Green Mountain Gets the [Share]Point

Coffee maker deploys Web-based portal to solve data-sharing problems.

When Jim Travis arrived at his new job as director of sales and marketing at Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (GMCR), it didn't take him long to realize he had a big job ahead of him. In fact, the scope of the challenge became crystal clear almost the instant he noticed a tall stack of FedEx mailers near his secretary's office at Green Mountain Coffee's offices in South Burlington, Vt.

"I asked, 'What are these?' and she said, 'That's our field sales mailing,'" recalls Travis. "I said, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"

She wasn't. Every Friday, Green Mountain Coffee would overnight to about 70 field sales reps an updated stack of printed material, to be inserted into the company's thick Marketing Resource Guidebook. It was a clumsy, manual and error-prone process that led to a lot of waste and a lot of lost sales, says Travis.

"This has to stop. Every time you hire a person you have to take them page by page through this five-inch [thick], three-ring binder. It's not appropriate," Travis recalls thinking.

Travis knew from his experience at Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., where sales reps accessed product and sales information over the Web, that it was high time to digitize the marketing and sales material at Green Mountain Coffee. He just didn't know how to do it.

That's where local consulting outfit Competitive Computing Inc. -- also known as C2 -- came in.

Jim Travis
Jim Travis, director of sales and marketing, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., says the impact the initial SharePoint deployment is having on his sales and marketing teams has caused "a deeper appreciation of the metrics behind the business."

"Once Jim made his case to the management committee there and got the approval to go ahead and spend some money on [the problem], we got contacted by Rob Ely, the director of the [management information systems] department at GMCR. He was the person managing the project from [its] end," says Chris Wasserman, technical lead at C2. "[GMCR] didn't come with a solution set in hand -- [the company] came and said, 'Here's the problem and what we want to do about it.'"

Given the distributed sales force, a Web-based portal solution made immediate sense. And the folks at C2 knew Green Mountain Coffee well enough -- both firms were founded by Digital Equipment Corp. employees -- to know the company was heavily invested in Microsoft solutions. That made SharePoint Server 2003 an easy call.

"Pretty Straightforward"
One thing C2 didn't do was pretend to know GMCR's business. Led by Wasserman and Business Lead Jeff Pratt, the team sat down with Travis, Ely and the rest of the Green Mountain Coffee group to build a view of the challenge.

Pratt says the two groups talked through a high-level view of the design, covering issues like process flow and storage of assets. "Having these groups get into a room and talk about these topics with an eye toward automating them, getting them to think about the process ... independent of automating all these things-this process has been hugely beneficial to the company," Pratt says.

The discussion quickly moved to planning, including discussions of metadata handling and access, as well as design-level issues within the SharePoint environment.

"The stuff they were trying to do -- if you step back from it -- was pretty straightforward," Wasserman says. "Tap into the back-end database and present documents through the Web interface."

5 Lessons Learned

1. Don't Fly Blind
Rather than trying to come up with a solution to its information sharing problem on its own, Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.'s Director of Sales and Marketing Jim Travis and Director of Management Information Systems Rob Ely turned to knowledgeable consulting firm Competitive Computing Inc. (C2) to help them target a solution platform.

2. Take an Incremental Approach
The initial rollout was limited strictly to the sales and marketing organization, and focused on areas of business collateral and document retrieval, sales data access and light contact management. Additional phases are already underway or planned.

3. Stand and Configure
If Travis could do one thing, it would be to extend the SharePoint Web interface to the company's wholesalers and independent retailers. In retrospect, it might have been worth extending the project to get that functionality online from the beginning.

4. Path of Least Resistance
Replacing the inefficient and costly paper-based process with a digital Web portal was not only important, it was easy. In fact, once the heavy lifting of transferring and cataloging the collateral was finished, the marketing group was free to work on more strategic issues that could help improve the business.

5. Hold On
Rather than dismiss the C2 deployment team after the system was installed, Technical Lead Chris Wasserman stayed on board for several months in a support and maintenance role. That decision allowed Green Mountain Coffee to tune the new environment, even as it dedicated resources to the ongoing customer relationship management project. -M.D.

Straightforward, yes. But matters were complicated by an unrelated PeopleSoft-based customer relationship management (CRM) deployment that consumed resources and spurred GMCR to outsource the SharePoint project. Part of the problem: The deployment team found that PeopleSoft and SharePoint couldn't coexist with SQL Server.

"We had to change some low-level [collation] settings on SQL Server that were incompatible with PeopleSoft," recalls Wasserman. "The plan was for database clusters to serve SharePoint and PeopleSoft both, but they were incompatible."

That reversal forced the team to go with separate database servers for SharePoint and PeopleSoft. To expedite the SharePoint deployment, the database was housed initially on the same server as the Web front-end. Later, a new database server was deployed and SharePoint migrated to a three-tier structure.

"For the load they were getting and the number of users, it was acceptable," says Wasserman.

Crawl, Walk, Run
Rather than charge into a fully interactive environment, Green Mountain Coffee deployed its portal functionality in three granular stages. The first stage simply took the massive Excel spreadsheets that had been e-mailed to field reps in the past and hosted them on the SharePoint Web portal.

"We adopted a crawl, walk, run approach to the data," C2's Wasserman says.

Next, C2 added Web views of the Excel spreadsheets. This eliminated bulk file downloads and made access to specific data much easier and quicker for field personnel. In the third stage, C2 deployed SharePoint-based analytics, cubes and SQL Server reporting services on top of the portal. It was at this stage, says Wasserman, when things really started to click.

"Now they've got a whole set of reports that are available on their portal, from personalized reports for a sales person and what their numbers are, to numbers on the whole company and what [its] sales are," he continues. "To see where [the salespeople] are now, with the set of reports and tools they had available, and where they were, e-mailing 100MB spreadsheets around the country, is absolutely phenomenal."

Among those resources are a completely retooled set of marketing and presentation materials, which replace the bulky Marketing Resource Guidebook. Web-enabling these resources was more than simply a matter of slapping them online. The glossy color pages were redesigned for online presentation, as well as for effective output on the inkjet printers used by field staff.

Next Steps
With the CRM deployment project still boiling, Green Mountain Coffee decided to keep C2's Wasserman on board to help with the transition and manage configuration issues. "This guy worked tirelessly over four or five months," Travis says.

For all the early successes, Travis says he wishes he could have done more up front. "We still need to do a lot of work on our pricing models. I probably would've pushed a little harder on our scorecard for the dashboard," he explains. "I think that's because I was pulled off on other things. I should've stayed with it."

Travis says he won't make that mistake again. A host of follow-up efforts are in the offing, including a self-service portal serving Green Mountain Coffee's growing network of wholesale customers. The new resource will do everything from providing ordering and costing services to presenting best practices and roasting recipes for coffee shops. An enterprise-wide portal is also planned, and should help drive efficiencies beyond the marketing and sales organization.

Still, Travis can't say enough about the impact this initial SharePoint deployment is having on his sales and marketing teams. "There's a deeper appreciation of the metrics behind the business," Travis says. "The nomenclature is changing. People are beginning to talk a bit more professionally about their brand and their metrics. You don't get that from training."

Ultimately, Wasserman credits the success to his client's readiness to commit to the solution.

"I'm a firm believer that most IT projects are personality-related and not technology-related," says Wasserman. "GMCR was really ready and willing to take this stuff on. It was a very good fit, it really was."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.


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