SANTA ROSA -- VinoPro is sprouting new salespeople almost as fast as the spring shoots supplying grapes to the company's growing cellar of clients.

[caption id="attachment_56112" align="alignright" width="324" caption="Lori Adams, vice president of operations, and Jeff Stevenson, chief executive officer"][/caption]

Formerly called Provino, the wine telesales outsourcing company now develops and maintains consumer relationships for 50 brands, selling several million dollars of wine annually. To do that and accommodate a client waiting list stretching through October, VinoPro (707-396-5000, vinopro.com) has grown to a staff of more than 50, with 20 "personal wine stewards" joining just this month, doubled the size of its Santa Rosa offices with a lease of 4,000 more square feet.

"I can't hire fast enough," said Jeff Stevenson, founder, president and chief executive officer. Yet finding candidates who are socially intelligent for this kind of work is challenging, he said.  (The company recruiting website is sellwinenow.com.)

Since picking up new investors in early 2011, the 4-year-old company has signed a number of long-term service contracts, including Treasury Wine Estates' portfolio, St. Francis in Sonoma Valley and returning customer Benziger Family Winery also in Sonoma Valley, according to Mr. Stevenson. Existing customers include dozens of brands in the portfolios of Jackson Family Wines and Constellation Brands.

The business continues to expand as more and more wineries discover incremental profits in a professional approach to selling over the telephone. 

"We're outselling the tasting rooms and websites of the brands we work for," Mr. Stevenson said.  

In the past year, VinoPro claims to have tripled sales for its clients. The key to garnering discretionary sales in the "high-touch" ultrapremium and luxury wine business is connecting people with people, Mr. Stevenson said.

Using proprietary customer relationship management software developed the six-person programming staff led by Chief Technology Officer Erin Loy, VinoPro "personal wine stewards" handle up to 400 calls a day. Each call shows the proper Caller ID for the winery on outgoing calls and connecting the incoming caller with the correct "steward," all without 2,500 dedicated phone lines that could be needed for 50 brands and 50 salespeople.

VinoPro "stewards" reconnect clients' customers with the brands they tasted on a trip to Wine Country, update them on winery news and new releases and recommend other brands within a company's portfolio that fit a consumer's taste preferences.

That relationship-building takes time. New salespeople start with two weeks of training before they take to the phones and work with one brand initially. It might take a few calls to the consumer before a sale, but consumers who buy get to continue their relationship with the salesperson. Experienced salespeople can handle as many as a dozen brands at a time and earn $100,000 to $150,000 a year. Recently, one aficionado purchased $205,000 of wine during a call.

Consumer relationships can curb club attrition, according to Mr. Stevenson. One large company with a number of brands had its membership falloff rate across all brands fall from 25 percent to 11 percent in less than a year and a half.

“By using our advanced selling process and dedicated customer relationship efforts, it’s as if we created a huge wine club for them out of thin air just by talking to wine club customers,” Mr. Stevenson said.

A number of service providers -- order-fulfillment houses, enterprise software developers and telesales companies -- are actively targeting direct-to-consumer wine sales, as the channnel has grown rapidly since the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Granholm started opening more markets nationwide at a time when distribution channels have been becoming more constricted. For example, Napa-based WineDirect acquired outsourced telesales company Call for Wine.