According to a report by Wines & Vines and ShipCompliant, U.S. wineries shipped 3.18 million cases directly to consumers in 2012. Of that volume, direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales have grown by 12 percent annually, almost three times faster than total industry sales.

DTC sales can be as much as 30 percent to 50 percent more profitable for wineries than conventional wholesale channels with true relationship-based selling emerging as the fastest growing segment of all DTC sales.

Over the next year, VinoPro will use this quarterly column to explore DTC best practices gleaned from our years of success in the business of selling premium and ultrapremium wine.Importance of data capture

I’ll start with tackling the (lack of) data collection. Data collection or “data capture” is crucial to effective customer relationship management (CRM) and DTC sales, as these functions are completely dependent on being able to connect with your customer on an ongoing basis. Simply put, without accurate contact information, you can’t connect.

If your customer leaves your tasting room without giving you personal data, you are virtually watching years of lucrative sales walk out the door. Make sure your entire tasting room staff is educated to be acutely aware of this. Make data collection a quintessential part of every visitor’s experience and every tasting room employee’s responsibility.What kind of data to collect

"It's far more valuable to get a phone number from a customer (versus an email) because you can initiate a personal relationship over the phone, and personal relationships are what sell premium wines," says Tim Wallace, president of Benziger Family Winery. Make phone number data capture a top priority. While emails are still valuable, most customers experience email burnout.

Phone numbers, on the other hand, are of high value since they open the door for connecting with customers on an ongoing and very personal level. The higher the price of the wine the more important a personal shopper experience is for customers. You simply cannot deliver a personal shopper experience via email.Make it a win-win

The challenge, especially in an era where personal privacy is so highly valued, is how to motivate your tasting room customer to willingly, even happily, surrender their personal information?

“Whether in the form of fun, entertainment, or incentive, the key is: You have to give your customers something in order to get them to do something. There must be an exchange of value,” says Devin Joshua of Judd’s Hill Winery.

At Judd’s Hill, data is collected using a formal “reservation confirmation” that each guest is asked to complete upon their arrival for a reserved tasting. Whether it’s a tasting card that is fun to complete, complimentary shipping on their next order, or a special reserve pour they get just by filling out a customer information card, use incentives to motivate visitors to leave their contact information.Make it fun

Something as simple as rewriting your tasting room card to express the character of your winery can make it fun to fill out and can help boost engagement. Think of questions people will have fun answering rather than just providing blanks for name, address, email and phone number. One Healdsburg tasting room is rumored to be installing photo booth in its tasting room. Visitors must enter their email and phone number into the booth’s kiosk in order to print pictures. Whitehall Lane has even gone high tech using slick iPads to entice visitors to sign up. Flora Springs asks visitors to leave their business cards with a guess as to how many corks are in a jar in order to win a magnum of wine.Incent your team

People do what they’re rewarded to do. Some of our clients incent their tasting room staff to collect data. They pay their staff $5 if they collect a telephone number and $2 -- or nothing -- if they just collect an email address. Why? Our analysis and data show that on average, email addresses are worth less than $1 each but a single phone number is worth more than $85.Easy fixes

Don’t forget that for buyers of wines over $25, your most frequent buyer is between 48-60 years old; our data proves this to be true. These buyers are already deluged with emails, and contrary to what many would have you believe, they mostly use Facebook to share pictures of their grandkids, not to buy wine.

A couple of easy ways to increase your data-capture success with little or no effort:Make sure to include “phone number” as a required field on all website orders.Or, consider running a data updating campaign over email. Send an email to your entire list asking for phone numbers and incentivize responses with a shipping cost waiver or complimentary tasting the next time they visit.Finally, be sure to look at every contact point with your customers as an opportunity to collect and/or update their data.•••

Jeff Stevenson is the chief executive officer of VinoPro (VinoPro.com), a Santa Rosa-based direct-to-consumer wine sales, marketing and technology solutions company. VinoPro telephone representatives sell wines for Constellation Brands, Jackson Family Wines, Treasury Wine Estates, Iron Horse Winery, Benzinger Family Winery and many other brands. The company recently was named to the Inc. 5000 list for 1,810 percent sales growth over the past three years.