With Y2K looming Graham Bell, sales support manager at Adams the confectionery manufacturer, had a ready-made deadline for the implementation of a customer relationship management (CRM) and mobile ordering system.
It was to replace a Dos-based bespoke system which was primarily for order taking, did not offer much reporting capability and was not Y2K-compliant.
The new system had to service a team of eight wholesale sales representatives, each travelling a geographical region and visiting 100 wholesalers and cash-and-carry outlets across that region to collect orders. The frequency of their visits depends on the profile of the account and on the time of year - since one of Adams' major lines is Halls cough sweets, its business is to some extent seasonal.
Adams' systems selection exercise began in the latter half of 1998. A challenging questionnaire was sent out, which elicited responses from 25 suppliers. Adams' project team sifted through the responses and came up with a shortlist of half a dozen names who were invited to an evaluation day in a London hotel.
For the evaluation, Adams put together a team of interviewers representing the interests of users from the sales and marketing functions, IT management, plus the Y2K team and the finance department.
"An important factor in our selection was the question of whether we'd be able to work with the supplier in a joint team," recalls Bell.
Adams completed its internal approval process in March 1999 and the decision was made to award the contract to CRM provider Tranzline.
As soon as that approval came through the project - called Sweet (sales with enhanced electronic targeting) - kicked off in earnest. The team was working under pressure because there was a Y2K freeze from the end of September 1999 to March 2000, during which no new systems were allowed to go live. It was, therefore, essential that the system was in and working, in all important particulars, by September, which left six months for development and implementation.
"It was a good discipline, because there was no doubt about when we were due to finish," says Bell.
That discipline encouraged Adams to identify the essentials and distinguish them from nice-to-have features that could be added later. The team was careful, however, to cut no corners in verification and approval of the finished product and a lot of time was dedicated to planning and carrying out acceptance tests.
Tranzline's technical solution was based on an off-the-shelf product, CRMsoft, but it required tailoring to meet Adams' needs. For example, the system needed not only to generate regular orders to be fulfilled by the enterprise resource planning SAP system, but also to record a special order where only an invoice was required from the SAP system because stock had already been supplied by a sales representative in the course of a visit.
In addition, Adams needed to automate some subsidiary tasks to make life easier for the salesforce. When a cash-and-carry places an order, Adams may have to provide point-of-sale display equipment such as wire stands. The new system would make it easy for the salesperson to generate the order for this equipment while they were taking the order; it would then be sent separately via Tranzline to a third-party warehouse - set up as a remote user on the system - which fulfils that aspect of the order. So Tranzline needed to write that part of the system on a bespoke basis. However, the company says its software is designed to put as many customer-facing processes as possible into the front-end system.
The team was also careful to include key users in testing, just as they had been involved in the selection process. As well as encouraging end-users to feel that they owned the new system, that had the practical advantage of giving them a hands-on feel for the system well before it was due to go live.
Bell attributes the favourable reception that the system received to the fact that the grassroots users, as well as the sales managers, had been involved from the outset, even to the extent of taking some sales people off the road to help with the project.
"The sales team contributed so much to the design and testing of the system that it's not surprising we got a good level of buy-in," says Bell.
The project went sufficiently smoothly for the old system to be switched off and the first chunk of Sweet to go live, on cue, in September 1999.
In addition to its field salesforce, Adams also uses telesales employees. They take orders, reactively and proactively, extending and complementing the field salesforce. Just as there is a structured plan for field staff, there is a similar plan, based on customer profiles, to ensure that customers receive a telesales call at the right time.
From the outset, it was seen as important that the telesales people should share the same system and database as the field staff.
Bell explains, "The customer service team will sometimes telephone where the account manager would normally call in person but for some reason can't on this occasion. If the telesales person was to put the record of that straight into the SAP system, it would not show up on the Tranzline call history report. And it's essential that when the reps go in to the customer records on Tranzline they have the complete records."
To get the single view of the customer that its staff need, Adams knew it would have to start putting the calls in via the Tranzline system. Performance was particularly critical. With a customer hanging on the phone, you cannot afford a system that is going to slow up the order-taking process.
"Still within our initial implementation project, we undertook an exercise to make sure that the system was at least as efficient as the SAP system," says Bell.
Another important success factor was Adams' realism about what was and was not worth pursuing. The communication between the salesforce's laptops and the SAP system was simplified during the project to meet time constraints, and an experiment with handheld devices to support the retail salesforce was put on ice.
That pragmatism arose partly from the recognition that some aspects of the project were being overtaken by the development of the available technology, particularly mobile technology. Bell believes that the next time Adams revisits its salesforce support environment the end result will look totally different even though the requirement will remain essentially the same.
In the meantime, Adams got a system that delivered what it was looking for in terms of improved territory management and did it in the required timescale.
An immediate benefit was improved journey planning. And because the representatives' portable computers are updated nightly with the latest version of the data - including any telesales activities at head office - they can be confident that when they talk to and advise customers, they are giving them the right information. The information that is carried on the laptops includes order status, so if a customer wants to discuss an outstanding order, the representative can do so from a position of knowledge. Previously, finding out an order's status would have meant going back to the SAP system.
While much of the company's management information comes out of the SAP system, Adams relies on Tranzline's system for marketing and some sales information. Management information is sucked from the system into an Excel pivot table where it can be interrogated and manipulated by end-users.
This mechanism was chosen because it is very similar to the one already used with the SAP system, so the managers did not have to learn a new set of reporting tools. It is now possible for management to track who is buying what and spot any trends in a way that the previous system did not allow.
Looking back, Bell is particularly pleased with the way the selection process was conducted and its outcome. "We knew that implementing a new system and migrating to it in this timeframe wasn't going to be easy - migration never is at the best of times.
"But because our two companies were able to find out so much about each other during the selection process, we were confident that Tranzline was the best company to go with us through the pain. And by the time we finished, they'd had plenty of opportunity to make sure that they had the resources to deal with our requirements in the time available."
What the BuyIT experts say...
Alistair Fulton, chairman, BuyIT, and president, Computing Services & Software Association
BuyIT is pleased to include this case study in our best practice series. Our aim is to find examples that others can emulate and we think there is much in this case study that other IT solution purchasers and their suppliers should heed.
The tightly specified project avoided being overlaid by lots of additional nice-to-haves and the associated complexity that bedevils so many projects. Helped by the narrow time window and a clear understanding of the business requirements, the Adams team and its supplier achieved the desired results and are now reaping the benefits.
The selection process was a text-book example of how to identify the right product and supplier. Some of the contenders who fell by the wayside in this selection process were so focused on what they wanted to sell that they failed to listen to the customer. The supplier which succeeded was not only responsive to Adams' stated requirements but had also designed its product to be able to accommodate the specific needs of each customer - another plus.
Mike Kemp , managing consultant for CRM at Logica, and chairman of the CSSA's CRM Group
The Adams project is an excellent example of best practice. The project was well scoped with a clear business focus and had executive sponsorship. There was a good partnership between supplier and purchaser. However, buying and implementing the right technology successfully is no good unless the users accept the new system and the new ways of working which go with it. Again, Adams got it right with early and continued involvement of the end-users and a strong focus on training.
From a CRM perspective, Adams now has a single view of its customers and can co-ordinate activities across both field and telesales channels. It will be interesting to see what it does next now that it has a CRM platform in place. Will the company introduce an Internet channel to allow its wholesale customers to order direct? Will it use the technology to gather more information about customers and their needs? Or, will it build models of the value and profitability of its customers so that it can target its effort where it expects the biggest return?