Heineken. Cristal. Maes. Affligem. The chances are, you’ve been in a bar or restaurant serving Alken-Maes beer. The brewery group is the second largest in Belgium and the market challenger, selling beer across 78 countries in the world.
Part of the Heineken Group, the company has a heritage of brewing beer with craftsmanship and finesse. It has three main breweries: one in Alken, producing larger and speciality beers, its Opwijk base, focusing on the renowned Affligem Abbey beers, and a small site in Kobbegem brewing the kriek lambic, Mort Subite.
As well as old favourites, the brewer follows the latest consumer trends for new flavours. “Innovation is the key to survival,” said Yannis Eelen, IT Business Partner at Alken-Maes. “From new products to smarter processes – the beer industry is a volatile market and we need to be dynamic.”
In addition to working with distributors and retailers, Alken-Maes runs a network of bars and outlets serving its products, and providing an excellent service is at the top of the agenda. “We don’t just want to sell beer, we want to see our customers succeed in their business,” said Eelen. “To do that we have to be well-connected, knowledgeable, and reliable.”
To meet these ambitions, Alken-Maes’ front line sales reps need a 360-degree view of each and every customer they speak to, whether they’re working from the office or out on the road. “We want to have meaningful conversations with our customers, and that starts with having a good overview of their business,” explained Eelen. “When we really know a customer, we can start recommending products that have sold well to similar markets, or in similar locations. By understanding who the end consumers are, we can make sure they have the right beer on tap when the customer gets to the bar.”
Alken-Maes’ sales teams were struggling to access the customer information they needed. The company’s existing systems couldn’t be accessed from the field, and preparing proposals or responding to basic customer queries could be time-consuming. To gain the level of customer intimacy needed, Alken-Maes recognised it needed to improve its CRM capabilities.
Today, around 50% of Alken-Maes employees use Salesforce to manage both on-trade customers such as restaurants and pubs and off-trade retailers such as off-licences. Users from sales, real estate management, legal, and finance teams all use the solution to work smarter and drive greater efficiency.
Sales Cloud supports every step of the sales process, from logging new leads and getting contracts signed to arranging customer visits and tracking KPIs. This end-to-end visibility helps the team to deliver greater value to customers by giving them deeper insights into how the relationship could evolve. “When a sales rep makes a site visit, they’ll have full visibility of the service history, when the next maintenance appointment has been set, and can make suggestions that might improve the customer’s sales,” explained Eelen. “We’ve also integrated Salesforce with our ERP system, so sales reps can take and place orders while onsite.”
As well as freeing up sales people to spend more time talking to customers, Alken-Maes can now take a more holistic approach to customer service, which further improves the experience. For example, to ensure the best consumer experience, beer should be poured at the correct temperature. If there’s a problem with the pipes, customers can request an onsite visit from a technician, but in the meantime a member of the sales team can talk them through a quick-fix to keep the beer flowing at the optimum temperature while they wait.
“By including real estate and technical services departments in Salesforce, any team can provide customers with the information they need, rather than them getting passed around,” said Eelen. “This makes us more efficient while making it easier for our customers to work with us.”
It’s not just existing customers that can enjoy a faster response now Alken-Maes has Salesforce. Even proposals can be created more rapidly. “We used to have to collate information from three different applications to create a proposal, and two of these required an active VPN connection. We built the CASH (Calculating Automated System for HORECA-management) in Salesforce to allow us to accurately analyse the potential of a customer from anywhere, in the field or in our HQ.” said Eelen. “The app also automates validation and communication workflows, and links to related Chatter conversations so all the relevant departments are informed and up to date.”
For their retailer business, Alken-Maes faced different issues. Due to their construction, many retail outlets act as Faraday cages, limiting the connectivity in the building.
“If we are somewhere with poor network coverage, our Sales reps can’t register all the information we need,” explained Eelen. “So we built an app using Force.com, part of the Salesforce Platform, and a number of solutions from the Salesforce App Exchange ecosystem to streamline the process.”
Known as Airforce1, the app allows sales reps to attend to customers where connectivity is an issue, with the same level of service. They can still record and access information while offline and the app automatically syncs data when they’re next online.
By digitalising these processes, Alken-Maes has seen significant efficiency gains. “Our users aren’t spending their time looking for things, collecting internal data, or connecting the dots… They’re out there finding new ways to serve our customers better,” explained Eelen.