E. & J. Gallo Winery, one of the largest winemaking operations in the world, was faced with the classic sales education problem — ensuring its sales team and distributors were knowledgeable about its products. Gallo needed to provide information about its wines and reinforce a customer perception of Gallo as a supplier of world-class wines, not just the “best priced” wines. The company also saw the need to educate anyone in the industry on wines and wine making. This would help Gallo achieve its goal of becoming a resource for the entire wine community.

Previously, Gallo used instructor-led training and came face to face with some classic problems with this approach. These included an inability to train more than a fraction of its audience; an inability to reach all distributors, given their geographic locations; high travel costs for instructors and participants; and reduced sales productivity due to time spent training rather than selling. As Gallo struggled to reach its own people through the classroom, the company also was falling short of its goal to educate the entire wine community.

In response to these issues, Pat Dodd, Gallo’s director of marketing, fine wine education and training, created an online sales training site: the Gallo Wine Academy. In April 2002, Gallo launched the first training module, for its Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel. Gallo then compared sales of Rancho Zabaco in regions that received the training against sales in a control region that did not receive training. Gallo was pleased to see there was a significant increase in sales in the regions that received training.

A little over five years later, the Gallo Wine Academy has more than 9,000 users (with participation doubling during the past two years) and has courses about multiple Gallo brands and 10 wine-producing regions, as well as courses about wine varieties, wine sales and service, wine growing and wine making.

Several factors have contributed to this success, but the most important factor has been the content of the courses, which was immediately beneficial to the distributors, focusing on the knowledge they needed to best represent the Gallo brand in the marketplace. Content is updated frequently, ensuring the Wine Academy remains current, as well as encouraging revisitation to the site. An “Ask an Expert” feature allows students to submit a question to a wine expert.

The Wine Academy is designed for busy wine distributors. Because the training is online, it is easily accessible and can be taken as time is available. Online learning is the only way to economically reach so many people. Also, a bookmarking feature allows learners to leave the course and then automatically return to the place they left off — an important feature for a busy distributor.

Additionally, Gallo’s partnership with the Society of Wine Educators (SWE) also has driven the success of the program. Students use the Gallo Wine Academy to prepare themselves for the SWE’s Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) exam. This incentive draws many wine experts to the Wine Academy and lends the Wine Academy credibility in the wine community.

Push and pull worked together here. By developing a course that met learning needs by partnering with the Society of Wine Educators, Gallo was able to achieve high levels of participation and equip Gallo distributors with critical knowledge they needed in order to be effective.


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