• June 1, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Awana Hears a SaaS Sermon

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Some might be offended to hear religion described as a competitive business, but there are certainly competitive aspects--something the missionaries of Awana discovered in late 2006. The Chicago-area nonprofit agency, which provides local churches worldwide with programs, weekly clubs, and training for students in preschool through high school, had to come to terms with poor organization that was hurting its effectiveness. The changes, implemented with the help of Cast Iron Systems and Salesforce.com, have enabled Awana to expand its outreach.

"We did a marketing study and discovered that more than 80 competitors had entered our space within the past five years," says Judi Smith, director of strategic services for Awana. "We realized that having better insight and management of relationships could give us an edge. Our field rep 'missionaries' each had their own method of tracking their clients, with no central aggregate of information and no coordination between the field force and HQ."

Awana was a longtime user of JD Edwards (JDE) as its enterprise resource planning system, and decided that any new CRM product would have to work with it. "Our CRM had to be customized for our business model, and it had to integrate with JD Edwards, using its XML [programming language] as Web services," Smith says. "I didn't think Salesforce.com could integrate because it was 'in the cloud'"--a reference to Web-based information and applications. Awana had already bought several licenses of Microsoft Dynamics CRM--"They have very compelling pricing for nonprofits," Smith says--and asked Cast Iron Systems to handle the integration.

"Awana had a screaming need for CRM, and already had several licenses of Microsoft Dynamics CRM on the shelf, which they needed to integrate with JD Edwards," says Ken Comee, chief executive officer of Cast Iron. "We told them we can connect Microsoft and JDE, but suggested they take a look at Salesforce.com as well. So we pushed the lead to them, and Awana did a midcourse correction to Salesforce.com."

Comee's belief in Salesforce.com notwithstanding, it was a complex integration. "JDE is very sophisticated, and very complicated," Comee says. "We had to build some temporary bridges and workarounds before the final connector was ready." Even so, his company was able to back up its "integrate in days, not months" assurance.

Some convincing of Awana's field force was necessary, though. "The missionaries were excited to have access to HQ's customer data," Smith says. "Getting them to enter their own info was a larger challenge, but they're beginning to realize it empowers them to do the job better."

Uptake is an ongoing process, and Smith notes Awana is halfway through a three-year deployment plan. "Our field rep missionaries are very independent; they wouldn't tolerate our going out to them and saying, 'You have to do it this way,'" she says. "We brought in a group of 10 missionaries to help customize Salesforce.com to their own needs. Then we rolled it out to 25 more to get their feedback, then a larger group, and another. I also have a training specialist on staff keeping the missionaries up to date on features and functions."

Awana has not only improved the effectiveness of its field personnel, but has seen the solution become part of other job functions as well. "We were surprised at the number of different ways we wound up using Salesforce.com," Smith says. "We looked at it as [sales force automation], but [the Human Resources staff] also uses it for employment, and the benefits person uses it to track issues as well."

With Cast Iron Systems' integration of Salesforce.com with JD Edwards, Awana:

  • saw over 1,000 percent ROI in integration;
  • eliminated lead-entry time through automation;
  • reduced report-production time by 75 percent; and
  • saved $350,000 on a system upgrade it no longer needed.

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