Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) is one of the world's largest beer sellers, but it didn't get that way by only signing up big customers. A significant share of its business rests on one-of-a-kind, non-chain bars and eating places and on small retail outlets.
AB InBev, which has headquarters in Leuven, Belgium and Sao Paulo, is a conglomerate formed from, among others, the producers of Becks, Corona, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and Modelo Especial. Sixteen of its more than 200 brands generate more than $1 billion a year in revenue each.
To streamline its business and serve its many small as well as large customers, AB InBev two years ago set about building a new technology platform.
"We decided to move to one integrated platform for the many different types of interactions we have with our customers," recalled Floris Desimpel, business solutions manager for Europe and global export at AB InBev.
Large AB InBev customers often submit predictable orders at the same time every month. Some of them order a shipping container or multiple containers filled with cases of beer. But small customers tend to call, fax, or email when they're running short, often with a lot of varied detail per order. Some small customers order a few cases at a time, but handling the order took as much time to capture as a large one.
Until recently, AB InBev staffers often took phone calls from such customers and laboriously captured details, or re-keyed an order that they had submitted by fax -- a process that sometimes led to errors.
Additionally, AB InBev had different systems tracking orders, handling promotions, and interacting with customers in the many countries in which it did business. "There was a constant need to do data integration" when it came to understanding the business and developing a 360-degree view of the customer, Desimpel, in a phone interview from his office in Leuven, Belgium.
One of the first goals of the new platform was to supply master data management over the data being generated by Salesforce CRM and SAP customer-facing systems, said Desimpel.
AB InBev brought in a third-party's application, CloudCraze, as part of the new e-commerce platform. CloudCraze could sit on top of the Salesforce data and begin to develop a picture of how AB InBev was conducting its business and where efficiencies leveraged by a new platform might lie.
Desimpel said the e-commerce platform is "still a work in progress," and the AB InBev development staff keeps adding modules to it, such as customer service and loyalty programs. Nevertheless, "Salesforce and CloudCraze allow us to differentiate the behavior of our e-commerce portal, depending on the customer."
[Want to see another third-party application on top of Salesforce? Read Salesforce Draws Market Strength With Conga.]
With CloudCraze, the beer giant was able to gauge the time, labor, and effort that went into serving small customer orders and come up with more of a self-service web portal, said Shawn Belling, CloudCraze VP of product. The CloudCraze application, which includes an e-commerce system designed for B2B use, has a catalogue, a pricing engine, a shopping engine, and inventory tracking.
When CloudCraze gained access to AB InBev data, it could tell where it was investing the most expense serving small customers, and it helped AB InBev design an e-commerce platform to help the beer seller provide a self-service portal to those customers.
The platform "gives customers visibility into their own data" at the time of ordering, Desimpel added. Customers can get the list of contents of recent orders and views of previous invoices. This view helps a smaller clients formulate the next order without leaving something out. Even so, not all small customers use it. "The traditional channels still exist. Not everyone is as ready for technology as we are," Desimpel said.
"The main feedback has been very positive," he said, noting that customers of all stripes like the 24X7 availability of the web portal and its self-service features.
He said he had no figures that answer the question of whether it's led to more business. But instead of being focused on the details of order capture, the AB InBev service desk and order management staff "are focused on more qualitative interactions -- creating more value -- when they are talking to customers."
That might mean a discussion on how they can get the most value for their purchase budget, what promotions make the most sense for them to run, or what's new and selling well elsewhere in the world. The routine questions about the status of an already placed order "can be handled by the platform itself," he said.
AB InBev on Wednesday won approval for its $100 billion takeover of SABMiller, in what is reportedly one of the largest acquisitions in corporate history. The combined company will claim an estimated 46% of global beer profits and 27% of global volume, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Even before the announcement of the deal, AB InBev touted a very large marketshare with its more than 200 brands, so the company has a lot of customers that need help in getting their orders placed.
"When it comes to smaller customers, they're not necessarily placing huge orders. All you can predict is the name of the customer and that the customer will call in," said CloudCraze's Belling of AB InBev’s service desk operation. The voice conversation may or may not be followed up with a written fax or email message.
The CloudCraze system can produce 30 reports on the business being conducted on the AB InBev web portal, he said.
"Customers get used to ordering on a very efficient system. It makes AB InBev that much more sticky," Belling said.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include the news of the AB InBev acquisition and additional quotes and information from CloudCraze's Belling.