Talking Rain Beverage Company is on a fast track of growth—and most of it’s online.
Talking Rain produces several lines of bottled no-calorie, flavored, vitamin-enhanced sparkling water—a source of refreshment that, judging by the company’s sales, is showing signs of winning over large number of customers. Since 2009, when sales hit $2.7 million, the company’s sales surged to $384 million in 2014.
But while that was a splash of great news, it also created a huge challenge for Talking Rain’s ability to continue processing customer orders. With more than half of those orders having been processed manually by Talking Rain’s employees, the company realized it needed to quickly develop and move to an automated online order system. “Because our growth has been so fast, we knew we needed to do something—and we needed to act fast,” says Zachary Roberts, senior systems analyst for information technology.
Talking Rain decided to deploy a year ago a totally new e-commerce site running on software from Sana Commerce, a Netherlands-based company that has begun selling in the United States. The beverage company, which sells to distributors as well as directly to some retailers, now automatically processes through e-commerce nearly all of the orders that its employees previously entered manually, Roberts says.
The new site replaced a site that had let customers choose products and enter orders online, but then required Talking Rain employees to print out their orders and manually enter them into the beverage company’s order management system. “With orders coming through the old site, our people were keying in those orders all day,” Roberts says. That system had worked OK when the company sold less, but the fast growth forced it to move to a new automated system that could handle high volumes with accuracy, he adds.
Talking Rain chose Sana Commerce, Roberts says, because it’s designed to integrate well with enterprise resource planning software systems, such as the Microsoft Dynamics NAV system that the beverage company uses to run such applications as inventory and financial management. That integration was required to let orders placed on the new TalkingRain.com automatically flow into the order management system. Deploying the Sana Commerce site and integrating it with Dynamics took under four months, with the site going live a year ago, Roberts says.
Now that customers can complete orders online without requiring Talking Rain’s customer sales reps to manually re-enter their orders, the beverage company has realized multiple benefits: The ordering process now avoids the errors that resulted from manual data entry, and the reps are free to spend time with customers who need extra assistance. “We’ve able to shift from entering information all day—which nobody wants to do—to manage customer relationships,” Roberts says.
In many cases, sales reps now focus on ensuring that customers get what they need, including any special promotions they may have overlooked. They can monitor the ordering activity of customers to ensure, for example, that they’re taking advantage of any available promotions and benefitting from the most efficient packaging and shipping. Many customers order beverage products by pallets, and a rep will often help a customer figure out whether it makes more sense to order more pallets than originally planned.
For example, Roberts says, “it can be more effective for the customer to try to fill a truck. If a customer is only ordering 10 pallets when a truck could take 23, they’re wasting space on the truck and will just have to order again sooner than later.” By helping a customer order a fuller truckload, they can save on shipping and have more safety stock on hand, he says.
While 58% of customer orders now go through the e-commerce site, another 4% are still handled manually for customers who prefer to call or fax in orders, Roberts says. Talking Rain is working with customers to get that 4% online as well, he adds. The remaining 38% of orders are processed through electronic data interchange, or EDI, which Roberts says some large customers will probably continue to use over the long term.
Typical deployments of Sana Commerce integrated with Dynamics or SAP take one or two months to complete, managing partner Michiel Schipperus says. Costs for deploying Sana on Dynamics run about $10,000 for a one-time set-up fee, plus about $25,000 per year for licensing. For running Sana on SAP, costs run about $30,000 for set-up and about $35,000 for an annual license, he says.
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