Information Solutions for the Beverage Alcohol Industry
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Customer Relationship Management

Essential CRM for the Wine and Spirits Industries

Why is there a need for CRM solutions in the Beverage Alcohol Marketplace?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications and tools have been prevalent in numerous industries for a number of years. Recently, there has been a surge in interest in CRM tools for the wine and spirits industries. Why has this occurred and how can CRM tools add value for beverage alcohol (BevAl) sales and marketing organizations?

Given the consolidation amongst wholesale distributors in the BevAl market, the distributors that remain are now managing enormous product portfolios. The size of their portfolios precludes distributors from focusing on all but the largest suppliers and brands. Thus, unless suppliers become much more actively involved in overseeing the management of their portfolios in individual local markets, they run the risk that their brands will get little attention. Therefore, suppliers have become much more involved in selling directly to trade and managing the retail marketplace for their brands. Furthermore, in difficult economic times, suppliers typically require more market intelligence to conduct ROI analysis around field sales activities. A CRM platform can effectively address these requirements.

What do BevAl suppliers need to track and measure with CRM tools? There are a number of things that wine and spirits suppliers would like to be able to understand more effectively including:
  • Direct relationships with contacts at key retail accounts
  • Assessing and managing the best target accounts in major metro markets
  • Who are the decision-makers at key accounts?
  • How are various key accounts using their brands?
  • What specific activities has their sales team undertaken to drive business within an account?
  • Which customers are new, lost, shrinking, and growing in terms of case sales?

As in all industries, BevAl sales management also needs a mechanism to establish continuity as sales reps turnover within their organization. With a database backend, a CRM application ensures that all of the information entered by the entire sales team becomes a “Corporate information asset”. Thus, when an individual salesperson exits the organization, the information related to their key accounts and various field activities is retained and can immediately be reused by the new salesperson. This dramatically improves the “ramp up time” for new salespeople. This is a significant productivity enhancement offered by CRM systems.

What do the best CRM applications entail? There are a number of key features offered by best-of-class CRM tools, including:
  • Ease of use – CRM applications need to be simple and straightforward to use. Given that they are primarily used by busy salespeople, they must include intuitive “point and click” oriented interfaces.
  • Customizability – CRM tools need to able to adapt to the unique aspects of each individual BevAl sales team and organization. CRM service providers must offer custom implementation for each customer.
  • Integration Capabilities – Like most software applications, CRM tools need to be able to integrate with other corporate information systems including: ERP, depletions, etc.
  • Mobile Support – Given that field salespeople are increasingly using handheld smart phones as their primary tool in the field, CRM platforms need to support these devices.
  • Collaborative Interfaces – A good CRM platform naturally facilitates multiuser collaboration. Teams should be able to track field blitzes and joint sales activities.
  • Built in Business Intelligence – Top notch CRM systems should have built in back end reporting and analytical tools to enable users to track activities and retail sales patterns.
  • Customer Segmentation – CRM tools for the BevAl market need to be able to help users segment and track customers by trade channel, geography, purchasing patterns.
  • Flexibility – Like all good software platforms, CRM applications must be flexible enough to adapt to changing organizations, processes, and business conditions.

Expectations regarding CRM systems and implementations:

CRM is an evolving process. Systems that support CRM require incremental staging and deployment. It’s important for new CRM customers to select a limited and manageable set of tasks to address with a tool. As with most things, it is better to do a certain set of things very well, than many things poorly. CRM tools are typically expandable and can grow to meet the needs of sales organizations as their requirements expand over time.

It is also important to select to a service provider that offers high touch service and strong customer support. Service providers are likely to become long term business partners and therefore need to be screened and selected carefully. Talking with current “reference” customers of a service provider is an important step before engaging with them on an implementation.

Perhaps the most important, and potentially challenging aspect of implementing new systems, including CRM systems, are the required changes in certain related business processes. As with all new corporate software applications, new CRM systems require changes in certain established processes. Change is often met with resistance by users, especially those who have performed their jobs successfully without the aid of software applications.

In order to overcome the challenges associated with “Change management”, successful implementation of CRM systems require strong executive and sales leadership. The head of sales and senior salespeople need to be heavy users and strong champions of CRM tools. Leadership by example is often required in order to effect change. There are numerous “wins” to be had in terms of superior account management, account tracking, and overall sales growth through the use of CRM tools. A few successful examples can help drive the adoption and usage required in order to enjoy the full benefits proven to be associated with CRM applications.

Customer and sales data is somewhat unique in the BevAl industry. It’s therefore important to make sure that you have a depletion and retail sales data collection partner that is both skilled and flexible in data cleansing. A strong data partner will ensure that you have a strong sales data foundation underlying your CRM application.

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