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December 13, 2004
Jim Park, director, business systems development, Aviall Services, as told to Joshua Weinberger
Aviall Services Uses CRM to Improve Collaboration--and Revenue
Why CRM? Our customers are repeat customers; we've had some of them for 70 years. Our sales reps have a lot of knowledge they don't think is necessary to share--they keep that locked up in their heads. We wanted to get that tribal knowledge into a system. We had a homegrown SFA tool in Lotus Notes; it was a nice idea, but it wasn't really CRM. We wanted to [go] from a $300 million [aviation parts supplier] then to a $1.2 billion company now; we knew we had to have a system to house our customer data, and we knew CRM was it.
How did the implementation unfold? We wanted a very sophisticated, integrated, real-time order-entry front end. We thought for about five minutes that we could build our own, but it was never a real option. Our ERP vendor tried to [build it], but abandoned the project. [Then] we had a Siebel person in here, scoping it out and starting us down the path. It became clear to us that if we really wanted to make the Siebel product an Aviall product we needed our own person, in-house, to handle that development--one who wouldn't be influenced by outside things the way a consultant would. So we formed a team of three developers: We've got one who is what I call a Siebel Assassin--someone who knows the application inside and out at a very high level--and we've developed two more.
How did you get everyone on board? For one thing they put a rooster in charge of the hen house: I was a 19-year veteran of the sales side. As an ex-sales guy, [the front-line users] realize I'm their advocate, the biggest proponent of technology to make their lives easier. We use WebEx to let people plunk around in the system for a few hours to learn the navigation--then they take off on their own for about a month. [By the time] we send a trainer by, there aren't a whole lot of questions like "What does this screen do?"--it's more about high-level navigation and advanced queries. That saved us a half a million bucks last year just on Siebel training for order entry.
What were the key challenges? The biggest thing we had [to address] was the speed of the system, to get that [information] to flow through the network. We had put a network up that was probably not adequate for everything we were trying to do, and when we added CRM on top of it, it exacerbated the problem. We overcame it by increasing the pipe size from the desktop client, probably doubling what we had previously. We've got a pretty complicated pricing model--680,000 SKUs and 17,000 customers. When we tried to duplicate that in Siebel, it wasn't going to fly. Lawson is our ERP for everything, [including] our pricing and inventory control. Lawson does prices by groups, so it was easier to maintain that functionality there and have Siebel talk to it.
What were the main rewards? Aviall makes 3,600 sales calls a month, and CRM has given us the ability to go in and set that as a bar for every sales rep in the company. Before, we didn't have any way to track our sales reps' productivity--and there's a direct correlation between the number of calls and profitability. Also, our inside and outside groups talked every day, but they talked about tasks, not customers and customer information. [CRM has] made them a lot more collaborative.
What are your next steps? Our big, forward-looking challenge is to go to version 7 of Siebel, the Web-based [edition]. But we're not using Siebel out of the box--we've done a lot of development work of our own, a lot of specialization and customization. The biggest challenge will be rewriting those screens into new languages and new formats.
First things first. Tackle the smallest, easiest task straight away, and save the hard stuff for later. Master your domain. Be sure that the people you rely on most are on your payroll, not someone else's. Put the money where it counts. The system you install should have the foundation it requires--upgrade your infrastructure early on. Let business lead the charge. Executives on the business side need to sell CRM to their staffs. Don't let the "gotchas" get you down. Every unforeseen obstacle is just an opportunity to improve your processes.
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