Why Bluewolf's CEO spent the day on a road with a Sysco food salesman

Credit: Eric Wittman via Flickr

Businesses have been using CRM systems to collect data about customers for years. How often does that make life any easier for their customers -- let alone the employees who deal with them?

The typical IT department isn't building apps with either of those principles in mind, according to Eric Berridge, CEO of CRM supplier Bluewolf. But they're going to have to learn.

"In the business to business world, apps still look like a green screen. But customers don't care about your internal siloes; they care about the experience," he points out. And improving the customer experience might be the single best way to improve your business' profits.

"Organizations are starting to realize that to grow they have to improve engagement with clients because it costs three times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. Gallup says only 20% of customers are engaged with brands. If you can double that number, as a provider of a service or a product, you can double revenue. Because when customers are engaged they don't care what they're paying. They buy twice as much, they buy more frequently and they spend more. When they're having a bad experience? That's when they look at the costs and try to get you out of their lives."

Take the example of giant food suppliers Sysco. They came to Bluewolf wanting to develop a Salesforce-based CRM system for their 8,000 salespeople who call on delis and restaurants and hotels every day. They'd already tried a pilot that hadn't done very well.

Berridge suspected that was because the people who built it didn't really know what the people out on the road actually needed. So he spent the day with a New York City sales rep.

"He spent the whole day on the go. He was in a taxi, on the subway, stuck in traffic, stuck in the rain, waiting at the lights, back in the rain… there was a lot of walking!"

None of those locations were a good place to track the details of his visits, and being in such a hurry meant any app would need a simple interface.

The customers he visited were just as busy. "They all have five minutes, maximum, to deal with him; they're running a business, they have to deal with cash registers and waiters and deliveries. The notion of this guy using a CRM system in front of the client in the five minutes they have for him is a complete disconnect from how his job works." The salesman Berridge shadowed told him he was part of the pilot system. "He didn't turn it on once."

The time of day that Sysco salespeople really care about is 4.30 a.m. That's the cutoff for getting orders in for the day; if they don't get an order into the system, the customers don't get the food they've ordered and the sales rep doesn't get the samples he needs to take back to the businesses that said they might be interested. And that's what the salesman asked Berridge for help with. "He told me, 'If I see fifteen customers, I have at least fifteen followups where they want to try something new. That's a lead. But on average I probably forget one or two of them a day. I'm trying to write them down but I don’t have time and when I get home, I forget. And if I forget to bring a sample to a client, he's not going to buy from me.'"

That was the opportunity for Sysco to make their CRM system useful, Berridge realised. The missed opportunities across the entire sales organization turned out to be a potential revenue uplift of some $400 million from existing customers it didn't have to pay extra to acquire. All they had to do was understand what a CRM could actually be useful for - capturing those leads.

Bluewolf created a sales visit app that runs on Android and iPhone. It's location aware, so when the sales rep walks into a customer business the name of the store manager is already on the phone screen. It uses speech recognition so that the sales rep can order samples straight away for the customer, without trying to hunt and peck at the keyboard to fill in the details.

"It goes right into the CRM database so he doesn’t have to enter it again, he doesn’t have to save it, he doesn't have to try to get a Wi-Fi connection," Berridge explains. And the information goes straight to the operations team, which means they can start picking and filling orders throughout the day rather than doing it all at 4.30 in the morning when the last-minute orders come in. That makes the Sysco supply chain more efficient and saves on operational costs, which is an added benefit.

Not only are the sales reps actually using the new app, it's saving them enough time on each visit that they can show off more new products. "We're rolling out an app using an iPad to showcase product information. That's better than dumping a catalog off with a client that gets out of date and probably gets used as a doorstop."

What the Bluewolf CRM app does for Sysco is just business common sense, and so is the idea of getting out in the field to find out what the sales rep really needs and building something that's easy to use. That's what consumer services and gadgets are all about, but it's still something too many businesses and IT departments need to learn.

"Big companies always have the best intentions to pull it off," Berridge points out. "They have to get into the user's shoes and the customer's shoes, to watch the how interaction works -- that customer moment."

And then they have to build tools that fit into the "customer moment" and get them out to the workers that need them quickly. Doing faster development and continuous integration is certainly more work, but businesses can no longer afford to do the typical 90-day build and test cycle. "You have to be cranking releases out in a more agile way, you have to build and test nightly," says Berridge. And making that happen in a way that doesn't cause problems means that governance becomes a much larger part of the changing role of the CIO.

"At the end of the day," he claims,"what the CIO will be held liable for is not keeping the lights on but adding value. It's not going to be called IT in ten years because all businesses will be IT businesses. There will be very few businesses in ten years' time that don’t rely almost exclusively on technology to grow. We're moving into a decade where organizations will be spending their capital improving customer experience to achieve that."

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