When Bobby Holt and Lee Falck graduated from Harvard Business School in 2000, they decided to go into business together, lined up some investors and went shopping for a small manufacturing company to buy.
They eventually chose Brandrud, a 45-year-old family-owned furniture business in Auburn, Wash., that makes seating products for universities and hospitals.
Holt, company co-president, said they looked at this industry because they believed it was one where they could take best advantage of their training and expertise.
"We targeted the commercial furniture industry because we thought there were some real opportunities there. It was very much a fragmented industry made up of a lot of mom and pop [stores].
Our background was from General Electric and Harvard Business School, and we felt we could bring some of those skills and talents and professional management [we learned from these places] to an industry that didnt have that," Holt said.
After the purchase, Holt said, he and Falck embarked on a mission to transform the company into a modern business based on best practices. He said they began exploring and implementing new ways to improve every facet of the business.
Especially problematic was tackling the sales process because, Holt said, he and Falck lacked any sales or marketing expertise. Despite that, he said, it quickly became apparent that the company needed some type of CRM (customer relationship management) package to organize the sales process.
When Holt and Falck purchased the company, Holt said that Brandrud was using a customized Microsoft Access database to track quotes and some spreadsheets to track the performance in different sales territories.
But neither tool provided Holt and Falck with any standard CRM functionality or the ability to perform sales forecasts throughout the process. Holt said this was especially important to Brandrud because of its complex sales cycle.
With Brandrud being a small company, Holt said he and Falck wanted to find a tool that allowed them to take control of the sales process but that was reasonably priced and easy to use. After exploring various alternatives including Act (from Sage Software) and GoldMine (from FrontRange Solutions), they chose Avidian Technologies Prophet 2004, a CRM tool that works inside Microsoft Outlook.
Holt said that Prophet not only met these criteria but also provided a way for Brandrud to define and track sales in ways it could never do before.
"We looked at lower-cost CRM packages ... but they didnt seem very flexible. We found Prophet appealing because it was a tool that worked in Outlook, which we are in all the time and everyone here knows how to use, and [we also liked] the flexibility and the ease of adopting it to our existing processes.
"For us, adoption was easy. It didnt take a lot of training or encouragement. It acts like an option within Outlook, rather than a whole new application, and for those reasons it was an easy choice," Holt said.
Holt said he connected with Avidian just as it was completing its initial product launch, a client-side product that became Prophet 2004. He said he was willing to consider a new company such as Avidian because Prophet was a compelling product at a low price and, therefore, he considered it a low risk.
James Wong, CEO of Avidian, said that because Prophet lives inside Outlook, it is an ideal tool for sales professionals who often work in Outlook for much of the day.
Prophet allows them to continue to do this while adding sales features that Outlook lacks. Wong said these options are what appealed to Brandrud.
"Salespeople are in Outlook all day, but they need sales features like Opportunity Management to understand what phase a sales opportunity is in or to take date-stamped notes and share them with other members of the team and with the sales manager," Wong said in Bellevue, Wash.
For a small company such as Brandrud, Holt said it was important to get a return on investment very quickly and that Prophet more than paid for itself almost immediately.
Holt said that he paid $10,000 for Prophet, which he estimated contributed to $1.5 million in new sales in 2004 and $3 million in new sales in 2005 that Brandrud wouldnt have made without Prophet.
Holt worked with Avidian staff to build custom reports to help Brandrud manage the sales process better by including information that was relevant to the Brandrud sales process, rather than presenting a cookie-cutter, out-of-the box solution, Holt said.
Avidian also came in-house and provided Brandrud staff with training on how to use the product.
"The first step of the process was to use it internally with business development and sales associates that are Brandrud employees," Holt said.
The company is in the process of rolling out Prophet to all the sales representatives now, Holt said, starting slowly with the ones they have a better relationship with and then ultimately rolling it out to the others.
Holt said the biggest test of the effectiveness of using Prophet is that it has contributed to a more effective sales staff and a smoother sales process that allows the company to invest money where it is most needed.
"Having a process allows us to spend money wisely. A company our size has limited resources, so you dont get many opportunities to screw up. [Prophet gives us the ability] to be very focused about where we put our money and development dollars," Holt said.
Ron Miller is a freelance writer in Amherst, Mass. Contact him at email@example.com.