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Volt takes control in Microsoft CRM deployment

Getting CRM done right often means depending on consultants, but one firm learned it doesn't mean they have to run the whole show.

Getting CRM done right often means depending on consultants, but it doesn't mean they have to run the whole show.

Volt Inc., a New York-based B2B services provider, knew it would need some help when it deployed Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 across the enterprise. A pilot deployment of the 1.2 version within a division of the company had gone relatively well, but rolling out the product to roughly 465 users was going to require some assistance, according to Steve Acterman, director of corporate IT. The company would need a consultant with experience with the product, contacts at Microsoft, and a greater depth of understanding about how to deploy it.

Yet, Volt still wanted to maintain control.

"In the past, we had done some IT implementations where consultants came in and they had their deliverables, their milestones, they had their contract, and they pretty much owned it," Acterman told this week in an interview at Microsoft's Convergence conference. "They did it, and then, when they left, we found that we had a gap. We didn't know the tool nearly as well as they did. We didn't have enough real experience using it or have a full understanding of what they did to it." @19647

So, when Volt elected to work with ePartners, a Microsoft implementation partner based in Irving, Texas, it took a novel approach. There would be no schedule and no deliverables, and Volt would maintain complete control. The project manager is an in-house Volt staff member.

"That was a little scary for us at first," Acterman said. "You need to have a lot of trust with your partner to say, 'We're going to give you a PO for thousands of dollars and there's no deliverable.' And on their side, they were a little concerned we were going to go back on our word and, at the end, if things didn't go well, we were going to say, 'You didn't do your job.' But we got past that and it actually worked out very well."

Consultants from ePartners were used as team members, filling in holes where Volt needed their experience or technical knowledge. They attended weekly meetings, conducted research, and were present on site.

"But our folks did most of the work," Acterman said. "It allowed us to get up to speed on the project much more quickly than if we had them do everything for us and then figure it out after they left."

Learning from the past

It's an approach that has gone well so far. Volt is about a third of the way through its deployment. In addition, the company followed much of the conventional wisdom about what it takes to successfully deploy CRM.

Volt's pilot program in one of its staffing divisions confirmed what Acterman had heard -- that user adoption and executive involvement is vital.

"A sales tool is not just another IT tool," Acterman said. "This is the thing that touches every minute of their lives. More importantly, it's the thing that either drives or inhibits the sales or the revenue and that's critically important to these people. It's like you're ripping out their DNA and replacing it."

Volt had a mix of CRM tools across the company, ranging from Outlook and Excel tools to small deployments of ACT and GoldMine.

The project got strong backing from the head of the staffing division during the pilot, and when it came time for the enterprise rollout, senior executives were all on board. After years of dealing with multiple sales force automation tools and fragmented reports in different formats, executives jumped at the prospect of some real visibility into leads, opportunities, and sales effectiveness.

"The people at the top can't be accepting and approving, they have to be driving it and if they're excited and if they're enthusiastic, their people will be," Acterman said.

Selling to sales

It took some cajoling, but the sales organization as a whole was able to iron out its sales processes as well. All agreed that the sales staff needed a uniform process if the CRM project were going to succeed. Agreeing on one standardized process was another matter entirely, and one that Acterman was happy to let the sales organization handle itself.

"Until that process is done, I wouldn't even tell another company to start looking at solutions or tools," he said. "People try to do business process re-engineering at the same time they're trying to do an automation deployment. You can't do both of those at the same time. It's too much change. If you take something that's chaotic and add automation to it, it's turbo chaotic."

Volt long ago made the decision to go with Microsoft for its CRM system. IT had toyed with the idea of building its own, but once Microsoft announced that it was entering the CRM market in 2002, the company was prepared to wait. Initially, Volt had planned to deploy version 1.2 across the enterprise, but it became a member of Microsoft's Technical Assistance Program and learned of the new, improved Outlook integration that was coming and, Acterman said, elected to wait for version 3.0.

With a tool, partner and processes in place, Volt began a major PR push for the product, putting out graphics on the company intranet and promoting it on company-wide conference calls.

"It created some excitement and educated people to the benefits it would bring," Acterman said. "We have in the industry what I call the perpetrator-victim syndrome where most IT organizations perpetrate systems on their users and users are victimized by implementations that don't meet their needs and aren't properly communicated. But we're almost in a pull position now, and for an IT program that's great."

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