped to consult retail, bar and restaurants customers in smart and nimble business decisions makes it a hallmark program in the local industry. Currently, all Sales Representatives receive comprehensive product knowledge training through the WSET’s Internationally-recognized curriculum, and sales training through the WSSM/TOPS in-house curriculum.  

Under Baxter’s lead, each new Sales Representative attends the six week sales skills course on wine and spirits sales and merchandising (WSSM/TOPS) that involves everything from preparation for a sales presentation to merchandizing standards. Subsequently, each new member of the Sales team must also take the WSET Level 2 Wine and Spirits course, which lasts 8 weeks and culminates in a final exam and an internationally recognized certification. In addition, Baxter utilizes his DDI certification and facilitates various workshops related to coaching, management development and communication skills.

“I feel both of these programs offer a much more intense curriculum than what is the industry standard,” said Baxter. “We stress that it doesn’t matter how much rapport the Sales Representative may have with a customer, it’s important to have all of your market research done, have your materials in order and make a presentation on the merit of the brand. We pride ourselves on making sure our team is properly prepared.”

As a new generation of LDA wine and spirits consumers chart new trends and territories in the industry, arming sales teams to act as helpful consultants is more important than ever. Baxter believes that the value of a comprehensive, continuing emphasis on development and training can be seen prominently in Breakthru’s imprint on the local markets within both On and Off Premise accounts.

“We train our teams so that they’re able to make recommendations that create an impact,” said Baxter. “Our teams can confidently provide a recommendation to a restaurateur who wants to feature a wine that their customers can’t find at the grocery store or an independent retailer looking to develop a base of mid-tier labels. Across the board, we’re seeing that consumers are drinking less but selecting more high-end.”

Though a traditional wine education may be intimidating at first glance, Baxter aims to make the trainings approachable by offering simple advice. “I tell them: Relax,” he said. “Forget all the rules, this is supposed to be a fun job. Sell the story behind the wine, that’s a big part of what the customer wants.” 

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