If there’s one thing that separates American Marketing & Publishing (AMP) from other traditional print-based publishing companies, it’s their willingness to adapt. When they began losing customers for their printed business directories, they saw the writing on the wall. If the company was going to survive in the 21st century, they were going to have to change their business model entirely.
Making such a huge change wasn’t going to be easy. They had to create a new range of digital products, build a new IT infrastructure to support those products, and completely retrain their sales and support staffs. Luckily, AMP’s cofounder Joline Staeheli was up to the challenge.
For AMP to thrive in the online publishing world, they were going to need the right software solutions for the problems they faced. That meant abandoning the old print-focused publishing engine they’d been using since the 1990s, and replacing it with a fully-integrated ERP and CRM solution.
In this interview, we talked with Joline about how AMP decided to adopt SugarCRM to their business, the challenges they faced, and their results.
We were in an unusual situation. We had decided to change our business model: going from a traditional print publishing company to a digital publishing one. We had a huge growth spurt of new digital product development, but we quickly realized that the way to go out and acquire customers is very different in the digital space. The way that you service those customers is also completely different from print.
One of the challenges we faced was our software, which was designed for print publishing. It was really a fulfillment engine for publishing telephone directories, and we had been trying to adapt it to our new digital products. We had also spent a lot of money on building our IT infrastructure, and they were trying to create one-off services for each individual product. But none of it was integrated.
Everything in the print world is deadline-driven, but that’s not the way that the digital world works at all. We realized that things had to change, and that meant changing the engine that drives the business.
We looked at Salesforce, of course, and we also looked at Microsoft Dynamics. Both of them were just too overwhelming for our business. It would be like buying a rocket ship to visit your next-door neighbor. If we had gone with either of those, we would have spent a lot of money peeling off the layers, just to get to the parts we actually needed.
With Sugar, because it’s an open-source platform with a lot of development and innovation, getting it to work with our business would be much easier and less expensive.
Want to know more about how Intelestream partnered with AMP through its Sugar implementation? Check out the case study here.
When we first started the company, we actually built our own software. This was back in the days before browser-based systems. I wanted to go back to that model, because it was a cheaper infrastructure to build. Sugar looked like the right platform for us, so we started looking for a partner to help us build what we needed. We found Intelestream as part of that process.
We’re a fairly small business of around 350 employees, and about 160 of those are salespeople. Most of our work is with small-business owners, and they tend to have small budgets and small marketing ideas.
As a result, we have a really intense sales culture. Our salespeople make around 40 in-person sales calls every day. We don’t do a huge amount of planning or spend a lot of time on the phone setting appointments. We go out there and pound the pavement.
We needed a CRM solution that was easy for the sales staff to use, and that could fully integrate with our ERP system and the in-house system that we already had.
It started about two years ago—when we had the initial vision of replacing our old system. We spent a lot of time researching our options. Once we partnered with Intelestream, things moved pretty quickly. Our in-office team was using and testing the CRM about a year ago, and we started the rollout to our outside team about six months after that.
We’re finally starting to get more adoption, but it was a struggle at first. Our sales team was like, “We do everything on paper, and we don’t want to be bothered with this new technology.” They also don’t like the idea that the CRM tracks their activities, so they chafed at that.
We knew that adoption could be an issue, so very early on, we started talking with them. We asked them about why they didn’t like the CRM, and what their problems were with it. We really listened to them.
One of the big things that they really hated about the old system was having to rewrite contracts. They had these paper contracts for selling a digital product, which was weird in itself. Most of our customers buy two or three different products from us, and the salespeople were having to write and rewrite the same information on these paper contracts. Because we do a lot of in-person sales calls, they had to do all this paperwork in front of the customer. They hated all that paperwork!
So our big hook for them was that if they created their sales plans inside the CRM, they could link to the digital contracts. It was all set up for them, and all the fields were pre-populated. So it would just copy forward onto the next contract. It took all that writing out of the process. And instead of taking 15 minutes on paper, in the CRM, it took about 30 seconds.
Another big thing for them was that they could take a payment at the point of sale. That allows them to immediately get their commission, which was a pretty big incentive for them.
Those were two big wins for them, but they had to walk through the CRM to get there. They can do their digital contracts and get payment on the spot. When they’re done, they can get paid.
We’re working on that. There’s the back loop of reporting coming from the sales side, but right now, they’re still very spreadsheet-driven.
We have a lot. It’s probably around 250 total users, but they aren’t all using it in the same ways. Different groups are doing entirely different things in the system, and that was actually one of the challenges we had in building it. Everybody has these competing needs, and they’re always coming up to us saying, “This doesn’t work right.”
We work directly with Ross Peetoom (Senior Director, Customer Success & Delivery at Intelestream). And his favorite question for us when we bring these changes to him is, “How do you want to prioritize all of this?” Thankfully, Ross is extremely organized. He has also spent a lot of time really listening to us and learning our business.
That’s really important, because we don’t have to reeducate him every time we need something fixed or want to add a new feature. He can immediately understand what it is that we’re really asking for. He asks great questions, and helps us get to the heart of whatever issue it is that we’re having. That’s been really valuable to us, because we’re not having to constantly re-explain what we want.
When you’re dealing with something this technical, most people aren’t very good at explaining what they want. They’re not good at describing the problem they’re having. Ross is really good at translating what they’re saying, and then turning it into code for the development team.
We worked closely with Ross on training, and his approach was to “train the trainers.” We spent a lot of time with him, walking through how the CRM worked. Initially, it was PowerPoint presentations to help us understand how our workflows would change using Sugar. Then we got into more advanced workflows, studio changes, and all the nitty-gritty details of using the CRM itself.
He taught us so that we could go out and train everyone else. He gave us all the background so that we understood the whole system. That enabled us to train other people to do specific tasks.
Early on, we created a team of people from different parts of the company to be our super-users. Once we had our own experts, we created a lot of training videos in-house. We have teams of people who use the CRM for completely different things, so we have to take each group through the process step-by-step. It’s a lot of “Now You Push THIS Button” kind of tutorials. We have a bunch of training resources (like PowerPoints), and we also do group trainings.
It helps that we have a really good group of smart, focused trainers who can teach their teams how to use the CRM. It’s a good model, and it has worked really well for us.
We looked out at our mid-level managers, and we brought them in and gave them the 30,000-foot view of the CRM. Then we said, “Are any of you excited about this?” Some of them didn’t get it. Others were interested, but not really enthusiastic. A few of them were truly enthusiastic about it, and we brought these people into some of the early demos. I spent a lot of time listening to the questions that they asked, and looking at how they thought about things.
I pared down the group from there, and then built CRM expertise into their job descriptions. If they had three things that defined their work at AMP, one of them was going to be understanding the CRM. They became our go-to people. We really tried to cultivate their skills, and I think it made them feel really good to become experts.
By the end of the process, we had a core group of four business-users and one person from IT (to handle the logistical coordination). We’ll meet every week to go through the list of developments and enhancements, decide which ones we want to give priority, and check in about the user feedback everyone is getting. I think that core group is one of the reasons that we’ve had such a successful integration.
We also have a bigger group of 16, and we meet every other month. Those meetings are mostly about showing them the upgrades and other cool stuff we’re working on. We’re getting them prepared for the changes that we’re about to roll out, so that they can anticipate any issues for their teams.
It went so much better than I thought it would. I credit that to our core team, who worked with us over a long period of time to get everything in place.
When we rolled out the CRM, we wanted all the users to get excited about it. We did a bunch of things, like having a SugarCRM-themed piñata and a bunch of gift cards as prizes. At the end of every day, people were already submitting feedback to us. It generated a different level of enthusiasm and buy-in. People weren’t just telling us the things that they didn’t like about the CRM; they were also telling us what they did like, or what they had discovered about it. They could see how it was going to help them do their jobs better.
It wasn’t all Pollyanna feedback, of course. We got plenty of critical feedback, and people telling us about the things they hated. There were users who grumbled that the new CRM was making their job much harder, and we had plenty of lagging adopters. But we found that if we rewarded people for thinking about the CRM in a positive and constructive way, they would be looking for things that were positive.
One of the biggest changes is having all of our data in one place. Previously, we had a serious data lag. The publishing software we had been using was like a black box. We didn’t own it, but licensed it. We couldn’t change it, or get anything out of it.
It was built on some archaic platform from the 1980s. And to get our own data back out of it, we had to create an extraction program. It would take data from this outdated software and push it into a database, but that process was so slow that we had a 24-hour delay to look at our data. That was really problematic.
It also didn’t really integrate with the system we used for managing our digital customers. We would know that our digital customers bought something, but we didn’t know anything else.
With Sugar, all of that information is together in one place. We can look at our customer data and see everything in real time. Our old software was really expensive, and we only had a limited number of user licenses. So we ended up having to do things like push user data out to different portals and reports, just so that our teams could have access to it. Because of the lag in getting our data out of the system, everything in the reports was old. All of our sales reports were old by the time we got them.
With Sugar, we have up-to-the-minute data on everything. Our customer service reps love Sugar, because the case-management piece is such an improvement over what we had before. It’s also really changed things for our sales reps. Before, contracts would come in with missing information or other technical issues. It used to take a week before anyone realized there was a problem with a contract. Fixing it might take another week, meaning it would be another week before they could get their commission.
Now, all of that is handled by a dashboard in Sugar. When they log in, they can see what contracts have problems. If there’s a missing picture or something is in the wrong category, the reps can resolve it on their own immediately.
Accounting is another big piece for us. Now that our CRM is integrated with our ERP, we can push statements out quickly. If a sales rep is talking with a customer who has a past-due balance, they can deal with it on the spot. Before Sugar, they would have to call us up at the office; someone would have to look up the customer data and find the balance. It could take a long time. Now, those same reps can just log into our system on their tablet, grab the customer’s statement, and then email it to them. They can do all that while the customer is standing right in front of them.
That has really changed things for our sales support team. They’re still doing a lot of the nitty- gritty work behind the scenes, but it’s not as much dealing with all these little issues. It allows them to be a lot more proactive.