Marrying Online Support With Sales

As a small business grows, it must often transform its back office system to allow it to focus on its core business without a project placing burdens on the staff and budget. As one California company discovered, Web services architecture allows application service providers (ASPs) to offer a solution in ways that would seem astounding only a short time ago.

Pictage of Torrance, Calif. provides online viewing, ordering and print production services for professional photographers, primarily wedding photographers and their customers. The firm has grown to serve more than 1,500 photographers nationwide since being founded in 2000, but had been suffering growing pains, according to Scott Brogi, vice president, development. “The way that we had been operating in both sales and customer support was by using an Access database. Having such a limiting system didn’t make sense for us, especially as we started to grow and expand.”

Pictage needed business tools to meet its business objectives. Dimensions of sales and customer service extend to both providers and consumers in an inter-related two-by-two fashion centered on the Web site and e-mail. A sales force automation (SFA) solution needed to be coupled with customer relationship management (CRM).

Photographers frequently travel to ply their trade and need immediate service from their account reps. With a growing client base, response agility is paramount according to Brogi. “A high-end photographer can generate several hundred thousand dollars a year in gross revenue. And with our business model, we can share in a significant portion of that.”

The consumers come online to view and purchase wedding photos. Most are first time customers with many questions. There is also tremendous opportunity for upselling with a very narrow window of opportunity.

Brogi states the objectives. “We needed a tool for multiple users accessing information with the flexibility to do tracking and reporting a lot of different ways. We really needed solutions on both the SFA and CRM side. As we reviewed different options, it was very important that the two could talk to each other.” Unbeknownst to Brogi, the solution was waiting as he began his quest in late 2002.

Encouraged by customer demand, SFA ASP Salesnet of Boston, and Qualté of Los Angeles, provider of Web based self-help and account tracking tools, began to explore integrating their services.

While many vendors have moved to offering suites for increased functionality, this approach was not deemed the best route in the opinion of Salesnet CTO Rich Perkett. “We need to be focused on the deepest level of the sales arena as opposed to offering different modules so as to be good at one thing instead of mediocre at a bunch of things.”

Peter Kim, Qualté CEO, added, “We recognized that we both offered components that our customers were asking for and could help each other. We have similar philosophies from a functional level in how we want the user experience to go.” Both ASPs’ design features open architecture based on the Web services model, which makes integration relatively easy.

In the fall of 2002 the integration was done using demo clients, reports Perkett. “We built our application to be integrated. We have to work well with other companies and other types of applications. The proof of concept was up in just a few days.”

Kim added, “We only had to do the integration once and didn’t have to create any new functionality. We were able to use the existing functionality that we both already had.”

Denis Pombriant, vice president, CRM managing director of Aberdeen Group of Boston, sums up the changes that have resulted. “Earlier architecture (client/server) made integration a time consuming process. Vertical integration reduced that substantially. Today, the Web services models make it easier than ever to bring solutions together in a best of breed fashion. Vendors are being called on by the market to provide integrated functionality across the major CRM disciplines; sales, service, and marketing.”

Pictage Focuses on Qualté
In its quest for the holy grail, Pictage discovered Qualté first in January 2003. “Our support and marketing group started to focus on Qualté due to some very interesting email functions such as growing a FAQ knowledge base,” Brogi stated. Using Qualté XL, substantial savings have been realized, and according to Brigi, almost half of the inbound customer questions are resolved from the FAQ library.

Salesnet was added to the mix in March 2003. “Salesnet has some unique features that made a lot of sense for us,” Brogi said. “In particular, we are able to generate information on prospects from an application on our Web site that automatically created a record and then parsed it out to the appropriate sales rep to manage the follow-up process through a Web-based tool. We can see how things are moving through the pipeline to stay on top of that process.”

In March 2003, Pictage opted for the integration between Salesnet and Qualté, which happened on the same weekend that they were moving to their new headquarters. Despite what would appear to be a challenge, it was essentially as easy as the flick of a switch to accomplish the integration. When the servers were moved to the new location, the integration was already done. The process took an hour.

Over the weekend, some housekeeping was required. “We migrated approximately 7,000 prospect records in one weekend by ourselves using the Salesnet import wizard,” said Brogi. “On Saturday, we created all of the fields and exact record layout that we wanted. On Sunday we migrated the existing database over and created the custom reporting fields. We had a fair amount of data cleaning to do such as eliminating duplicate records and data, but we ended up with a more robust and cleaner database in no time.”
Brogi was pleased to say the least. “It worked fantastically. Our upfront costs are nothing and we pay as we go. It essentially paid for itself immediately. We see a tremendous impact in new accounts. We generated over $10,000 in incremental revenues the first month just off of the sign up fees for new accounts. But that is just gravy — those new accounts will generate much more in ongoing revenue as clients.”

Solution Through Synergy
Pictage already has seen a fantastic increase in business, coordination, and response time reports Brogi. “We saw a 50 percent increase in new client sign ups in the first month. It is a much tighter process now, everybody is on the same page. Our follow up time is a cycle shorter. We have seen much stronger increases month over month. That is attributable to the efficiency of the new system.”

The new integrated system provides a wider view for the overall customer experience and greater business visibility. With the click of a button, the person interfacing with the customer can bring up data from either the sales force or customer service side. Business agility is achieved that is critical in a fast moving business with considerable impulse buying for Brogi. “It has streamlined everything that we do and makes it easier to manage. To be able to hand that customer information over instantly to the support side of the house is essential.”

With the recent quantum leap in business management capabilities, Pictage has yet to quantify all of the firepower at its disposal. This is not to say that the increased visibility into their business through reporting goes unrecognized by Brogi. “Another feature we really like is the various reporting functionalities. You can slice and dice the data anyway you want to create unique reports to really stay on top of the process. There is nothing escaping.”

Paradigm Shift Toward ASPs
Within the past few years, a sour taste had developed towards ASPs: big promises were unfulfilled, leading to many deaths in the dot-com bust. The failures were not in the concept, but in the execution. However, the ASPs that are grounded upon a strong value proposition and quality product have not only survived, but have also thrived.

As illustrated in the figures below from the February 2003 Aberdeen Group report, CRM Spending and Satisfaction Report, organizations are very interested in CRM hosted solutions, especially those that address their CRM concerns.

Pombriant ties together the upside of what ASPs offer to what the marketplace seeks. “A lot of this is the mother and apple pie of the industry: low cost of acquisition, low cost of maintenance, and paying only for what you use. Integration of sales and services modules provides for a more end-to-end customer focus solution that some people call the 360-degree view of the customer. You can look at that as a hallmark productivity improvement.”

Pombriant concludes that the vendors that want to prolong their existence should take heed to what the marketplace is saying, and work more closely together. “If you don’t have interoperability in your product, you are going to be the odd person out,” he stated. “It helps to have it locked, loaded, and ready to go.”

By recognizing the needs of the marketplace and being proactive, Qualti and Salesnet were able to provide Pictage with the capabilities needed so that they could have their wedding cake and eat it too.

Adapted from

Bruce McCracken is a business writer with specialization in outsourcing. His coverage areas are primarily in IT, eCommerce, CRM, HR, and supply chain/distribution with focus on small to mid-sized companies.

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