Tips from Industry Experts + 10 Questions You Should Ask
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that technology is essential to craft beverage businesses. “Software gives the craft market a leg up against the larger, more entrenched beverage companies,” said Josh McKinney, Ekos CEO and co-founder. You might only have the resources to hire a small team, but technology allows you to make the most of what you have. “If it makes your team more efficient so you can spend more time with customers or on differentiating your brand in the market, then it is time and money well spent,” said McKinney.
So, you’ve determined you need to invest in a piece of software, but you’re not sure which vendor to choose. Before you start evaluating your options, make sure you know the problem you’re trying to solve and your desired outcome, said John Kelley, CEO and co-founder of Craftpeak. For example, if you’re looking for inventory software, are you trying to get more organized? Communicate better with your team? Keep more accurate records? Sync inventory transactions with your accounting software to save time? Whatever your goal, make sure you (and any other stakeholders) nail it down and figure out what features the tech solution should have in order to meet your needs.
5 Tips for Choosing a Software Solution
Make sure the vendor can solve your problem.
Now that you know what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s time to evaluate vendors on how effectively they can help. Once you’ve reviewed basic marketing materials to get an idea of what the software offers, be sure to set up a demo so you can see what the product actually looks like and how it works. But remember: no solution will be 100% perfect, so prioritize your top features and make sure the vendor checks off the most important boxes. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” said Kelley.
Depending on your specific needs, some general categories to consider include:
- Analytics, reporting, and business intelligence capabilities
- How you access the platform (look for a cloud-based system)
- Integrations to other software you’re already using
Set a budget, and make sure you know the “all-in” cost.
Using technology to solve your problems costs money, but fitting it into your budget is possible as long as you know the true cost. Most software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies will charge a subscription fee, but make sure you ask for all other associated costs. For example, does the company charge you for each additional user? Or, for an ecommerce or POS system, what are their website hosting or credit card processing fees?
Keep in mind that a cheap solution is often just that — cheap. Instead of trying to find a cut-rate option, simply decide how much you can afford to spend and add it to your list of considerations as you evaluate vendors. “Don’t discount what your time is worth,” said Chris Towt, co-founder and president of VineSpring. “It’s certainly not free, so the ROI can be measured in the amount of saved time the technology brings you.”
Find out if the vendor is familiar with your industry.
Many craft beverage businesses have found out the hard way that big software companies cater to enterprise clients and are often ill-equipped to handle the needs of a craft brewery, winery, or cidery. Sure, they’ll tell you their platform can be used for anything — which really means the platform is incredibly generic with few, if any, features that are specific to craft beverage producers. “If your vendors do not understand your pain points, they are not going to be able to pivot and adjust to fill those needs,” said Nancy Trigg, CGO and president of Arryved.
Plus, frankly, you’ll likely struggle to get hands-on support when you’re competing for attention against companies with multi-million-dollar, or even billion-dollar, annual revenues. Ask vendors if they are well-versed in working with businesses of your size and type — but you’ll probably be able to tell quickly just based on their industry knowledge (or lack thereof).
Investigate your options for customer support and any associated fees.
Another important factor to consider is what types of support the vendor makes available. Ideally, you would have the option of online and phone support in addition to a database of help articles. Make sure you understand the support packages and choose the one that makes sense for your team. You’ll also want to know whether you get hands-on onboarding and training (with a real person) as a new customer, and the company’s overall commitment to service. Will you have to wait a week for a response to a support ticket? If you have a problem during off-hours, is there a robust database of support articles for you to reference? What about ways to give product feedback? These should all be questions you ask.
Talk to your peers and ask for customer references.
“Do your own research, read trusted reviews, and tap into your community for valuable recommendations,” said Brooks Arbogast, strategic partnerships manager at Xero. This one’s a no-brainer, but if a company can’t offer references within your industry, you might want to look elsewhere. Ask the vendor to provide references that are as similar to your business as possible so you can properly compare.
Questions to Ask Potential Tech Vendors
“How will your software help achieve our goals? Make sure the software you select will help you fulfill your company mission and crush your goals.”– Josh McKinney, Ekos
“What does an ideal relationship between us look like? What can we expect from your side? What do you expect from us?”– John Kelley, Craftpeak
“What is your commitment to service? Get specific commitments/promises rather than generalities if possible (turnaround times, answering emails/support tickets, dealing with issues/complaints, etc.).”– Nancy Trigg, Arryved
“I always like to ask a company what their mission is. If the company’s principles aren’t aligned to yours, it may not be a good fit to help run your business.”– Brooks Arbogast, Xero
“What is my ‘out’? If I want to cancel service, can I do so easily and can I download all my data stored in your system?”– Chris Towt, VineSpring
- How will your software help us achieve our goals?
- What does an ideal relationship between us look like?
- What is your commitment to service?
- What’s your company mission?
- What is my “out”?
- What happens if/when challenges arise? How do you handle conflict?
- Knowing my needs, what is the “all in” cost to use your software?
- Is my business type and size typical for your client base?
- Is your software easy to use on a mobile device?
- How easy is it to get support? Does it cost anything?
To learn more about the tech solutions craft makers rely on, download Building a Tech Stack: An Analysis of Breweries and Cideries and get insights from 1,500 craft producers.
Thank you to our partners for their contributions to this article: John Kelley of Craftpeak, Chris Towt of VineSpring, Nancy Trigg of Arryved, and Brooks Arbogast of Xero.