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Columbia Distributing Taps into More Effective Sales Management and Operations with CRM

Today's customer success story and interview were completed by Kayla Silverstein, Marketing Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

Based in Portland, Oregon, Columbia Distributing serves a customer base of retailers and restauranteurs throughout the Pacific Northwest. Well-known for offering a diverse portfolio of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, they are one of the country’s largest malt beverage distributors and employ approximately 3,100 people.

Columbia Distributing has 300 sales people who are out in the field for a majority of the day. A large part of their work involves completing onsite surveys to assess how the stores and bars display their products. Columbia initially hired a different partner to integrate Dynamics 365 with a custom iOS mobile application. They found this previous partner to be unresponsive and unable to fix their many existing bugs within the application. The leadership team decided to improve the app and invest in a new partnership with Sonoma Partners to successfully meet the following needs:

  • They needed a data tracking tool to effectively share valuable information, such as consumption rates and in-store marketing efforts with their suppliers. Their previous tool was unstable and made it difficult to extract data, sometimes requiring weeks of work.
  • They needed a standardized process to conduct on-site surveys. The team responsible for visiting distribution sites found tracking quality control difficult to evaluate.

Columbia Distributing wanted to equip their sales team with a tool to help them perform their jobs more effectively.

We sat down with Project Manager Alyssa Wood to learn more about the project, the importance of tracking customer data in Dynamics 365, and the new and improved mobile application at Columbia Distributing:

Why is CRM important to Columbia Distributing?

Alyssa: CRM is the only way to truly analyze our data to understand what is and isn’t working for us. We have certain methods of tracking our products and supplier relationships, and CRM allows us to do so with a complete 360-view, recording and analyzing our sales process. We can’t be everywhere at once – with so many field sellers collecting data, we have to have a tool that presents all of this information in one place. Making an investment into CRM was an obvious move for us as it gives us the ability to deliver consistent, exceptional products to our customers while analyzing how we can be better.

How have your data efforts improved with the deployment of the new application and its integration with CRM?

Alyssa: We’ve streamlined our data collection process. Before, each branch collected data differently. We would get data from one branch in one form, but receive a completely different subset of data from another form. We wanted to make sure everyone used the same survey and delivered data in the same method. This effort also improves the quality of our data. Our sellers report in real-time using the mobile application. This means they don’t have to wait until they get back to the office, eliminating the risk that they might forget to log something.

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Before, taking these onsite surveys was an incredibly manual process. The reps had no product information at their fingertips. With standardized screens and preprogrammed options to choose from, the reps can differentiate products based on what they’re seeing on tap. With the data collection process controlled and consistent, we can see how we’re performing as an entire company rather than just on a granular, rep vs. rep scale.

How does that help Columbia Distributing?

Alyssa: We can now extract and compile the data and truly compare apples to apples to understand our analytics and performance in the field as a company. All of this helps our analytics team to understand what’s going on in the field, to help forecast sales more accurately, and so forth.

How does this impact management?

Alyssa: A single, easy-to-read dashboard helps management better oversee and direct our sales teams. Our sales reps are held accountable for the information they’re collecting. One dashboard shows the number of surveys per site completed by a rep. If this percentage is low, we can have a conversation about it with the seller. This visibility didn’t exist before and there was no way to hold our reps accountable.

What problems have you been able to solve with a reinvestment in CRM and the enhanced mobile application?

Alyssa: We now have a platform we can build on. In the future, we’ll have the ability to provide more granular surveys to collect more data specific to where it is collected. Now that we have the groundwork built with this application and the connection to CRM, we can start optimizing and improving the application.

How are you using the data you’re collecting?

Alyssa: Not only does CRM help us track the performance of our sales reps, but we’re now able to see trends and opportunities as a company at a higher level. We look forward to being able to leverage this tool in the future – once we’ve collected a years-worth of information, for example – to take a clear snapshot of how things have improved pre-/post- project. But I can say, that the sheer amount of data we have to analyze is so much greater. We’re optimistic we’ll have some very valuable insights in the months ahead.

What efforts did you use to boost user adoption of the new application?

Alyssa: We’ve learned the value in having leadership drive a project like this. Reporting is part of the job. If leadership positions it this way, and says the reps have to do this as part of their jobs, it’s powerful. The dashboards help our adoption levels too.

What was the hardest decision you had to make during the implementation process?

Alyssa: The hardest decision during this process was knowing when to go live. There’s only so much we can test on our own and plan for, but ultimately, pushing it live and giving the sales reps access gave us far more to go off in terms of improving the system than we could have without going live. Our business has adapted well, and we have feedback loops in place to make sure we’re keeping track of what we can improve in the future.

How does CRM help Columbia Distributing better compete in your industry?

Alyssa: It’s a competitive business; there’s only so much grocery store shelf space or tap handles in a bar. To keep up, you have to be strategic in how you’re presenting your product to your consumers. We need to constantly evaluate our work and be positioned to collect data, analyze it, and act on those insights. CRM allows us to do this.

What was it like working with Sonoma Partners?

Alyssa: We’ve really enjoyed working with Sonoma Partners. I found the team incredibly knowledgeable; they clearly know their stuff when it comes to CRM. Whenever questions would come up or there were problems we weren’t sure how to tackle; Sonoma was there to answer them all. It felt like having a translator. I’m rather new to CRM and we have a lot of non-technical sellers who didn’t understand the system initially. Sonoma bridged this gap effortlessly. In working with our previous partner, we sometimes felt like we were speaking two different languages. I never felt that way working with Sonoma Partners because of how well they got to know our business.

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What interested you in working with Sonoma Partners?

Alyssa: During one of our initial conversations with Sonoma Partners, they showed us the Ranger App they built for New Belgium Brewery. Immediately I thought: that’s it! That’s what our sellers need. In the demo, I saw how the app changed throughout the project with New Belgium, and seeing this phased approach made me even more confident that this partnership would be a good fit. Sonoma Partners knows the food and beverage industry and CRM. We made a great decision in switching partners.

What do you think the future is for Columbia Distributing, mobile applications, and CRM?

Alyssa: Now that we can see CRM and the mobile application used the way it’s supposed to be, I’m optimistic that we have only just begun our CRM program as an organization. Even in just a few months of having the application in the field, I’ve already heard from the sales reps how they want the app improved and added to. Management has their own list of asks. I think we’ll continue to evolve and build upon our platform to make sure that we’re continuing to provide value and quality products to our suppliers.

CRM puts us in a strategic mindset. We can already see what we’ve learned from the data we’ve collected thus far. Just imagine what else we could be tracking at our organization and what we could learn from that data, etc. It’s pushed us to be more strategic and given us the tool to do so.

 

Our thanks to Alyssa for taking the time to sit down with us to discuss their project with us.

Are you interested in learning about how a mobile application could help your sellers in the field? Contact us.

Topics: CRM for Manufacturing Microsoft Dynamics 365