Why your wine business needs CRM

I work in technology, but my heart is in wine. Every day I see things in the wine business that frustrate me; every day I see how archaic some things can be. The wine industry is notoriously behind the times when it comes to technology, and is even slower to adapt to new methodologies.

What are the reasons behind this? Part of it is certainly economic; however part of it is exposure.  As an IT specialist who spends 8-10 hours a day working in CRM and another 12 thinking about CRM and how to integrate with back office systems,  I spend my days working in CRM systems and designing solutions for a wide variety of companies. And yet, while there are a few key players that are opening their eyes to the value of CRM, the wine biz in general is lacking focus in this area.

On a daily basis, I see siloed, independent systems for finance, customer service, marketing, and order entry that make up a company’s operations.  Each of these systems is independent from each other, with unique data sets that may or may not replicate to the rest of the systems in use.  In the world of wine, for example, you might have your retail POS, a wine club management tool, and an ecommerce or marketing tool.  Switching between the systems is time consuming and clunky, as you have to periodically update tech data set and ensure that each system has an accurate record of your customer.

The need in the rest of the world for an integrated solution to provide the full picture is great. Companies not only need to see the full picture of the customer, but they need to see the full picture of operations.  The methodology behind a CRM culture (and we’re not just talking tools here, but rather a way of doing business), is that you get a full, complete picture of your customer at a glance.  CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is the art of knowing your customer, and knowing how you can better service them.

Yet today, CRM is still a great mystery to many wineries.  Most understand that it would be helpful, but don’t understand exactly why, or how.  If you reframe what CRM is, you will begin to understand how powerful it is.  More than just software, it’s a lifecycle approach to marketing.  A winery that understands this, knows that CRM can help you develop targeted marketing messages to specific customer groups.  A CRM ecosystem can help your customer service reps receive and resolve issues quickly and effectively, maintaining an audit trail.  A CRM order entry system can track your customer likes and dislikes as well as past orders.

What does this mean for DTC sales?  Everything.  Imagine the power of a tool, and a mentality, that allows you to report at your fingertips.  What did Jane buy last month?  Are you trying to move more bottles of the 2009 Merlot?   Target your offer to those that have shown a consistent order history of merlot.  Conversely, target your offer to those that have never seen Merlot.  With the effective use of CRM based marketing, these efforts become dynamic, and your ROI can be tracked automatically.  The use of a  good CRM database can allow you to market in ways you never thought possible.  In truth, if you build it, and market it, they will buy.

Further expanding on the idea of ROI, there has been a lot of debate recently about whether you can measure social ROI.  According to Vintank’s Paul Mabray, ROI can be measured easily if you view it at a wide angel.  No longer is social ROI a one to one measurement.  If you are tracking the long tail of a marketing effort, the use of an effective CRM mentality will allow you to capture traffic on your website, and new lead management in one fell swoop.  Twitter and Facebook landing pages become information gathering tools that feed in to your CRM database.  Some more robust tools allow you to manage these campaigns and analyze the results from within the CRM system.  How many Facebook likes did you get this week?  This month?  Are you prepared to offer your twitter followers a special deal based on how many times they mentioned you?

Additionally, for any business to consumer company, it is imperative that you have an effective customer service system.  Email is no longer the tool of choice for issue resolution.  Do you have an escalation and resolution policy in your customer service department?  CRM tools that are customized to your internal policies will allow you to track, escalate and assist with resolution in a timely, pleasant manner.  Many tools come with knowledge bases and FAQ structures that you can populate for self service.  As a consumer, if I can answer my own question with a few clicks and suggested solutions, that makes me a happier customer, and gives valuable time back to your team.

But, at the heart of CRM, lies the contact manager.  The base of operations, the contact manager is the centralized database of customer information that allows you to manage customer information across platforms.  No longer do you have to update the customer information in multiple systems.  This is a huge win for a customer, as I have had personal experiences where my information is different for each of the different people I talk to at the same company.  This should never happen in this age.  A good CRM system has a customer portal that allows for self service; enter this portal, and you enter the world of the customer.  Can I update my own email address or subscription information?  What about shipping data?

But, CRM is not a panacea for all that is wrong in the wine industry technology wise.  Each system is only as smart as those that design it.  You need to choose the tool that is appropriate for your business, but you also need to instill a culture of CRM within your employee ranks.  Getting your data correct and maintaining it are constant battles in my world; the good news is, with technology, you can automate some of this.  Can’t ship to Virginia?  It’s easy to create a rule that states pick up only or customer not allowed.  Dummy proofing your system will allow you to give more power and confidence to your employees.

CRM offers a universal view of the customer, in as much detail as you want to go in to.  Do you have information signups in your tasting room?  Where does that information reside?  Can you automate that process of data gathering with a laptop or ipad instead a paper sign in sheet?  Having this information populate directly to your CRM database makes it instantly available across the company and therefore available for marketing purposes.  If you were a customer previously, that information will be available; this allows you to redirect your marketing efforts effectively.

The most important thing is that you have management buy in, and a good business analyst to determine what your true needs are.  There is nothing worse than walking in to a system that has been designed without forethought or intelligence, and trying to use that system.  Can you leverage your current tools to make CRM your operating philosophy?

So, to recap, why should the wine industry adopt a customer relationship management philosophy?  We all know it’s a tight market out there.  How do you plan to sell more wine this year?  How do you plan to segment your customer base?  Too many times do I get emails from wineries that don’t know my needs or wants.  Why aren’t you paying attention to me as your customer?  You know I bought 5 cases of pinot last year, so what are you doing with that data/ world of the custom?

  • Integrated database of customers and prospects
  • Full service 360 degree view of your customer
  • Develop more targeted marketing efforts
  • Have the power of analytics at your fingertips
  • Gain insider knowledge about your customers based on existing data patterns
  • Integrated POS, eComm, Marketing, wine club management
  • Customer service at your fingertips, including self service
  • Measure ROI for marketing and social media marketing campaigns

What CRM tool you use can be as critical as if you use CRM at all.  There are dozens of choices out there, and reasons to choose many of them.  What is important to your business?  Do you need to know more about the existing customer database?  Do you need to integrate with your e-marketing tools already in place?  Do you want to analyze social ROI?  Ask yourself these questions and look to some solutions.

Many of the existing eCommerce and POS systems have some form of built in CRM functionality.  Will that suit your needs, or should you consider growing beyond those solutions?  What information do you need to gather to make informed marketing efforts?  Can you make those decisions now based on the information you have?

There are so many options when it comes to selecting the right tool; there are tools that integrate with Gmail.  There are cheap tools that stand alone.  There are full service tools that can be developed in to literally anything you desire, beyond CRM.  There are tools that integrate with POS and eComm solutions seamlessly.

The most important thing to remember is to view the future, and don’t box yourself in.  The biggest mistake that I see in my job is that a choice was made years ago without the foresight to the growth of the business.  Moving from an outdated system that is inflexible and locked down to a flexible, growth oriented system is a painful process that can cost thousands of dollars.  On the flip side, you can start with a cloud based CRM tool, using strictly basic functionality, and grow that in to a full service ERP, CRM, and marketing machine.

So, where do you want to go?

Have questions?  Want to know more about CRM for your business?  Drop me a line and let’s see how I can help rocket you to the next level.

21 comments

  • One of the reasons that some of us little guys (WWW.lightheartcellars.com) are investing in high end integrated websites (ours on a vin65 platform)

    we're running quickbooks manufacturing edition, and have an iPad on the tractor for GIS…
    technology leverages us.

    • winebratsf

      Sheldon – you're one of the few that really gets it. I'm glad to see that even a "little guy" is able to see the value. Vin65 does awesome work, and you have your finger on it.
      Cheers!

  • This is a very well thought out article and should point the way for many wineries. Marketing segmentation and access to consumer data create competitive advantage. The issues I deal with when consulting very small producers are system scaleability, proprietary platforms, maintaining interfaces with other applications and 3rd party vendors, training and of course cost of ownership. Cloud based systems offer low cost but potential issues with transaction response time and data security. I'd be very interested in hearing from other winery business analysts regarding their selection processes and experience with specific winery CRM systems,

  • winebratsf

    Thank you Carl. I've been working in CRM for over 10 years, and have seen it morph in to a full ecosystem.

    Understanding the concerns with wine businesses, I think you will find that most of the established cloud based systems have serious security and uptime guarantees so that would be a selling point for those tools; additionally, in particular Salesforce has some prebuilt integrations with common e-commerce and wine club tools which really takes a lot of the work out of the interfaces.

    Other tools used for POS and ecommerce have CRM lite build in, which can be a good start, and helps to offset some of the costs.

    Choosing the right system is certainly half the struggle, but it doesn't have to be overly costly, or difficult if you invest the time upfront. The key here is having the foresight to be flexible. Most good CRM tools allow you to start small, and customize to your needs as your business changes and grows.

    Cheers!

    I'd also be interested in hearing from other winery biz analysts on the topic.

  • This article is one of the best ones that I have ever read on this topic. Thank you! We are going through a transition right now, and it's frustrating that we don't seem to know who are customers are. I hope by incorporating CRM as the core of our marketing, we will be able to identify our customers, their needs, and meet them as quickly as possible.

    • winebratsf

      Thanks for popping in! I think we are the cusp of a wine industry revolution, and it's great to see that you are on the bleeding edge. It's such an important topic. Having been in the CRM and on demand software world for 10+ years, I've seen it become a pretty intrinsic methodology.

      CRM is indeed the core of a successful marketing program. Identifying customer needs, wants, and critical issues, as well as response time is going to make you stand out.

      If you don't mind me asking, what tool did you go with?

      And here's a cup of coffee 😉

      (_)D

  • Correction *our customers (it's early!)

  • Pingback: Why your wine business needs CRM « Alexander A. Welz

  • Very interesting post, on a subject i'm working on in France. Châteaux, domaines and wineries JUST begin to think about CRM & eCRM here.. Is there a tool that you would recommand for a classic and small business ?

    • winebratsf

      Bonjour Luc,
      I'm so glad that you are writing from France; this is an issue that crosses size and country boundaries. There are several tools that I can suggest as possible options; I've emailed you some ideas!

      Cheers

  • Margaret

    Great Article. Small producers with limited financial capacity and staff face a myriad of techological hurdles just to get wine from point A to B. Add compliance software, winery software, shopping cart integration and you can have a complete ……incomplete system.

    • winebratsf

      HI Margaret,
      Thanks! Indeed that is the struggle of many small producers. But there are options out there and I think that more will be coming in the future. Please feel free to email me if you want some ideas!

      thea at luscious lushes dot com

  • Thea!

    Great Article! This has been a topic of conversation for the past 6-8 months internally, I think this article will help us achieve our goal of acquiring that flexible, growth oriented system we all dream about.

    • winebratsf

      Hi Mitch!

      Thanks – I think it's an achievable goal, it just takes some time to untangle the myriad of systems and how they interconnect. You hit the nail on the head with flexible and growth oriented.

      I hope this article helped you move forward, even in some small way! And please, don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

  • Great Article but where do we start? which system?

    • winebratsf

      Hi Craig,

      Thanks! That is the million dollar question. I sent you an email with some thoughts but primarily, you need to assess your readiness. Do you think in a CRM frame of mind? Do you have existing tools in place you can leverage? Take a look at your inbox, and feel free to bounce any questions back at me.

      Cheers

  • Tamore Romer

    good work

  • Great article. I’ve been researching CRM in wine and most everyone talks about wineries. How about wine retail? Besides basic stuff I know like loyalty programs and order history tracking, can you recommend some other ideas? I would like to open a wine store sometime soon and I’m thinking of innovative ways for CRM, but coming up a tad short.

    • winebratsf

      Well there are a lot of options for POS tools in a retail environment. There are options that plus in to CRM tools, and options that are stand alone. It depends on your budget and resources honestly. Have you looked in to Vin65 POS or Salesforce beverage vertical options?
      Cheers!

  • Brian McCleary

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