HR Management & Compliance

How Training Can Help a Nontraditional Business Model Succeed

Guest columnist, Ryan O’Connell, confesses at® that sometimes it’s necessary to strip away all the preconceived notions about how to succeed in an industry, reshuffle roles, and take an untraditional approach to change things for the better. That’s even true—maybe especially true—in industries as steeped in tradition as winemaking.

At, O’Connell says his company knew there had to be a better way—and we knew it had to start with how we trained our people.

Empowering Winemakers to Make Wine

It seems like a no-brainer—pay winemakers to make wine! But in practical terms, it’s more difficult to change the role of the winemaker than it is to redirect the sales team to serve as sales shepherds. In the typical wine industry business model, winemakers spend half their time selling their product rather than following their true calling. Breaking out of that system meant we had to find experienced, talented, proven winemakers who were tired of hawking product rather than following their vision in the vineyard.

That part was relatively simple, as most winemakers get into that field to make wine. And we allow our winemakers to chat directly with wine drinkers who already enjoy drinking their wine—that’s much more exciting than “ride-alongs” with salespeople hitting retailer after retailer to try to penetrate new markets and dealing with the same old problems.

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Turning Customer Service into Customer Happiness

If a typical wine business wants to stand like a gatekeeper between the winemaker and wine drinker, we decided we would do the opposite. Instead of getting in the way, talking down to the consumer and pretending that constitutes service, we would try to fade into the background and facilitate a real bond between winemakers and wine drinkers.

Let’s say a customer calls in and asks a technical question about a wine. Most companies have scripts prepared, so their call center can be located in Timbuktu, and somebody who has never tasted the wine can respond to the call, close the query, and provide customer “service.” We approach this differently.

The people answering the phone at Naked HQ are going to have personal recommendations and experience with the wines. They will have tasted the wine, often in a session led by the winemakers themselves. They will have the opportunity to intern at the winery and be involved in the production of the wine. By using their training in the winemaking business, they will make the customers feel like they have direct access to an industry insider. And they will not need a script.

We don’t want to just provide a service. We want customers to feel like they’re part of the wine business. That’s why we don’t actually have a customer service team—it’s a customer happiness team. It requires investment in training and a new way of thinking about roles, but it’s worth it.

It’s an untraditional approach, but it has proven highly successful, enabling us to sell 25 million bottles of wine to 2.5 million customers worldwide. By stripping away old thinking about how wine is produced, discovered, and distributed, is changing the industry, transforming sales sharks into sales shepherds, giving talented winemakers the support to pursue their vision, and allowing customers to be industry insiders.

Ryan O’Connell is a twenty-something French transplant winemaker. His internationally acclaimed family vineyard faced real financial hardship until it was saved by crowdfunding. Ryan now spreads the “crowdfunding love” far and wide. Ryan’s experience as a grape grower, winemaker, and crowd-funder give him a unique perspective as the marketing manager at

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Effective Training Available Now

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