SparkOptimus supporting Heineken with large digital transformation

10 April 2020 6 min. read

Working together with SparkOptimus, beer giant Heineken is tapping into the power of digital transformation to boost its sales and commerce processes, while streamlining its operations. 

With revenues of over €27 billion and brands being sold in in over 180 countries, Heineken is one of the world’s largest beer brewers. Understanding that digitisation and e-commerce is driving a seismic shift in how people connect, consume media and products, Heineken and SparkOptimus teamed up to develop a new strategy for its digital sales network. 

Members of the executive team and leaders from management teams of the largest operating companies jointly worked to develop a shared vision, strategy and 3-horizon plan for accelerating growth in a digitised world. This co-creation process, facilitated and supported by SparkOptimus, a consulting firm specialised in digital transformation, also led to a roadmap of what was needed to realise this ambition.

To bring the strategy to life, Heineken then kicked-off the execution phase with a multi-year programme. Continuing its collaboration with SparkOptimus, the two companies jointly embarked on one of the programme’s larger pillars: digitising Heineken’s B2B route-to-market to outlets across the globe.

SparkOptimus supporting Heineken with large digital transformation

Stage 1: Analogue customer business processes

The multi-year project was broken down in a number of phases. The first phase focused on digitising analogue customer business processes. This included processes at outlets such as order placements, requests for maintenance, or enabling invoicing insights on smartphone apps, as well as allowing outlet owners to digitise operational tasks such as stock counting or book keeping.

To ensure the implementation’s success, the project was first piloted across three markets with distinct routes-to-market: direct, indirect with exclusive distributors and indirect with non-exclusive distributors. After designing the overall transformation approach and plan, a project organisation and governance was setup.

The team began with in-depth customer research in each of the three pilot markets to uncover current customer ways of working, and identify customer pain points and unmet needs. This provided the foundation for a blueprint for the new way of working. A minimum viable product (MVP) platform and ecommerce businesses was then together with an external vendor built in agile fashion. 

A dedicated project team consisting of central and local experts was created to provide 3-6 months on-the-ground support to each of the pilot markets to lead the go-live, and to help establish core digital business operations, processes and teams.

RtM roll-out approach

While supporting the pilot markets with scaling up their MVPs towards mature, sizeable digital businesses, using the lessons from these markets, the central team commenced the roll-out of similar MVP platforms and digital operations in multiple new markets across the globe. In parallel, the local teams of already live markets transferred their skills to the central team, ensuring that knowledge remained and was embedded within Heineken programme structure. 

Stage 2: Monetising opportunities

With a growing number of digital B2B route-to-markets in place, the next step was from mid-2019 onwards to monetise the potential. In other words: supporting front-running Heineken markets with how to use the ‘fuel’ (=data) coming out of the digital touch points to increase customer satisfaction and boost the top line. 

The core approach taken in this phase was to continuously ideate, test, analyse and scale business improvement ideas that improve digital and non-digital interactions with customers (and consumers). This approach however required an integral cross-functional way of working, which at the time was very different to the relatively functional structuring used within Heineken.

Specifically for this purpose, a new organisational model was developed known as ‘digital customer businesses’, to be piloted in select front-running Heineken markets. These digital customer businesses effectively operate as start-ups – high velocity test and learn – inside the local operating companies, growing customer business while fundamentally shifting towards a digital way of working.

RtM maturity


Today, Heineken is now round half way its transformational journey in realising its digital sales strategy. The first benefits have already been reaped. First, digitisation enables outlet owners to simplify their lives through improved efficiency, and as a result they can focus more on value adding tasks such as sales. Second, it helps Heineken build and improve its relationships with outlet owners –  irrespective of their outlet’s size and geographical location. 

Third, a more data-driven way of working is helping Heineken boost its commercial operations and revenues at its grassroots. In the coming months, new local organisations will continue to be slotted into the new way of working, while already live teams will continue their growth in maturity to more data-led decision-making, including the use of artificial intelligence and machine intelligence.

Commenting on the collaboration with SparkOptimus, Heineken’s Chief Commercial Officer Jan Derck van Karnebeek said, “SparkOptimus has helped us to walk a path we otherwise never would or could have. We embarked on a fundamental transformational journey in our global customer approach and SparkOptimus has formed a crucial role in the shaping and delivery of this journey.” 

“Their strategic capability and digital expertise combined with their ability to truly transform analogue businesses on the ground in varying local market contexts, allowed us to successfully embark on a digital transformation that will significantly improve the way we do business with our customers across the globe.”