How a Software Firm Uses SugarCRM for Sales
While the sales team at W-Systems uses CRM in all of the traditional ways you might think, we constantly challenge ourselves with the question: "What's next?" Sure, we assign tasks and reminders, log calls, create notes on our accounts, keep track of the life cycle of customers through their journey from suspects to happy customer, and use CRM to automate as many processes as possible. But these are all things that any team using CRM should already be doing. The next big step is using it across departments to collaborate, which I think W-Systems does very well. For a software firm, communication between Marketing, Sales and Engineering is absolutely essential to success. So if you find your organization asking the same question of "What's next?" here are some ideas to get the gears turning and create full transparency between your departments.
Receiving Qualified Leads from Marketing
By the time a new lead gets to the sales department, we already have a good picture of who the customer is and where they came from. This allows us to anticipate their needs before we have a single conversation. Our marketing team does a stellar job of delivering only leads that will be meaningful in the interest of maximizing sales potential. They make sure that we spend our time following-up wisely, which allows us to be purposeful when scheduling meetings with prospective customers. We have more meaningful conversations with the people that we do talk to rather than rifling through many conversations throughout the day trying to figure out which ones are important. Our sales team can also see all of the historical activity from a lead before we've even reached out. For example--maybe the prospect has clicked through a few marketing emails, read some blog posts, requested a case study, and finally submitted the "Contact Us" form on our website. The sales team doesn't have to do any work to gather that information. It's all there, at our fingertips, to make sure we have the tools we need to put our best foot forward. In doing this, we can anticipate what the customer might want to know and frame the conversation accordingly. It's still important that we stay engaged and ask the right questions, but having this data gives us a huge head start at the onset.
Communicating Deliverables to Engineering
Our sales cycle is fairly lengthy with plenty of moving parts. And since most of the projects that come to us include professional services, it is vital that we fully understand the requirements before we can offer any estimates of effort to complete work. One of the challenges with this is getting the engineering team up to speed after having three or four in-depth requirements gathering sessions between the customer and their Account Executive (AE). Even with the big brains we have on our engineering bench, it's difficult to transfer that knowledge all at once. We've structured our CRM in a way that allows us to put all of the requirements in one place to make it easily accessible by everyone, whether it be Sales, Sales-Engineering, or back and forth between Engineers. From the early conversations I have with prospective customers, a dossier of sorts is getting built with the key components of every meeting. Using this information, it's very easy for me to create a "Sales-Engineering" (SE) request, and begin collaboration between engineering and sales teams. By the time an SE request is submitted, there should be enough information for an engineer to easily digest what the customer wants us to do and why. This makes estimates much more accurate and cuts down turn-around times significantly. By the time a project gets into the Engineering queue, it has already been through detailed Requirements Gathering and Architecture and Design sessions, which allows the project to be assigned out to the Engineering team efficiently. Nobody has to sift through email threads to get the information they need. It is all in our CRM, in one spot. When the assigned engineer looks at the project in our CRM, they can quickly assess:
- What are we doing?
- Why are we doing it?
- How are we doing it?
- How long should it take us to do it?
- What are the risks or potential roadblocks?
Manage Customer Expectations Throughout Projects
The Account Executive team makes sure that W-Systems satisfies all customer requirements and that expectations are on the same page throughout a project. Generally, AE's will guide your project(s) through the first year before reaching a stable hand-off point. From there, it makes sense to transition accounts to a dedicated Account Management (AM) team which I'll talk about in more detail a little later. Though we have a dedicated Project Manager to handle the granular day-to-day tasks within projects, it is extremely important that AE's have visibility into what is happening in real time. If you've ever worked with a software developer, you know that once an engineer has his headphones in, he might as well be in Tahiti. So without having to halt engineering productivity, I can:
- Track Projects Against Timelines: If we are not on track to complete projects within the agreed upon target date, we can adapt and change course to make sure that we take necessary action.
- Track Projects Against Budget: I can quickly and easily see how many hours have been worked on a given project and compare it against the estimated budget in real time. If there are reasons that a project will exceed the budget (A.K.A. "scope creep"), I can begin to assess why and work to manage expectations on both sides. Customers are generally apprised of scope changes as they present themselves, but using CRM as our fail-safe allows us to be proactive instead of reactive in our approach.
- Track Changes to the Project: Many of the professional services projects that we take on are "from-scratch" functionality requests. This means that our customer has a unique business process that is not easily solved by one piece of software. When this happens, W-Systems builds the solution from the ground up. As a result, there are virtually ALWAYS changes to the project as we peel back layers to the proverbial onion. It's all but guaranteed that once we begin development we'll get the questions "Oh, I didn't know we could do x! Can we also do y and z?" and "It would be great if we could add in (insert really cool idea here)...is that possible?"
It's important for us to remain flexible so that customers can have exactly what they need. On the opposite side of the coin, we also need to track changes as they could impact the scope and timeline of the project. Tracking these additions and changes is key so that sales can effectively communicate this to the customer and limit that dreaded "scope creep" in the process.
Handoff from Account Executives to Account Management Team
After the first year with W-Systems, customers transition over to our Account Management team. It's typical for CRM to be deployed for our customers in a phased approach so it's very important that the AM in charge of fostering the relationship with our customers is able to pick up wherever the AE left off. We need to be able to communicate wins, losses, challenges, opportunities, and a myriad of other data to the AM team. If Phase I is complete, they need to be able to carry the customer through Phases II and III. CRM is the cornerstone of our ability to do this. Within our CRM, AM's can easily.
- Streamline hand-off: For customers of all sizes, it's important that we have a cohesive transfer from AE to AM. Via a custom dashboard, our AM's can easily see which accounts are scheduled to be transferred, whether or not those accounts are in the middle of any projects, and if the hand-off process should necessitate special treatment. For example, maybe the customer is in the middle of a big project. Maybe it's an exceptionally large customer. Maybe the customer really likes hugs (or really needs one). Whatever the case may be, the AM can assess and triage the accounts being handed off for any given month and plan accordingly.
- Track renewals for software and services: It's very common that we manage renewals for subscriptions and recurring professional services in CRM. So the onus is on AM's to make sure the customer is apprised of when the renewals are up with appropriate time to make the necessary accommodations.
- Efficiently Manage a large customer base: It's our goal to proactively keep up with customers on a regular basis. Via our CRM, Account Managers can see what action items they should be taking with each account, even if the action item is a simple quarterly check-in.
W-Systems is constantly looking for innovative ways to use CRM as THE repository for customer information. And we love to help organizations like yours get creative about managing relationships with your customers. If you can share any interesting ways that your company has been able to use CRM, we'll totally geek out with you. How is your team taking it to the next level? Feel free to sound off below.