USAllianz Investor Services is a major player in the $120 billion-plus variable annuities market (a variable annuity is a long-term tax-deferred retirement product). Its parent company, Minneapolis-based Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, is one of the 50 largest U.S. life insurers, with $18 billion in assets and annual revenues exceeding $1 billion.
Traditionally, USAllianz has outsourced its marketing and sales functions for its variable annuity products. But as times change, so do the ways companies conduct business. It became apparent to management that its staff could best be served by assembling an in-house operation to enhance the company's competitive edge in the market.
"We saw it as an opportunity," says Shawn Spott, USAllianz's manager of business services, explaining that the change required a new, nationwide network of USAllianz "wholesalers" to service the company's variable annuity retailers and allowed the company to gain direct control over sales and marketing.
According to Spott, larger players in the variable annuities market are forcing out smaller shops that have limited distribution channels. "When we decided to be one of the major remaining players in the variable annuities market, we knew that we had to arm our mobile sales force with the best information management tools."
USAllianz realized it needed a tool that would allow the company to integrate, analyze and distribute information between the home office and remote sales force. In addition to working with its current data warehouse and corporate licensing applications, the solution would have to work with the company's standard platforms, including Lotus Notes for e-mail and Cognos Impromptu for reporting.
"The problem was," Spott admits, "we didn't have a CRM package in-house. But we knew we had to get CRM technology. And we were not going to tiptoe into this, but go full bore; state-of-the-art technology, mobile utilization, daily sales. Every function we could think of, we wanted to throw at it right out of the box. We didn't have two to three years to catch up to other organizations. We needed it now."
While Spott says precise measurable differences between the old method of outsourcing and the current in-house procedures cannot readily be quantified, he does say that with a CRM solution, the company no longer guesses effective ways to deal with its customers.
An accelerated RFP process--four weeks instead of the typical three-to-six months--narrowed the competition to four. "Everyone had to do a demonstration for us," Spott says. "We didn't want a dog and pony show, but the nuts and bolts on how each operation worked."
Finding the Right Solution
USAllianz eventually chose Point Information Systems' TeamPOINT 4i CRM solution, and its MobilePoint component to support the sales of its variable annuity products in the field.
Founded in 1989 and headquartered in Wellesley, Mass., Point is a provider of advanced CRM solutions for e-commerce and e-business, enabling organizations to link their sales, marketing, customer care and back office functions into an integrated, enterprise-wide, customer interaction platform.
"Field salespeople and inside salespeople are two different points of interaction for a company," explains Rafael Gomez, vice president of operations, Americas at TeamPOINT. Therefore, one of the challenges for this kind of marketing is in the sharing of information. A sales person finds something out, then goes to the next customer. Then the customer calls the inside sales person and that person doesn't know what request was made, or doesn't know what the sales person has done about it, resulting in two requests for the same thing.
Gomez says 4i provides not only a single repository of information about the customer, but it tracks the request the customer made, the commitment given to the customer, and where those items sit in terms of being resolved as well.
USAllianz liked TeamPOINT's out-of-the-box functionality and integration environment, which let the company complete much of its own customization. "We were building the plane as we taxied down the runway," Spott says. "We needed a tool that would allow us to develop, customize and modify the system with jet speed and to respond to the field's frequent changes."
starting From Scratch
The PC-based project was on a rapid implementation fast track from day one, with an implementation start date in early September 1999. Completion was set for mid-November. While internal, LAN-based users starting using the application, the company also began to employ MobilePOINT to the field. The process was completed in just over three months. By March 1, 2000, the remote wholesalers were using the solution in a production environment.
"starting from scratch, it was a very tough learning curve for both the field and the home office," Spott explains. "The downside is it took nine months for people to feel confident in the system. The upside is that a better system is in place because it was really defined and used by the people who put it together, not by a committee."
There were, however, a number of implementation challenges along the way. The first was the timeline. Since the company was taking over the relationship management from its strategic partner, they were obligated to be ready as soon as the agreement expired, and didn't have the luxury to work under an arbitrarily determined deadline.
To complicate matters further, USAllianz was new to the CRM software concept. Until this point, the variable annuities division had acted largely as a "product manufacturer" and had little, if any, experience in managing customer relationships. This meant that the entire division had to educate itself quickly to avoid any beginner's mistakes.
Spott says TeamPOINT advised his company on the most expeditious way to proceed. "On their advice, we established a core team that would take the project from idea to implementation and would then stay with the CRM initiative going forward. This allowed us to develop in-house expertise right from the start," he says.
Feeling confident the team had thought of everything, the customized program was rolled out for training in Denver and New York. Spott says halfway through training, the first seven people who tried the solution were interviewed about it, but did not respond with the hoped-for accolades.
"They were very unhappy with it," Spot says. "The primary source of annoyance was that the users couldn't sort by state, and if they couldn't do that, they didn't want to use it." But the carefully customized system rose to the challenge. In a week, the software was quickly revamped to include the sort-by-state ability.
There were other problems to work out, as well. "We didn't close the loop on the process," Spott says. "We weren't able to show sales statistics. We put in place our sales solution, the analysis tools next. We should have had that from the get-go."
Initially 25 field people across the country began using the software. Of those, 20 were territory-specific individuals, five were national. The remote sales force, currently totaling 35, is expected to reach more than 100 this year. In addition, 150 in-house sales and marketing personnel are using the software.
Now, after a year of flushing out the bugs, Spott feels the software works very well, showing the field people more information in a more concise manner.
Despite initial problems, USAllianz feels it has begun to derive a business advantage from the solution. The company no longer must guess what is an effective way to deal with customers.
Now, USAllianz has rapid, direct communication between field and home office employees. Through laptop synchronization, without worrying about the physical connectivity of a Web- or LAN-based solution, USAllianz wholesalers can access information they need to prioritize contacts and scheduling.
According to Patrick Allen, USAllianz division sales manager for the Northeastern region, the TeamPOINT software has definitely been an asset. "It holds a tremendous amount of data," Allen says. "I can do call reporting, as well as fax and e-mail and capture a lot of information, all retrievable at a later date."
The USAllianz team can track all demographic, contact history, and sales information about a particular retailer and use the data to identify the most active and profitable resellers. The team can monitor the products that are selling well and those that aren't, daily. They can determine what contacts result in sales, evaluate marketing campaigns and use the data to track their impact on sales. The sales force can review production numbers from the day before.
"That kind of sales information means better decisions locally, and better service," Spott says. "Wholesalers can bring a personal touch to their representative relationships, down to calling and thanking them for their sales."