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CRM implementation for one SMB becomes an extensible line of business

A CRM implementation for Skyline Exhibits gives one CRM reseller a shot at contracts for all the company's dealers, but only if the implementation was standard and simple.

Read the first part of this story to learn how Bob Ritter used spam to find and land 140 prime business leads and a repeatable CRM implementation to serve them.

To start the project's planning phase, Baker got Ritter together with a half dozen of the more important dealers and asked him to work on a template that would fit all of their needs.

From there, she said, things were fairly hands off from Skyline's perspective; Ritter managed the back-and-forth with each of the dealers, and Baker had only to approve the definitions of data-output forms, reporting macros and custom fields or reports they came up with.

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A few weeks later, First Direct had a template that Ritter said now takes anywhere from a morning to two days to install at a typical dealer's site, depending on how much customization is needed.

The project is not without difficulties -- the biggest of which is keeping each dealer's customizations in check.

Ritter said many dealerships ask for certain tweaks, changing a file's location or format slightly, but he reminds them that the more changes they make, the more risk they run that their branch will be incompatible with future updates to the template.

"You have to keep in mind [that] they still are independent dealers," he said. "Just because they have the same business model doesn't mean they have the same management style."

Baker tries to help, but there is only so much she can do beyond providing dealers a template she hopes will not need much tweaking in the first place.

"They're independent businesses. We're starting them out with what we think they need to have, and if they think they need something further than that, I can't say no," she said. "This is the challenge of an independent dealer network."

And on the other end of things, Baker sometimes has to explain to other departments within Skyline why it's important that they stick to the standardized forms that make the automated lead referrals work.

Skyline uses a third-party addition to GoldMine called GoldBox to compile leads from the company's internal system and export them to the spreadsheet it sends to dealers. This system requires Skyline's various departments to use certain file formats and locations. Even small change to the template requires significant planning -- about four times what it would otherwise be, Ritter said -- because the effect is compounded for each dealer who uses the system.

Baker admitted that the project has yet to prove itself. This is Skyline's busy season, she said, and many dealers are scrambling just to make it through the rush; they have not had time to really delve into the new system, or measure its effect on productivity.

Baker said Skyline has not identified any specific metrics to measure the project's success either, but thinks she'll be able to gauge it by the end of this year or sometime in 2008. One factor will be whether dealers' sales teams will actually use the software fully.

"It's easy for [dealers] to get used to, and that's a good thing," she said. "But I think sales reps are notorious about not being detailed -- they just want to sell."

Ritter said the disconnect between executives who help design software and the lower-level employees who actually use it daily is one reason that many CRM projects struggle. The solution, he said, is to think about how those employees would really use the software, and if possible even talk to them about it.

Although he was not able to talk to sales reps, accounting people or other dealer employees about the Skyline project, Ritter did make sure they would be able to see reports, such as which leads reps have followed up on, for example, which they might otherwise not be able to easily see. These reports help sales reps track their own progress and could be good motivation for dealers to use the system they've bought, Baker said.

For now, Skyline and First Direct are plugging away at getting more dealers to use the template. First Direct is working on making a webcast training seminar, and Ritter is planning to have a training session ready for the company's sales meeting in June.

"I think the next to do from my perspective," Baker said, "is that I really have to look at those offices that haven't gone to GoldMine and figure out why they haven't gone to GoldMine -- and get them to."

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