John Brooks Company Ltd. was a mid-sized Canadian supplier with a serious problem: it didn’t really know what its salespeople were up to. To make matters worse, with the technology the company was using, there really wasn’t any way of finding out.

John Brooks, which supplies pumps, spray nozzles, filtration equipment and engineered systems to customers across Canada, tried two customer relationship management (CRM) solutions implementations. They both failed. The company ended up with islands of data across its seven Canadian offices.

Mike Sandor, director of IT for the Toronto company, says the lack of a centralized data store was a major threat to customer intelligence. The company would have situations where a sales rep would leave a territory and his notebook would come back displaying only a command prompt. “Everything’s just gone,” says Sandor. “So the new sales guy would walk in and say, ‘I’m from John Brooks,’ and the guy would just look at him and say, ‘Well, you were just here last month,’ and he’d have to say, ‘Well, I’m starting over.’ It was very embarrassing.”

In addition, every Friday, regional sales managers would get a stack of paper with “spreadsheets and God only knows what else” they had to make sense of, so they could coach and mentor their sales teams. The national quoting system data could not be understood either — a serious problem when you’re dealing with about 20,000 customers. And there was no sales activity management because some salespeople were working with Maximizer, some with Outlook and some with GoldMine.

With the help of Redwood City, Calif.-based Tectura Corp., a provider of Microsoft-based ERP, CRM, and technology solutions, the company implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM 1.0 for its customer support staff.

In January 2005, John Brooks migrated to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 1.2 in its largest group, the industrial division. Tectura created a screen and process design in collaboration with the John Brooks sales force. The system, which went live on June 1, 2005, also included customizations, integrations and rollouts to the companyís PDAs. There was even a Web site set up that interfaces to CRM and used for weekly reporting on sales activity. John Brooks wrote its own SQL reports, which are stored offline, then made available to users from within the CRM solution on a weekly basis.

“All that pain has gone away,” says Sandor. “Everything’s in real time. Quotes are in real time, the reporting’s in real time, and all that activity [is tracked].”

Frank Falcone, CRM product manager with Microsoft Canada, says his company is consistently integrating its CRM products with Microsoft Office applications to lower the learning curve for users. The new CRM 3.0 represents another step in this direction.

“We want to make sure that our CRM system works the way businesses do,” says Falcone. “No two businesses are the same. We acknowledge that, and hence the ability to really customize the CRM solution and the workflow.”

Behind the philosophy is the idea of a role-based CRM interface, so that if you’re a customer service rep what you see on the screen and interact with is different than if you were a sales rep. Yet all the users are using the same application.

Carmi Levy, a senior research analyst at London, ON-based Info-Tech Research Group, says SMBs rarely a have complete understanding of what CRM is supposed to achieve. It’s not about the application; it’s about the underlying business processes and figuring out how technology can improve them.

That’s partly why there are failed implementations, he explains, because if you don’t understand the concept, thereís no way you can meet expectations; you can’t possibly set them appropriately in the first place.

Another problem Levy sees is one that John Brooks also experienced: users had the CRM or contact manager software on their systems, but refused to use it.

“When you roll an application out to this audience, really what you’re doing is you’re trying to pull them into it rather than push them into it. So [you need to] have them understand the value proposition to their business. How is this going to benefit them? And then get them to have that ‘Eureka moment,’ of: ‘Oh yeah, so I’ll spend more time on the golf course, I’ll have greater billables and I’ll make a million. Sold!'”

Also, you can’t throw an application at them with a complicated user interface that’s disconnected from all the other applications that they’re using. This only forces them to come back into the office to do data entry when what they really want — and should — be doing is going out and meeting customers on the road. Mobilize them, says Levy. “Adapt technology to the way they work.”

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