Wednesday, October 23, 2019

SVB Industry Research: The New Deal

Winning A Battle

The Annual SVB Industry Survey is closed. I've never posted those words on a blog before because that has never been news. But last Friday, because of the lack of industry response, I was convinced this would be SVB's last survey and in another first, I had to let the industry know that.

I interpreted the continuing annual trend of fewer survey responses as the industry making a universal statement that our research wasn't worth spending the 13 minutes it takes on average to complete it. I can't analyze blank cells, so without a response from wineries, I can't write the Annual State of the Industry Report with the same level of analytic support. How else am I to interpret the disastrous survey response?

I knew last Friday if I couldn't get at least 200 more responses in the 4 remaining days of this 3-week survey, there was no sense in continuing, and this was going to be the last survey the bank would produce - and the good news is I would get my November and December holidays back! So the close of the survey has now apparently become news to many people, including my family. How did we end up with responses?

Survey Results

The bad news is I am still working through Christmas. The good news is the response was far better than I imagined. I am actually amazed!

We went from 377 responses when I released the blog, to 845 when the survey closed Tuesday at midnight! You can see the final raw results in the lead chart by clicking on the picture.

The industry voted by more than doubling the number of surveys we had prior! Through social media, email, text, phone calls and comments on the blog, I was told in no uncertain terms that the industry wanted to see SVB continue with our annual report and survey.

I had people connect with me from direct bank competitors, from reporters and the media, from wine organizations - people from across all wine regions, across the country, and in several countries in Europe. Apparently, this is important after all? I thought that was the case but with this experience, I had doubts.

Though we collectively rescued the survey and ruined my holidays in the process, the question has to be asked: Why did the message and survey response move from apathy one day, to determined action the next? 

The answer is I haven't done a good enough job of explaining the industry responsibility in this research partnership, and I have been misreading the value the industry placed in getting the data in exchange for taking the survey.

Why the Disconnect?

As I pointed out in the blog post from Friday, everyone is busy. Time is short, especially during harvest. We all make choices in how we use our precious time.

With every survey over the past several years, there have been a certain number of people who have made the personal choice to not participate in the survey. It's been in small measured and consistent amounts each year. Noting the trend, we spent more money and increased the way we messaged, thinking that we weren't getting through to let people know the survey was open.

Looking at it from a fictitious winery's point of view: Winery ABC doesn't participate in one year for whatever reason, but they didn't really read the survey output anyway. They wanted the big-picture results but still ended up getting the major findings from the survey in the Annual Videocast and State of the Industry Report. So for this winery, they conclude they don't get anything from the survey. They get a lot from the research we do but it didn't matter if they participated or not. The smoke was still going up the chimney and that reinforced that winery's inaction. Why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free ... to repurpose an old adage.

The Wrong Value Proposition

We have been giving respondents - what we thought was a valuable incentive for completing the survey, but that was a misread. We give the full set of anonymized data and about 75 charts and analytics only to respondents. But guess what? We discovered in our last DtC survey that 2/3ds of the industry don't analyze their data! We've been giving the industry detailed data and information they generally don't use. The industry prefers Cliff's Notes.

Data, which should be highly valuable to an industry in transition, apparently isn't sufficient incentive to participate and complete this survey generally speaking. That's surprising to me but appears to be reality for many.

Over time, it's become clear the industry has come to believe this initiative is Silicon Valley Bank's responsibility instead of a partnership. We prosecuted all the research as if it were a core part of our business and the way we make money. That's the way we do everything here. But in the process of doing more than expected, everyone supposed we would always deliver. We haven't been fair in explaining your part in this partnership.

The New Deal For SVB Research

After this survey, we hear loud and clear the industry values our research and no, we aren't going to start charging for it. But we do need to change the balance of responsibility.

I see this survey thing a little like voting for public office. Voting is a moral responsibility that supports our freedom. But many people believe their individual vote doesn't matter. Generally, that's true, from the point of view that an election isn't normally decided by a single vote. But the cumulative impact matters when enough people think their vote doesn't matter and they don't vote. Then we get a surprise in an election. At that point, people hit the social media panic button ... but it's a little too late.

It's the same thing with our research. Your vote matters. If you find value in what we do for the industry in our reports, I believe you have a moral responsibility to contribute to the success in research and complete a survey.

To be clear - this was never intended to be a for-profit SVB initiative. This was intended as an industry partnership.

Going forward, I am proposing a new deal. Hopefully being more clear about what it will take for SVB to continue on with our decades of research, will keep us all from ending up where we were last Friday. We will do our part, but we need people in the industry to take responsibility for two basic things:

  1. When a survey is open, we ask that EVERYONE who wants to see us continue to do this, push the survey links out on social media, and then ask your colleagues to take the survey. Please use your voices and connections and take this on yourself as a responsibility, important for industry success. Please promote the survey when it's open.
  2. Take the surveys. Simple as that. No excuses. It doesn't matter that you don't get anything out of the survey output. If you get something from the State of the Industry Report, please find 13 minutes in a three week period and take the survey.
If none of this convinces you to jump in and partner with us, that's ok. I accept that not everyone will find value in what we do. My warning is that when enough people feel that way, we will stop producing research and I will get my holidays back and continue on with my full-time job.

If you do find value in what we do, please don't wait to see us close our research efforts before deciding to be a part of this industry solution. 

What's Your Opinion?

  • Will you partner with us to promote when surveys open, and in so doing get the industry the research it needs? (... here's where you say "I do.")
  • Do you have another point of view? (... here is where you post a comment.)
Please join this site on the top right-hand side of the page, and offer your thoughts below. I respond to everyone.

Please share this post on your favorite social media platform. Let's have a practice run and get this messaging out to the industry so we never get to this point again.


  1. Congrats Rob - it looks like your last post did a great job of getting the word out!

    1. Thanks Steve. I'm hoping the characterization of this being an information partnership with the industry will resonate on the next survey and I'm not spending time prodding the industry to participate in something they say they value.

      We've done all we can do to beg people to participate and support the industry, but in the end - people have to make it a priority and realize this information isn't found anywhere else, and is cited endlessly in other research. If this ends, nobody else is going to spend the kind of money we do to continue on with this.

      If any part of this is useful to a winery, the cost of getting it is spending a few minutes completing a survey. That's the deal.

  2. Rob - thanks so much for taking the time to create and analyze the survey each year. We have completed the survey for the past three years, and have always appreciated the results and your analysis. That said, we were unable to complete the survey this year because the timing fell right in the middle of harvest in Oregon. As a small boutique winery (3000 cases) with no employees, it’s hard enough to just respond to e-mails during harvest. We would gladly complete the survey at a different time of year as we do get value from the data you publish. Thanks!!

    1. Hazelfern
      I understand the perspective. Harvest is the worst time from a time management perspective to do this, but if people want the results for planning in January, this is the only time we can do the survey. If we do it in November, the results will come out in late February or March and that's not valuable for planning being a full quarter into the year.

      We are asking for 13 minutes - the average time to complete this survey, somewhere in a 3 week period. I can find 13 minutes for something that I am passionate about or find critical to success.

      While I again sympathize and know how hard our winery partners work during harvest and how little sleep they get, and know that is an issue with taking this survey - we have the exact same issue with the lack of participation with the DtC survey in April, when it's not harvest.

  3. I cant fo the survey myself, as I'm a consultant, not a winery, but I did send the message out via our company page to encourage wineries to participate.

    1. Liz
      Thank you. That is precisely the kind of personal action I am asking people to take. If someone gets value from the survey or the State of the Industry Report (coming January 14th in 2020), the cost is taking the survey and/or participating in pushing out notification the survey is open.

      There are so many reasons to do, or not do something. In the end, we do what we find of value and the industry has to grasp that the work we put in has a personal cost of participation ... 13 minutes to complete a survey and pressing out the new the survey is open.

      Again - thanks for being an industry leader and spreading the news and encouraging others to take the survey!

  4. Great to see fellow wineries stepping up with the survey responses, and sorry that it took this effort.

    For me, personally, I printed the survey PDF you offered and used it as a worksheet to get my answers ready. (I like that method!) I got "stuck" on the first question regarding our case output, as it has been changing, and had to shelf my work until I could go through our bottling records. What would help next time, is that if you already know the buckets you will be reporting on, then perhaps you could set up that question as multiple choice as you do with many others. That way I could have quickly chosen the bucket pretty quickly. (Guess that's asking you to do MORE work! Sorry and thanks!)

    But thanks again, Rob, because this really is important.

    - Jon

    1. Jon
      Thanks for doing the survey.

      You are asking something that actually makes the analysis easier for certain functions and at other times we have taken that path. There is a trade-off though.

      When people use this information to benchmark, that's where a closer number instead of a range makes for better understanding. Beyond that, when we are computing averages, having the range produces a heavy expected error because we have to take the mid-point of a bucket instead of the actual production number.

      For instance, if we decide to compute average production figures for a region, we have to default to the middle of the range bucket to arrive at a decision. We get much better information, even if the winery guesses a little, when they enter a number instead of a range.

      Beyond that, I suspect if we actually had ranges again, someone would freeze on that and wonder if they should enter the less than 2,500 bucket or the between 2,500-5,000 bucket. The key is knowing - withing tolerance, how much wine you produce and I can't help there.

      Thanks again for the support and taking the survey. We all benefit when we share together like this.

  5. So good to hear the response picked up. Your state of the industry is the only report of it's kind in our industry and I will continue to do my part in this partnership. Thanks Rob for the kick in the pants we all needed. That adage better than..."thanks for lighting a fire" at this time ;)

    1. Unk 3:40 - Thanks for taking the survey. Light a fire is a bad choice of words in N. Cal today. Either way, that's not a job I want and I hope I don't have to do it again.

      I know that I need to be better in messaging to the industry that this is an information partnership. If someone benefits from the survey or the State of the Industry Report, they have a moral obligation to promote the survey to wineries and take it themselves if they are a winery. It's really not a lot to ask.

  6. Glad the wineries stepped up and took this survey. I can't think of a more important one in the industry overall. You rock!

    1. Thanks for the support Chris.

      What I need to do is convince everyone in the industry to promote open surveys on their social channels. Everyone has a part to play in getting this working successfully. And man - does the industry need all the help it can get these days to make decisions!

  7. I look forward to all of the SVB reports whenever they are published. Your work is immensely valuable to this industry! Although I was too late this year (I am new in my role) - I will make sure our winery participates next year.

    1. Thanks Chris. I appreciate the intent. If I can just get those who feel they get value for what we do, realize the cost is a little time with a survey, we can keep doing this for some time.

      Appreciate your support!

  8. Glad to see that so many stepped up to the plate. I sent out an email to our list, and a second "last call" email after reading your Friday post. Since I serve the small, family wineries, I know how hard it is to find information that is relevant to that segment. To make it easier for folks, I even included a video to show them how to pull the info from their QuickBooks files.

    The Annual Report is so important and useful, I use it with a couple of wineries to finalize the annual budget and forecast. Thank you to your and your team, and sorry for ruining your holiday. Cheers!

    1. Jeanette - Happy to ruin my holiday if it's something the industry will support. Hard to analyze blanks. Sincerely appreciate what you did to encourage participation. That's really cool!