CRM on demand works wonders for Canadian “voice talent” firm

If David Ciccarelli were providing the voice-over for a movie trailer about the global recession, it would probably sound pretty ominous.

Those deep, sombre tones you hear on TV, at the multiplex or on the Web often come through the services of Voices.com, a London, Ont.-based online business Ciccarelli founded in 2004 with a partner.

VIDEO: Featuring Voices.com CEO David Ciccarelli

The company works with ad agencies, film producers such as DreamWorks and major networks, including NBC, ABC and the History Channel. It also signs up voice-over talent and finds them work. Although film shoots in Los Angeles recently slumped to their lowest level ever, according to news reports, Ciccarelli says Voices.com is managing to weather the storm.

“There are concerns from voice talent. They’re basically freelancers who provide these services, so they worry about how they’ll be affected,” he says. “So far, we’ve been pretty resilient.”

That resilience may be due in part to Voices.com’s ability to effectively organize and manage its sales data.

Ciccarelli says the firm, which employs about a dozen people, has become a big proponent of Salesforce.com and has been working with the on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) system to identify missed opportunities – or long-term ones.

“We use Salesforce.com as the central hub for all decision-making and examining what the reports are telling us in terms of why a client’s making purchases, or why they’re not,” he says.

Voices.com recently customized one of those reports by adding a “reason why” field to section about customers that decided not to use its services.

“We’re maybe not winning as many deals as we used to, so why is that? Now we just added some typical reasons (in the system), like money’s tight, the economic climate is too bad, or they’re pushing the decision off for three to six months. So now despite us losing the deal today, we can start planning for that in the future. If money’s tight, money’s tight, but when things turn around, those are the people we can reach out to.”

This is exactly the kind of approach suggested by Salesforce.com at a customer conference in Toronto recently, where Ciccarelli and his peers gathered to hear about key features in the vendor’s Spring 2009 release.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Salesforce.com became known as an early proponent of what is now referred to as software-as-a-service (SaaS), a model of subscribing to an application on a monthly basis rather than installing a permanent package. More recently, Salesforce.com has been a big supporter of cloud computing, where customer IT infrastructure and information is hosted by a third party at an off-site data centre.

Renny Monaghan, Salesforce.com’s vice-president of solution marketing, said the company has made an aggressive foray into the custom application market with Force.com, a development platform with programmable cloud logic, real-time workflow and approvals, and a programmable UI. The idea is being able to add or change all the fields, objects and tables that customers like Voices.com could want.

“People wanted to do more than CRM,” he said in a keynote speech to the crowd. “They were looking at the success they were having with Salesforce and they wanted to build other apps. So we popped the top off.”

Besides acting as a place for sales reps to enter information about customers and prospects, Salesforce.com is also offering users the ability to create their own Web sites or landing pages, compile sales material in a content library and track what customers are saying about a company in social networking sites like Facebook. Monaghan said Salesforce.com now boasts 55,000 customers and at least 100 with more than 1,000 employees.

Voices.com represents the more traditional Salesforce.com customer – a small or medium-sized business that can’t afford its own data centre, though Ciccarelli said the firm started out with rival Netsuite.

“Both myself and my partner, Stephanie, work with Mac computers, so we were looking for something Web-based. “We didn’t have any Microsoft Exchange servers, so we needed something where we could both update the data.” Voices.com’s accountant, however, wasn’t thrilled with Netsuite, and over time Ciccarelli said the firm had some usability issues with it.

He had already seen several Salesforce.com demos and decided to test a trial version with his team that embraced it.

“Being a Web-based business, most of our results will become the result of a Google search,” he says. Voices.com took advantage of a partnership between Salesforce.com and Google AdWords about two years ago to capture sales lead information. If someone types in keywords such as “movie trailer sound” into Google, for example, and they click on a Voices.com result, that term stays with them and gets entered into Voices.com’s Salesforce.com’s contact information area.

“Now we have the beginning of a story of what they were looking for,” he says. As they arrive on the Voices.com landing page, that user could be pointed to one of its white papers or other learning resources. These include a nine-step guide to getting started in podcasting, or how to create voice-overs for movie trailers.

Voices.com staff keep the Salesforce.com tab open on their browser all day long, Ciccarelli says, and the system is set up to be as open and transparent as possible. Sales figures visible on a daily basis, as are marketing leads and the number of support tickets. “You don’t even see just your support tickets, you see everyone’s. That way we can help each other out or assign a support case to someone else if they’re more qualified,” he says, adding it’s important that such tools don’t become a glorified address book.

“If you’re only using it for that one application for that one function, you might as well keep using Outlook, because you won’t get the value from it. The value comes from the lifecycle of a customer, as well as the data and [its] quality.”

The next step for some companies might be using Salesforce.com’s Ideas software to create sites that encourage customer interaction. Frank Van Veenendaal, the company’s chief sales officer, said Dell and others are using the technology for user-generated content and community-building efforts.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for customers to interact, vote and promote our sites,” he said, adding that 50 to 70 per cent of new features in a release come from its customers. “They are out there on the leading edge saying, ‘How about Twitter?’ The idea is to expand access to everybody out there.”

In the meantime, Ciccarelli suggests new users begin with a trial version but import actual company data so there will be no surprises if they choose to move ahead with the paid version. He also recommends starting with the group edition, then the professional and the enterprise version, which Voices.com now uses.

“You can gain almost all the functionality of Salesforce just starting with their entry-level product,” he says, adding that along with increased sales, user adoption is probably a key metric. “If no one’s logging in, the investment will never pay off.”

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