You know you’re not a start-up anymore when you spend most of your time managing systems and process!
At Learning Pool we’ve always said we’re a start-up and we try to build that ethos into the decisions we make for all the right reasons – agility, quick turnaround, bravery and appetite for risk taking. Famously a few years ago when someone suggested we were becoming a mature business I quickly retorted that no matter how old the company got, it’d never be mature as long as I was around!
So the last couple of months have been a bit of a journey because for perhaps the first time we’ve started to really pay close and serious attention to processes and the infrastructure that supports them. The entrepreneur in me is screaming a wee bit as a result of this but even I can see that its already paying dividends in terms of giving us the information we need to make better decisions and I like to think that our customers are starting to see the benefits too in terms of reduced turnaround times, better quality and improved communication.
The lessons though, have been fairly stark and enough to get me back blogging to be honest. The biggest project we’ve undertaken has been to replace our CRM system and oh my has it been a journey! As with many journeys this one started with a few key questions:
What do you want from this investment?
For us this was about getting a 360o view of our customers so that we can continuously improve the services we offer. We also wanted something that could reduce some of the roadblocks for our remote team and join up the whole business from SEO, marketing, sales, fulfillment, technology, customer care, community management, invoicing and contracts.
Open source or proprietary?
As big proponents of open source technology this was a logical place for us to start. We looked in depth at lots of open source solutions in general and VTiger in particular and eventually ruled these out on the basis that although having access to the code base meant we could tinker and improve, the opportunity cost of doing this would hurt our business elsewhere and so we decided early on to go for a proprietary system which I think was the right call. At some stage you have to decide what you don’t do as a business and there are plenty of businesses out there who toil over this stuff for hours so you shouldn’t do it too.
On premises or hosted
This decision took about 30 seconds… on premises is a relic of the last century and hosted solutions work, scale and are affordable.. we went hosted!
Premium or mid range
This one was a bigger call! The issue we found in the CRM market was that the premium providers are ridiculously expensive but the mid range solutions falter really quickly when it comes to the kind of feature richness you need if you have any more than about 5 people. Systems like Zoho were quite attractive but ultimately this market (at this moment) is about 2 providers – Salesforce and Dynamics from Microsoft. I think the reasons these providers stand out is because of 1) the sophistication of their products, 2) the ability to integrate with other stuff, 3) the roadmap of enhancements and 4) the marketplace and ability to extend functionality from the base product.
After a bit of discussion we decided to go with one of the premium products.
Self implemented or implemented with a partner
So this one goes something like this…. you pick a software stack and cost it up. You then get back on your chair after the heart attack you’ve just had and then realise that this software isn’t actually going to work very well without plugging a ton of time into it to make it work for your business. At this point you switch off your laptop and go to the pub… next day however the issue is still there are you are left with a number of options:
1 – Go alone and run the risk of making a mess of the implementation or of it taking months to get it right
2 – implement with a partner and reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of making an implementation mess. You’ll also double your year 1 costs (at least) and if you’re lucky you’ll get up and running pretty quick.
We went for the less risky option 2.
Good partner or cowboy?
This one wasn’t so much of a decision as a lesson learned. The partner market is really interesting because you have a bunch of quite small companies effectively selling software on the back of giant American organisations. I’m glad that’s not the business we’re in but notwithstanding that, its hard to separate the wood from the chaff on this. I’ll write another blog about how to navigate through this minefield but for now, remember that there are cowboys out there and you really need to stay away from them.
Next up…. Salesforce versus Dynamics – let battle commence!