Discovering that your company is ridden with silos is almost like discovering a skeleton in the closet. You thought you were running a healthy, progressive company but a good look at your organization's technology and processes reveal an unpleasant past that is clouding the present.
You're not alone. Any company that has been around for more than a few years is likely to have its data and knowledge isolated in silos. That's how systems were structured until very recently.
Cleanscape Software International, a manufacturer of software development tools in San Jose, Calif., was one such company. Problems in its sales department were traced to practices that resulted in a classic case of silo effect. "Sales contact information and support contact information were maintained in different departments in different formats," recalls Brent Duncan, Cleanscape's vice president of marketing. "Silos also existed within departments. We had data from legacy systems that was in some cases 20 years old."
As a result, knowledge seldom made it to sales representatives when they needed it. Even worse, the company risked losing the "institutional memory" of its customer base. "In the past, if a salesman left the organization, no one knew who he was talking to and how," Duncan says. "The relationship with his customers was dead."
Cleanscape decided to institute knowledge sharing to improve sales and customer support. As a first step, it looked for an online application to take sales and marketing information out of separate departments and make it available throughout the organization.
Cleanscape chose eRMNow, a hosted, Web-based service from Neteos Inc. of Waltham, Mass. Neteos built a customized interface for the client's protected area on Neteos servers, and eRMNow's rules-based system establishes need-to-know user permissions.
This solved the core problem of customer relationships leaving with salespeople. "Our centralized database enables these relationships to continue independently of the individual contact," says Duncan. "ERMNow lets us automate the building of our knowledge base and the dissemination of that knowledge to a customer base. It operates like a searchable FAQ [frequently asked questions]."
Open For Sharing
Cleanscape also shares knowledge externally by authorizing access to information that its channel partners and customers need while monitoring all interactions and maintaining data security. The eRMNow knowledge base pushes relevant information--such as product announcements, special offers, industry news and regional updates--to these customers and partners, based on rules established by the Cleanscape system administrator in accordance with business requirements. These rules set parameters such as customer location, relative profitability, purchase history and business size.
For example, in the case of a customer using an older version of a Cleanscape product, eRMNow could send an e-mail alert offering a personalized upgrade. These alerts can link to Cleanscape's Web site, where the customer can get more information. ERMNow supports wireless devices as well.
Pricing was a key factor in the company's purchase decision. Cleanscape considered customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that cost from $100,000 to $500,000 and would have entailed significant development and maintenance overhead. Instead, it spent $10,000 on start-up costs associated with eRMNow and pays $250 per month per user for the hosted system. An in-house administrator manages access to the system.
Cleanscape plans to move more operations into eRMNow, including product development and corporate financials. Before, Duncan's marketing programs generated sales leads but provided no way for him to measure results, which caused accountability problems. "Six months later, when I needed to justify what I did over the previous year, I'd have nothing to tie my efforts directly to sales results," Duncan recalls. "This solution lets me show the direct results of my marketing efforts--how many leads we generated and how much business resulted from them--and I can use that information to not only justify my activities but as a control mechanism to make changes to my marketing plan."