Animal research imaging firm plans CRM upgrade

A Toronto company expects the arrival of Microsoft Corp.’s Dynamics CRM 3.0 to bring increased flexibility, better reporting and a boost in speed and efficiency.

VisualSonics Inc. builds high-resolution micro-imaging systems designed for non-invasive research in small animals. Using its ultrasound-based products, researchers can study anatomical structures and functions of small animals such as mice and rats without killing the animals.

The VisualSonics products are complex and costly, says Rob Sandler, the company’s vice-president of marketing, so the sales cycle is long. Selling one VisualSonics system typically takes about nine months, and the company has defined 17 steps in the sales process. This demands configuration of customer relationship management (CRM) software to fit VisualSonics’ needs. 

In the five-year-old company’s early days, it relied on simple contact-management software to track its dealings with customers. But as VisualSonics grew, it needed more complete CRM functions.

The company first tried Sage Software Inc.’s SalesLogix, but found it too rigid and difficult to customize. “We felt it was extremely narrow in its scope and we needed a tool that was more flexible and robust,” Sandler said.

So VisualSonics switched to what was then the current version of the Microsoft CRM product, release 1.2. “We wanted an in-house software solution,” Sandler said. “We’re a small to mid-sized company, so we’re not going to be able to consider a Siebel type solution.” (Siebel Systems Inc. is a prominent vendor of CRM software for large businesses which was recently acquired by Oracle Corp.) VisualSonics also wanted its CRM system to be accessible from multiple locations, because most of its sales people are located in the U.S. and Western Europe.

VisualSonics chose Wolfbridge Solutions Corp., a Microsoft certified partner that focuses exclusively on CRM, so supply and support the software. Eric Rutten, vice-president of Wolfbridge, said his three-year-old Toronto company has worked with Microsoft since the Microsoft CRM product was launched.

Sandler said Wolfbridge has helped his company configure the CRM tool to support its lengthy sales cycle and custom reporting requirements. Now Wolfbridge is helping VisualSonics make the shift to Dynamics CRM 3.0, which Microsoft announced in early December.

Sandler said the new release has significantly improved reporting capabilities, which will give his company more flexibility to get information it wants from the system. Because of changes in the software’s data structure, VisualSonics will have access to different views of the same data. “Everything references back to the same file,” said Sandler, “so it makes it much easier to cross-reference.” 

Campaign management capabilities are also more closely integrated into the new release, Sandler noted. Rutten said this is one of two major areas in which the 3.0 release adds new functionality. The new marketing module helps manage marketing campaigns and track their effectiveness. “That’s the one that has VisualSonics pretty pleased about the potential for helping them,” he said.

Rutten said the other major enhancement in the new release is the ability to schedule people and resources for service calls.

Another key improvement from VisualSonics’ point of view is better integration with Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail and scheduling tool. “This is the best integration I’ve seen,” Rutten maintained. “You can literally work within Outlook and access all the functionality in CRM.” This is a big plus for VisualSonics, Sandler said, because “we’re a very Outlook-oriented company.” 

Finally, said Sandler, the update improves the software’s efficiency. “I wouldn’t describe MS CRM as being the fastest tool,” he said. With release 3.0, functions have been streamlined and Sandler expects a number of operations will be quicker to complete.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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