New Belgium uses technology to manage distribution chain
Craft brewer enlists Microsoft Dynamics CRM
“Beer rangers” can’t be found in digital history books, but they can be found on their Ultrabook tablets, clicking their way across 30 states as they market the handcrafted wares of the New Belgium Brewing Co., based in Ft. Collins, Colo.
New Belgium, which is owned by its 500 employees, has equipped its more than 100 beer rangers with mobile access to customer and corporate data through Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which has helped the company create a brand to rival any from the Old West. These rangers — the sales team for
New Belgium — have a multi-faceted task in front of them every day. New Belgium brews its beers in Colorado and then sells them to 350 distributors, who sell them to bars and restaurants, which ultimately sell them to patrons. The rangers have the job of keeping this entire sales chain in step so that New Belgium understands the kinds of beers customers want and meets the demand with a consistent, high-quality product. Consequently, rangers are constantly in the field.
The company’s beers must be shipped across long distances without any substantial loss of freshness or quality, and they must be sold within a limited time period in order to preserve quality. As a result, distributors must maintain frequent communication with their customers, and streamlining the processing of orders and supply transportation is critical. Beer rangers, therefore, value efficiency, accuracy and the ability to forecast product demand. The company employed Microsoft Dynamics CRM to meet those demands.
For example, rangers will visit a bar to check whether its tap lines are clean and whether its coolers are operating properly. Previously, they might be making notes on bar napkins and other scraps of paper, stuffing them in their pockets, and spending hours each night transferring the information to emailed spreadsheets.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM, however, has streamlined this process. Now, rangers will turn to their handheld Ultrabook flip-screen computers to enter their notes with a few clicks. All the information from each ranger goes into the same data warehouse, where everyone from the sales team to company leadership can analyze it. With an Ultrabook equipped with a custom-developed app, rangers can complete their quality surveys, record their appointments, and check off their task lists from the front seats of their cars in less than 90 seconds.
Additionally, rangers can easily see the supply that is available in real time, along with every customer’s history of orders and comments. Sales staff can click to view any or all of this data from anywhere at any time to answer customer questions and to make delivery promises they can keep.
Back at the “ranch,” New Belgium is beginning to use the large amount of data its rangers are collecting to build long-range forecasting plans. The data makes it easy to spot trends, to see which kinds of beers are selling well versus those that should be cut back, and to observe shifts in the tastes of customers so that the brewers — who often require five to six weeks to complete a batch — can create products that better anticipate market demand.
New Belgium also is examining historical sales data as it considers new markets and new products. As actual sales data comes in, production plans can be accurately adjusted based on up-to-date consumer responses to the company’s offerings. Before CRM, the company relied on specialized analysts to calculate such results and recommend responses, but now the beer rangers can see the results for themselves, as can corporate managers.
Driven by Microsoft Dynamics technology, New Belgium’s CRM gives visibility not only to the company — both at its headquarters and in the field — but also to suppliers, helping with the master planning and supplier schedules that until now have needed to be created manually.
The technology has spurred the beer rangers to proactively ask for new capabilities, and the IT wranglers have developed sales databases with forecasts as well as production databases with materials and production information so that managers can see what is going on in the market and on the production floor in real time.
With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, New Belgium has rounded up data from its far-flung network of distributorships, retailers and consumers to quench its sales staff’s thirst for data and feed its managers’ appetite for better planning and production accuracy.