You cant fit a square peg into a round hole, and you cant take software designed for companies that manufacture, distribute or sell products and make it a good fit for companies that sell professional services.
That was a hard lesson learned by Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management, a San Diego company that provides money management services to institutional investors such as corporations, foundations and pension funds.
Last year, the companys initial CRM (customer relationship management) deployment—of various separate sales and customer service applications—didnt go very well. While the applications themselves worked fine, they didnt allow for much collaboration among Nicholas-Applegates different sets of users, according to Dan Stroot, chief technology officer.
"Our business is not traditional sales; its a real relationship-building process, not only directly with customers or clients but third-party consultants," Stroot said. "We rely on strong relationships. Were in a complex business with lots of dollars at stake, so we needed something that took that into account."
Following its initial troubles, rather than search for an elusive software system that was the right fit for its business, Nicholas-Applegate looked instead for a third-party company that knew something about CRM and also knew the financial services space.
"We realized very early on that we had a lot of stakeholders with different opinions about what CRM is, but we didnt know the market very well," said Stroot. "We [had not] canvassed the market, so we thought the best opportunity for us was to hire a partner to help us navigate the waters."
Right around that time, Stroot heard Chad Van Derrick, founder and principal of a small Cambridge, Mass., financial services technology consulting company called Swimfish Inc., speak at the Investment Counsel Association of America conference in San Diego. Van Derrick shared his vision for a collaborative CRM system built on relationships between employees and customers. His speech resonated so strongly with Stroot and others at Nicholas-Applegate that the company hired Swimfish to help develop the definition and requirements of its CRM project and to select a product that met those requirements.
"They helped us tease out what the requirements were," said Stroot. "They helped us clarify and coalesce around a single set of requirements. I was terrified of that going in. People from marketing, sales and service, portfolio management, everyone had something different they desired to get out of the process."
To Van Derrick, what Nicholas-Applegate needed was a more collaborative CRM solution.
"One of Nicholas big challenges was that everyone was using e-mail but no one really knew where things stood with a particular client," Van Derrick said. "That really can slow down the sales process. It looks really bad to the client when theyre calling different people and nobody knows where the multiple touch points are. The client expects them to know their interactions, their history. If they dont know them or they present inaccurate information, they can lose that client in the end."
With definition and requirements in hand, Nicholas-Applegate then enlisted Interface Software Inc.s InterAction, a product designed for professional services companies, to be its new CRM tool.
"Ive implemented everything from [Best Software Inc.s] Acts to [FrontRange Solutions Inc.s] GoldMine to Siebel [Systems Inc.] and Onyx [Software Corp.], and its always frustrating—theres not one package that fits the bill, that maps closely, that really gets down to the underlying architecture of a financial services company," Van Derrick said. "Were always very frustrated in that space."
Interfaces InterAction product is used at many of the top law firms in North America, which is its strongest vertical market. But Nicholas-Applegate and Swimfish found that it was perfect for financial services as well.
"We immediately recognized that the way they modeled it resembles the way these guys do their work," said Van Derrick. "By the end of the day, we said, Yeah, we have something here; this could work in this space." Swimfish was so impressed that Van Derrick said the company went on to form a reseller agreement with Interface.
"We thought [Interface] understood the professional selling area and the concept of relationship management," said Stroot. "The concept of social networking is not in any other product."
But Nicholas-Applegates work with Swimfish yielded another interesting result, according to Stroot and Van Derrick. A CRM application alone wasnt good enough. To get the most out of the CRM implementation, the company also needed an integrated content management and collaboration system.
"The big surprise that actually came out of the study was they went into it thinking they needed a CRM solution," said Van Derrick. "CRMs a component, but its just a component. They also needed document management and workflow. They needed document retention and document storage and then [to] marry that with the information in their CRM system."