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Should My Beverage Business Use a CRM?

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Customers are the lifeblood of every business. To scale your brewery, winery, or cidery, you need to cultivate repeat customers and serve them effectively. 

If you self-distribute your product to local restaurants, retailers and bottle shops, or sell directly to consumers online, then your customers go beyond the people drinking in your taproom or tasting room. In this piece, we’re talking about how you can streamline and organize customer information and set up processes that will help you sell more. 

Customer relationship management systems (CRMs) are software tools built to help you capture data and monitor your customers from initial contact through the transaction and back again. Here’s a quick introduction to whether a CRM is right for you.  

What Can a CRM Do? 

CRMs provide visibility where you need it most: customer interactions. CRMs are essentially heavy-duty internal databases where you can store all your insights on customers, leads, and prospects and analyze them. Data can include basic information, such as addresses and contact information, or more nuanced notes like a buyer’s hobbies or when you should deliver to a loading dock. 

Popular CRM names include Salesforce and Oracle, and there are often niche products specifically geared toward specific industries.  

CRMs Keep You Organized

Organization is fundamental to providing excellent service. Storing account information in a convenient, secure location helps a business create continuity across sales and marketing teams and grow over time. For this reason, established businesses tend to use CRMs as their single source of truth for sales activities. 

Today, most well-regarded CRMs have some form of cloud-based functionality, which means you can access customer information on the go, an instant upgrade over storing information in paper files or, worse, in your head. Accessibility is crucial if you have sales representatives on the road or making the rounds. 

This organization gets even better with integration. There are many CRMs that are designed to work with your email provider to help you collect and organize messaging, schedule meetings, and track your overall cadence of correspondence. Employees can be observed in these systems as well, so you can see the complete picture of customer service. 

Together, these systems can help you make decisions with hard facts rather than guesstimates —  an important step in growing a business.

Reporting Is Where It’s At

The true power of CRMs lies in reporting. Once a business has used a CRM for long enough, it can use the collected data to generate custom reports for deeper analysis. It can use these reports to determine which customers generate the most volumes, which markets are doing well, and which employees are providing customers with white-glove service. 

This visibility allows you to monitor trends, create sales forecasts, and judge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. CRMs provide many strategic insights you can’t garner any other way. In many cases, the right CRM can empower a sales team to spot and land new opportunities. Recent research showed that breweries who track customer sales information and activities in a digital system saw 10-25% more sales opportunities than breweries using spreadsheets or other manual methods.

CRMs Cost Time & Money 

CRMs do require a significant investment, and when it comes to standalone systems, you get what you pay for. Some have free or modest pricing tiers, while more robust enterprise-level systems can cost upwards of thousands of dollars a year. Often, CRMs are priced as a yearly subscription and per individual license. 

Before you take the plunge on a CRM, take a moment to reflect on how it will fit within your business and who truly needs to use the software on a consistent basis. Onboarding employees to a new system requires a lot of manhours, sometimes entire days, depending on how deep their engagement will be. 

Like much of sales and marketing, CRMs are about playing the long game, so it can sometimes take a while to recoup that investment. They also require you to stay diligent about documentation to prove worthwhile, so think of CRM as a continuous discipline that gets better with practice. 

Consider All Your Options

Because CRMs are high-ticket items, small businesses don’t always spring for standalone systems right away. In fact, not many breweries and cideries have adopted them, according to our research. But these businesses are still paying attention to customer data.

Many producers prefer to use business management software to capture this information. A 2020 study found that of customers who use Ekos for business management, 45% of them also use the system for tracking customer information.

Business management software is a simple solution that allows you to keep all your customer interactions, production, accounting, and inventory data in one convenient place with much of the same reporting functions. Using a single system, you can track each customer and their order flow from end-to-end to generate a true snapshot of your business. With time, you can spot patterns and forecast sales for seasonal, staple, or limited-run beverages. This visibility and control can help a business transform into a smooth operation. 

Overall, business management software can act as a helpful starting point for establishing a base layer of customer insights, processes and muscle memory until a standalone CRM makes sense. This approach tends to be a good fit for lean teams where employees wear many hats, and it’s an approach that lends itself to cross-training. And in the meantime, you can expect customers to appreciate the extra attention.

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