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Grow, ship, pour, analyze - how Counter Culture Coffee drives their sustainable coffee business forward with Zoho One

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 19, 2021
Bringing green coffee to market with a transparent supply chain is an energizing mission - but not an easy one. So how has Counter Culture Coffee thrived? Does the "all you can eat" Zoho One apps model support that growth? Time to find out.

Counter Culture Coffee

Readers know that I don't live for press releases. But what if you deliver your news via customer interviews? Surprisingly, few try it - but it worked for Zoho during their July 2021 BI platform launch (A customer view on the analytics journey, via the Premo Group).

Zoho has fresh Zoho One news on deck - so why not do it again? This time, I found myself on a Zoom interview with Zoho One customer Counter Culture Coffee. But first, the Zoho One release highlights from Zoho:

  • 5 new apps, 3 new services, and 7 platform enhancements.
  • "Since its release in 2017, over 40,000 organizations have chosen Zoho One as their operating system. During the months of global and economic crises, Zoho One witnessed a 60% y-y customer growth with average number of apps used by businesses rising to 21."

In the wake of this news, what's my agenda? How is Zoho's "all you can eat" approach to Zoho One impacting adoption? I like the pricing model of expanding app usage without changing licensing terms. The news indicates that the Zoho One model is working - but what do customers think?

The coffee business, and its multiple channels - where Zoho One comes into play

Time to ask Bryan Duggan, Wholesale Operations Manager at Counter Culture Coffee. Duggan's story attests to how things work at Counter Culture Coffee. When Duggan joined Counter Culture Coffee in 2009, he worked in the call center. But his role shifted; Duggan is now well-versed in Counter Culture Coffee's sales operations and supply chain. He runs the sales operations for all three of Counter Culture Coffee's sales channels. Duggan explains:

I've been working with our wholesale department for the majority of my time here. Counter Culture Coffee buys green coffee, roasts it and sells it across the country. We've got three distinct channels that we sell our coffee through. Wholesale is where we sell coffee to restaurants and coffee shops, and people that are using it as an ingredient in their business. We have a grocery line which sells coffee for grocery stores. And then we have B2C, so we sell through our website direct to consumers.

Of course, managing sales operations turns you into a bit of a stat geek these days. The coffee business brings an added analytics twist, as you have to account for long lead times, and a pretty unique supply chain. Duggan's role brings him right into the middle of Counter Culture Coffee's Zoho One usage:

Managing our sales operations means I am primarily focused around forecasting and budgeting trends. We do a lot of reporting back to our coffee department to help with purchasing... I'm kind of a bridge between finance operations and sales. Where Zoho comes into play is that I manage our Zoho CRM, and all the [Zoho One] apps that we use throughout, to help make everyone's lives a lot easier.

In the specialty coffee business, you can't grow sales if you lose track of quality:

We're buying some of the best coffees in the world, and we're helping create some of the best roasted coffee in the world. So I think that's, that's a given.

If high quality beans are the table stakes, then how has Counter Culture Coffee thrived for 26 years and counting? Duggan:

I think the thing that sets Counterculture apart is our commitment to transparency. We came on early in the specialty market, and talked a lot about price transparency. We were one of the first companies to really push that out. For 13 years now, we've created a transparency report every year that just opens up the books, and talks about: 'Here's what this coffee will cost. Here's what a farmer will get; here's what an importer will get,' and all of that.

Coffee is very complex as an agricultural product. You can't just say one number of how much coffee costs, and it tells the story. I think a lot of people try to do that. We try to put certifications on coffee, and make that have a level of trust for a company that's working in it... It's a conversation starter for how we can be more transparent around coffee prices, and a fair trade for a product. I think  that's what brings people into Counterculture a lot. [Author's note: Counterculture's latest sustainability report will be added to their web site soon.]

Has Zoho One fueled user adoption?

When Counter Culture Coffee switched to Zoho CRM in 2009, Duggan was an end user, so he wasn't part of that decision. But he recalls that a raft of changes were being made, including a new ERP system, and the Google Suite (Gmail, Driver, etc.). For Zoho CRM, Duggan says the team found it more "flexible and adaptable."

Before the move to Zoho One, Zoho was primarily relied upon by the wholesale, sales, and after-sales teams. So why the move? Duggan:

We upgraded to Zoho One to get all the apps that come with it. The primary motivator of that was to get more departments using Zoho, so that we can communicate a little better.

The first big project on Zoho One: go live on Zoho Desk (early 2020). The Counterculture "customer experience team" moved from managing their inbound support requests via email to Zoho Desk's ticketing system. From there, Duggan says, the usage of Zoho One grew:

It was kind of like the domino effect. Since we started, we've been rolling more programs and more teams into the Zoho One suite.

To date, the biggest Zoho One discovery for Counter Culture Coffee is probably Zoho Analytics. For Duggan, trying that out paid off:

Analytics was one where we said, 'We have access to this now. We should try to use it.' I developed that with the sales team. Honestly, now we're probably using that as much as Zoho CRM. We have NetSuite as our ERP. Zoho Analytics is just a great way for us to understand where our orders are going. Analytics gives us all the data we need for the sales team to get it quick.

Access to the 50+ apps in Zoho One has indeed spurred that type of adoption:

We've tried to consolidate our apps, so that all of our departments use as much as we can into the Zoho suite.

Integration across teams is becoming a priority, fueled by Zoho One:

We're moving towards the direction of: everybody needs to have their own platforms talking to each other.

And how has Zoho Analytics impacted their teams?

If you think about a rep in the field right now, if we're talking about a coffee shop down the street, they generally knew that they bought this product. But what they didn't have was: when a sales order came through, what was actually on that when it shipped, and when it arrived. Did they have retail bags or bulk bags? It gave us flexibility there, to really get it fast.

In sales, "fast data" matters. Duggan told me that prior to Zoho Analytics, their sales team would be flipping through emails in coffee shops, trying to figure things out. Now?

They can pull up the Zoho mobile app, and just turn around and show them, 'Well, this time last year you bought -  this product is coming out at this time.' It just gave us a lot more flexibility, and faster response times with us.

The wrap - serving customers better in the Vaccine Economy

We talked in depth about what Analytics makes possible, including better follow-ups from after-sales teams: "It gives us an immediate way to see how we're supporting our businesses out there, from a numbers standpoint." There is also the potential to flag increases in Zoho Desk tickets, and pro-actively suggest upgrading equipment.

Fortunately for Counter Culture Coffee, their business model already included direct-to-consumer before the pandemic hit. They were able to adapt, shift channels, and keep up with customer demand. Obviously, supply chain issues keep all companies that source materials on their toes. Duggan credits a diverse supplier network for allowing them to avoid significant delays or supply shortfalls.

As Duggan's team presses on, he sees more potential for Zoho One. They are testing out Zoho One apps, including Projects; the marketing team is actively using Campaigns. Duggan would like to increase Zoho One - NetSuite integration. He sees the potential to replace more third-party apps with Zoho One offerings. I always make a note when a services partner gets a shoutout. Here, Duggan sang the praises of their Zoho partner Zenatta.

In my view, Zoho One meets three needs for Counter Culture Coffee: adoption, automation on a common platform, and process improvement (right now, about half of Counter Culture's 100+ employees use Zoho CRM; Duggan is expanding that further). He adds:

The more we can sync and bring everyone on the same page, the better - and we're chipping away at it.

Just like the coffee business, the work of enterprise software is never done. It was never about flipping a go-live switch and throwing a party, and it certainly isn't about that now. But as I see it, that's the Zen of doing these projects the right way (I assume Zenatta doesn't mind me riffing on the Zen angle). Taking away the software licensing obstacles of pushing ahead seems like an important step.

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