Getting the Most From CRM Technology

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When you go to your favorite newspaper, Web site, TV or radio station for the weather, there's a good chance that weather information comes from Accuweather Inc. We provide weather forecasting services to a variety of media outlets.

My 65-person research and development staff has historically been focused on maintaining our satellite and other weather-related technologies; business systems wasn't the traditional focus of the Accuweather IT staff. What I found when I arrived at the company in June 2002 was a CRM mess. Accuweather had moved from GoldMine to UpShot, but even after nine months the system wasn't doing all it should.

There were account and data issues--the user screens were the same for each line of business even though, for example, our broadcast line is totally different from our newspaper line. A salesperson needs to ask different questions for a geographical newsprint account versus a TV account.

There also were speed issues: I delved into the SQL database and could see that the way data was structured was why it was so slow. It was horizontal, with no vertical lines of business. The system sluggishness was not because of UpShot, but because of the way we had designed the data.

Still, I felt that before going ahead with a revamp I needed to explore other options. I looked at products like SalesLogix and Salesforce.com, and even GoldMine, because so many of our salespeople were still married to the old system. Expense and inability to serve a remote sales force discouraged us. In the end I decided to stay with UpShot, because of its ASP model and more reasonable operating cost.

The first step to making the reimplementation work was scrubbing and reentering all the pertinent customer data. It was imperative for salespeople to pull up the right data about the right line of business. For example, is an account for ABC News in New York or Atlanta? Can the billing and fulfillment departments determine which account it is?

Our endeavor is to make UpShot the leading and point software for each new customer number. We are now creating contracts online, and have taken all of UpShot's XML tools and are stitching together systems--like Solomon for financial, our Clientele service system, and a homegrown contracts system--to create other systems and pour information into the Cognos data warehouse. We are normalizing the keys from each line of business, and once that's complete we will write processes to keep data updated.

Training is another push. The first step was to create a systems team that would learn together and become experts at taking info out of UpShot. They in turn train the sales staff, who have realized an extra two hours a week in saved time from the implementation and training we have already done. They can turn these extra hours back into sales calls.

To date we have 100 percent adoption, speed issues are much better, and although we are still cleaning the data, the bulk will be done by the end of this year. We will then have monthly cleanings in which each line of business will be verified by sales staff.

Our plans include training people and personalizing Microsoft Office into UpShot. For example, online contracts will be available and form letters will go into a certain folder and library.

The way we have blended UpShot into our systems [has made] day-to-day operation...easy for users to maintain through security, added reports, new reports, and new processes they themselves put in place. If they don't understand they can come and ask us. It really is that easy--and that's the beauty.

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