Executing Perfectly: BigMachines Does IT Right - Customer Relationship Management

If you roam the world jabbering about order systems and selling to customers, you’ve heard of BigMachines. They are perhaps the world’s leading SaaS-based provider of product configuration, quoting, and proposal development and management systems. They integrate with salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP, and other significant industry players. Even in the midst of the post-declared 2008 recession, they grew their revenue by 75 percent and have seen a 287 percent three-year revenue growth. Plus they managed to increase staff size by 40 percent. Not bad for a recession.

But what is distinctly more impressive than even all their results is how they go about getting those results. BigMachines was one of the recipients of the 1to1 Marketing awards, jointly given by Gartner Group and Peppers and Rogers Group at the Gartner CRM Conference in 2008. They won the Bronze prize for CRM Enterprise Optimization. Deservedly so, because their CRM implementation was perfect—one of the best I’ve run across in more than a decade of CRM implementations. A lot more than a decade. Sigh. They are a perfect example of a set of best practices that garnered results when it came to implementation. Because of that, it behooves me to give you the complete rundown on their successful award-winning implementation so that you can have a solid guidepost for your own—with the caveat of course that if you’re not BigMachines, you won’t do it exactly this way, unless you’re crazy. Here it is step by step. Much of the data was gleaned from the Gartner/1to1 Awards results with their and Big- Machines’ permission and from a subsequent conversation with folks at BigMachines. The implementation took place from inception in 2006 to completion in 2008.

Identifying the Issues
BigMachines had been using a sales force automation application for what you would pretty much expect—managing customers rather than just prospects. All of a sudden there was a significant degree of increased complexity. Their customer lifecycle was software delivery, maintenance and support, asset upgrades and renewals, and, eventually, retirement. Not only did this add layers of complexity, it also required a good deal more information captured than they had currently. Because their original CRM requirements were around contact and account management, SFA sufficed. They had disconnected silos of knowledge and activity throughout the company. They used multiple applications that had no apparent relationship to each other. Look at this list:

  • Quote generation—Microsoft Word
  • Price lists—Excel spreadsheets
  • Order entry—manual entry into accounting software package
  • Use of sticky notes for a good deal of communication between departments. Sticky notes, rather than XML, were the IT standard at BigMachines. No joke.

Customer satisfaction was good despite these disconnects, but Big- Machines was aware of how much better it could be. Since there was no integrated customer information repository, the customer service reps had a fragmented view of the customer—as did all departments. Problems like this lead to poor process resolution and inefficiencies that affect the customer directly due to no real obvious responsiveness. One other red flag was that they were growing rapidly, which could lead to the magnification of the problem and interfere with their ability to scale.

The Strategic Objectives
BigMachines’ primary objectives could be classed in the category “customer- centric.” Service was the focus for the results. What this meant practically was the “classic” CRM holy grail—a repository for all singular customer records. On the one hand, each customer record would have all the customer information gleaned from multiple sources and channels. On the other hand, all of the records would be located in a single data store.

There were two other significant goals:

  • They also wanted to incorporate a VoIP system with their existing CRM applications so that not only was complete customer information available, it was available quickly.
  • They were expanding their solutions knowledge base, which had historically been used by their own internal staff. They wanted to give customers access to the knowledge base through a single point of entry to information and tools.

The final phases of their project involved the creation of a new department, Customer Success Management (they call it the Customer Success Management Team). What was interesting here was that the idea of customer success actually included the customer. Part of the implementation included the release of a new tool that allowed BigMachines customers to document and vote on new enhancements to BigMachines products. This captures customer ideas in their own words and incorporates those ideas into the knowledge base, which allows customers to collaborate and provides a huge amount of information for product management personnel as they plan product roadmaps.

The team itself was tasked to be proactively involved with their customers in a way that integrated customer participation into all facets of BigMachines work. Each member of the CSM Team manages customer communication, works to handle issues that go beyond helpdesk capabilities to resolve, manages renewals, and potentially even up-sells.

Finally, they began to look at some more advanced capabilities— some based on Social CRM, though they didn’t call it that. As this book went to press, this was still in the earliest stages of implementation.

Planning the Implementation
In addition to the corporate strategic and tactical objectives, BigMachines’ CRM team also began to identify which features and functions they needed to meet these objectives. They did this by looking at their business processes, identifying which were most important to them in reaching their objectives and which processes were of value to both BigMachines and BigMachines’ customers.

Sales Support:The Process
The processes involved agglomerated prospect information that could be accessed by customer support when the prospect became a customer. The data from sales and support would be consolidated into a single record.

  • Improving the existing leads to prospects to customer information (account contacts, status, customer status) process
  • Improving existing customer contract repository (contract details, renewal dates, and documents linked to accounts)
  • Improving existing hosting/operations new customer setup (access to contract information to ensure fast setup)

Customer Service: The Process
BigMachines looked at which processes would help the customer service department go wide and deep—wide by offering a greater variety of customer support services and deep by improving the quality of service from the helpdesk.

  • Customer application profile (software versions, modules, customer status, special features, etc., to ensure the helpdesk can quickly access the most recent state of the customer’s environment)
  • Customer service case management (cases linked to user contacts, real-time dashboard reporting to ensure they track issues and performance in real-time)
  • Phone-to-case integration (support calls linked to user contacts, visible to service agents to ensure fast access to all customer information and to automate data entry)
  • E-mail-to-case integration (automatic creation of urgent care support cases from their urgent care escalation process for the most rapid responses)
  • Proactive customer success management to monitor and resolve customer satisfaction issues before they become a crisis

Integrated Applications and Improved Technology Effectiveness: The Process
Because of the aforementioned customer lifecycle, they had to look at the CRM applications capability to integrate with their accounting programs, project management, asset management efforts, and employee systems access controls.

  • Professional services project setup (data integration to project management tracking as new customers go live)
  • Dashboards and metrics reporting (tracking and monitoring of helpdesk case load, gathering of information in support of their process and product improvement projects, including causes, volume and frequency of issues, and patterns and trends over time, to ensure continuous improvement)
  • Access to all customer information (cross-functional access to consistent, up-to-date, real-time information)

Customer-Focused:The Process
For the first time, they consciously intended to make the solutions knowledge they had and all other appropriate information easily available to the customer—along with the tools to optimize the use of the information.

  • Customer access to comprehensive solutions knowledge base, accessible online, real-time, and 24/7/365 (to ensure their customers can access the best practices and solutions that they use internally)

Vendor Selection: Before You Implement
I’m sure you’ve read Bruce’s approach to vendor selection, so we can cut to the pre-implementation chase here. Vendor selection was probably less of a concern for BigMachines than was normally the case, because in 2005 they had begun using salesforce.com for highly focused sales force automation work around lead generation, lead and opportunity tracking, and prospect management. When 2007 rolled around and they needed to select the vendor they were going to use, since they had been successful with salesforce.com and saw the valueadd of not having to maintain the hardware/software or manage the overhead by using an on-demand solution, it made sense to continue. What made this an interesting choice was that they were expanding the use of the salesforce.com platform for customer service.

Aside from the SFA successes with salesforce.com, they felt that salesforce.com integrated well with third-party applications, which in their case meant accounting applications, sales configuration tools, sales quotes, sales commission products, and project management applications. With the vendor selection obvious, preparing for the implementation was the next phase.

The Implementation:Phase 1, Preparation
Migrating customer-facing applications presents challenges in communicating and implementing a smooth transition plan. BigMachines worked long and hard at this, reviewing their plans from the customer’s viewpoint. Having a pilot beta group allowed then to fine-tune their plans.

The BigMachines team realized they had to get executive buy-in for the implementation. They had a bit of a head start with the means to be able to point to the success of salesforce.com on the premises already. Getting executive buy-in was unusually easy. What made it easy was the culture of BigMachines, which is not just platitudes on customer success, but actually is aimed squarely at making things good for their customers. They were able to get buy-in at the highest levels of management and keep them engaged and updated. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the executive champion was the CEO.

Preparation for the project was thorough. They developed a systematic plan to move their customers to the new system, with a phased rollout planned around a two-week migration time. They ignored nothing. They had a communications plan in place before the implementation began that involved multichannel communication with their customers via e-mail, web conferences, informational notices on the website, phone calls, and just informal channels—conversations in the hallway, so to speak. Training wasn’t ignored either—both internal and customer training—for the new helpdesk platform. Once the plan was in place and the software selected, the implementation began.

Phase 2: The Implementation Begins
The implementation had step-by-step steps. Initially, given their legacy practices, BigMachines implemented leads and prospects management improvements to the sales process. When that was done, they migrated the legacy helpdesk application to the new VoIP-integrated helpdesk system. This had them particularly excited because there was an extensive upgrade in the capabilities of the helpdesk system, such as phone-to-case integration and e-mail-to-case integration. That done, they moved methodically to the next step, which included account information that encompassed application profiles—in other words the software they had, including the version, the customer’s integrations, the customer’s components. They then associated a comprehensive set of metrics with these software profiles, viewable via dashboard. They integrated their flagship quoting tool to the platform, giving them management of their internal quote-to-cash processes. They then integrated other third-party applications for project management and accounting with their legacy CRM systems.

As the implementation began, the teams didn’t ignore what that meant to the culture of the company. Not only were they concerned with the implementation of the new systems, they had as great a concern for the adoption of the systems that were being implemented.

The Implementation:Changing the Culture
As noted earlier, BigMachines had a 40 percent growth rate in staff in 2008 as this implementation was going full blast. But for the most part they had to utilize their own existing operationally knowledgeable staff to set up new processes and customer migration plans. Because that staff had a lot of other things to do, it was something of a challenge. But fortunately for them, some of that 40 percent growth was for customer service and that allowed them to execute the transformation smoothly.

One reason is that they had a culture that would support the kind of transition they were attempting. Their company’s philosophy and mission was “Customer Success Is Our Success.” This notion permeates the company from top to bottom in a practical way so that it continuously reinforced and aligned employee expectations around the objectives of the implementation. Employees understood that one of the benefits of the implementation would be a set of real-time, granular metrics that would help drive the success of BigMachines’ customers so that the acceptance of the transformation would go smoothly.

This kind of culture naturally encouraged cross-functional teams that draw on particular strengths in all departments as needed. Consequently, because the teams were already up and running, no new teams or task forces were created to “handle” the implementation. his minimized the politics and departmental concerns that often cripple CRM implementations.

The messages were consistent throughout the company too— BigMachines’ customers would benefit. This was seen as a major plus for the implementation.

The Results: ROI Is King

Pretty amazing so far, isn’t it? Hoping that yours will go so well, aren’t you? Of course, there has to be a result that was worth the effort. There was—and is.

The Single Customer Record
The BigMachines customer support team now has all customer information at their fingertips whereas previously they had to look it up in multiple places and across multiple applications. When a customer calls on the phone, they now have phone-to-platform integration that launches their case data on a screen, which enables the CSR to be fully informed about a customer’s status. This same information integrates with views for sales and marketing personnel.

What’s important is that the customer service rep can see what the sales and marketing staff do, if, of course, they have the necessary permissions. So for example, a CSR can see:

  • How many users for the customer have logged in and how many transactions they’ve made over the past month (i.e., how frequently they are using the system)
  • When the customer was upgraded to the newest software release or if the upgrade is scheduled
  • How often the customer has called with open issues, and how long it took customer support to solve these issues
  • If they are waiting to make a decision on a new module or upsell package from their sales team
  • When their contract is coming up for renewal
  • Their current customer satisfaction score

Significant Customer Service Benefits
There is now a comprehensive solutions knowledge base that is given to customers that has some of the best and brightest practices and answers from the BigMachines staff. It is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in real time. It is so substantial that customers often find answers to their questions without opening cases. But even if a case has to be opened, the level of knowledge and customer information available to the agent is substantially improved via the customer application profiles.

Real-time dashboards manage the helpdesk operational load, view specific customer statistics, and give BigMachines the means to gather data in support of their process and product improvement projects. Trend and pattern identification that aids in the successful solution to customer problems is considerably easier to see than in the past.

There were some side results that not only benefited customers but also provided some efficiencies of scale for BigMachines. For example, they were able to handle twice the amount of customers with no increase in staff. That’s more efficient. They were able to meet their time to response of two hours for all cases and measure it where they couldn’t before. That’s more efficient.

They were able to improve their customer satisfaction scores significantly from 2007 to 2008. That’s more effective. They had a nearly 100 percent customer renewal rate. That’s way more effective.


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