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Struggling AMF Bowling gets ball rolling again with Applix CRM

AMF Bowling has traditionally had trouble keeping tabs on its customer base, which may have been one reason it was forced to file Chapter 11 last year. But it is turning a corner and credits CRM technology.

For Richmond, Va.-based AMF Bowling Inc. life of late has not been easy. The company, which owns some 500 bowling alleys and markets a wide array of equipment related to the sport, is currently buried under substantial debt and was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year. Yet, while onlookers may assume things are looking bleak for the firm, positive trends are emerging that the company attributes largely to its deployment of CRM applications.

AMF officials admit that one of their biggest problems, historically speaking, has been keeping track of its customer base. With its own network of bowling alleys and a large number of customers around the world, the company struggled to keep tabs on information like which clients had bought what equipment or what other brands of equipment certain potential client may have bought from competitors.

AMF Bowling is the recipient of searchCRM's first-ever CRM Innovator Award, an honor designed to recognize best CRM practices and a demonstrated commitment to CRM innovation. The contest attracted many nominations, however; the searchCRM panel of judges felt that AMF Bowling had the most compelling CRM success story.

AMF sales representatives often went into customers' businesses armed with little more than their own intuition. There were no easily accessible records of service histories or pending orders. There was a distinct lack of internal information.

Arming employees with customer data

Enter CRM provider Applix Inc., Westboro, Mass.

The two companies began doing business in 1998 to address Year 2000 concerns for AMF's legacy systems. Today they pride themselves on an ongoing relationship that has resulted in dramatic changes in how AMF arms its 18,000 employees with critical customer data.

"A good example of where we've been able to really initiate change is within the sales force automation (SFA) piece of the equation," said Harsha Nagaraj, systems architect at AMF. "We were able to streamline processes and develop a concept within the business where technology answered a lot of issues. This made internal communication easier and quite literally made people more effective in their jobs."

Using the CRM tools branded under Applix's iEnterprise CRM architecture, AMF was able to build a database of more than 6,000 bowling establishments including lanes and pro shops. Its sales force now carries PDAs armed with information on all AMF customers -- including what kind of equipment they've bought in the past, service records, credit standing and more. The firm estimates that this has dramatically reduced wasted hours spent trying to share this information internally.

The specific applications AMF is using today include Applix iSales, iService and iHelpDesk programs.

"Whenever we had a senior salesperson move up or on there was a period of 6-to-8 months where the new salesperson was trying to acquire sufficient market knowledge to deal with existing customers in their region," Nagaraj said. "Now you're talking about a couple of weeks looking into the database and getting an idea of who the customers really are."

And AMF has extended its CRM applications throughout its enterprise, linking all the divisions in the company including customer service, its credit bureau and its marketing efforts.

"We had people sending marketing materials to customers that had just ordered equipment," said Nagaraj. "Now there's a clear window looking into every account to see what kind of initiatives might will work best, based on buying patterns."

Vendor selection criteria

Nagaraj said that AMF considered several other vendors for its CRM undertaking including market leader Siebel Systems Inc., but Applix's ability to deploy its system in less than 50 days, along with a more attractive price tag, sealed the deal.

"We chose Applix because of the fast implementation time and because our business requirements were met out of the box," Nagaraj said. "There was some fine-tuning but no major customization, and that's not what we heard from other vendors."

AMF officials estimate that they've spent $500,000 over a four-year period on Applix software, including internal systems upgrades, licensing, consulting and integration. The SFA software went live in June 2001 after a six-month implementation. It has reaped the biggest ROI.

While AMF doesn't have concrete ROI calculations, it figures that it's saved as much as $250,000 per salesperson with the SFA application alone since it no longer has to double staff its sales force in order to allow individual reps time to familiarize themselves with their territories.

According to Applix, the key to AMF's success was recognizing its shortcomings and understanding what it could achieve by applying CRM technologies.

"They knew what part of their business they wanted to automate, and that's the Holy Grail of success from what we see," said Dave Golan, vice president of North American sales and marketing at Applix. "You must understand your business needs."

According to Golan, Applix undertakes a detailed discovery session, often taking several days of planning, to help businesses understand what they can expect by utilizing CRM.

And for AMF, learning to work more intelligently with customer data has not only saved it money but has fundamentally changed the way the company approaches its business, Nagaraj said.

"Leveraging CRM like this established a corporate culture of using tools to share information that was never present before," he said. "It's an immeasurable difference, and truly an organizational difference."


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