Articles on designing your own custom merch, growing your brand, and managing manufacturing as a small business.

Why We Buiilt & Constantly Maintain Our CRM by Joseph Heller

September 15, 2014

We already wrote a blog about our August 4th, 2014 CRM launch.  However, I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss why the CRM is so important to our customer, and to the employees in our company.  I am confident that we are the only company in the custom patches, challenge coins, woven labels, hang tags, lanyards space, that has such an advanced CRM, and most of our competitors don’t have a CRM at all.  Almost all of our competitors just send you a quote via email, respond to you via email, and then take your order and manage your order using a spreadsheet or Microsoft Office.

I completely understand why.  Creating a custom CRM for a company requires a massive commitment in time, knowledge, training, resources and money.  We first launched our original CRM in 2008 and from 2008 to 2013 we spent over $100,000 building and modifying the CRM.  However, we made tons of mistakes along the way when developing our CRM.  The biggest problem was that as the CEO of the company I decided to head up the CRM project, but I didn’t have the technical background to truly manage the process.  Nobody on my senior management team had the technical background to manage a programming team.

new crm

Despite my technical debilitation I knew that creating a CRM would be key to giving our customer’s a unique experience and ensuring the on time delivery of their products.  You simply cannot process thousands of orders every month by relying on simple tools such as Excel and expect not to have serious production problems.  So we set out to hire programmers and get our own The/Studio custom CRM.  It took us 4 to 5 months to launch our first CRM, and the launch was a complete disaster.  We assumed that the features that we told the programmers we wanted would be included in the CRM.  We soon learned that there was a huge disconnect between what we told the programmers and what they actually did.  Managers and programmers often see the world in a completely different way.  Our employees hated the first rendition of the CRM, and they refused to use it.

So it took another two to three months of tweaking the CRM before it was at a point where our staff was willing to actually use the it.  Through this experience we learned a valuable lesson.  For a CRM to be successful, it needed the input of everyone in the company.  Managers are often times separated from the customer.  Our production staff, customer service, design, sales and digitizers deal with the customer and their needs on a daily basis.  So if you don’t consult these members of your team your CRM is destined to fail.

We relaunched the CRM and our customers and staff started to appreciate the advantages of the capabilities of our CRM.  Everything was more streamlined and organized.  For the next 5 years we worked on improving our CRM.  Every month the CRM got better and better at meeting our customers needs.

In 2013 the management of the company came to a realization that the company had outgrown our current CRM.  The CRM had been built on old technology, and the CRM was developed based on our very limited understanding of programming technology.  We wanted the CRM to push our company to the next level, but the technology just wasn’t there.  It was like trying to make a race car out of an old VW Beetle.  You could definitely make it faster, but at a certain point you would need a race car.

We made the painful decision of scrapping our entire CRM.  The old CRM was built on old technology and we literally couldn’t salvage anything from the old CRM.  Going back to the car analogy, imagine pouring your heart, your time and over a hundred thousand dollars into your favorite car, and coming to the realization that you had to throw it all away, and start all over again.  So we had to start the process all over again.  We had to find the right team of programmers, we had to laboriously write dozens of pages of documentation to explain to the programmers what we wanted.  This time we learned from our mistakes and we asked our sales, production, customer service, designers and digitizers, what they needed to make the CRM successful.  We wanted to know what features would make things easier for the customer and what features would make things easier for the members of our team.

We broke ground on the project on February 15th with a plan to launch the new CRM on June 1st.  We also learned our lesson from past bad experiences and we hired a IT consultant from a leading Silicon Valley firm to do routine checks on the progress of our CRM to ensure that we were using only the highest quality coding methods.  When I told him that it looked like we were going to miss our June 1st deadline, he told me haven’t you heard that in any project you have the choice of “fast, cheap or good” and you can only choose two.  I’ve never been involved in a design project or IT project that did actually met the deadline, but I thought this was a clever way of phrasing reality.

From June 1st to August 4th we compiled over 200 pages of documentation with edits to improve the CRM.  Finally on August 4th 2014 we launched our new CRM.  Despite working with a truly professional IT team, a good consultant, and rigorously testing the site, there is a big difference between testing and reality.  Our CRM was now accepting real orders and under the scrutiny of real customers and our staff.  Admittedly there were problems with the CRM, but The/Studio had learned from its mistakes in the past, and we knew that the most important thing was to have our team get feedback from the customer, and to take that feedback and implement rapid changes to the CRM.

Within one week the CRM was not only stable, but it was actually helping our business and customer’s.  Over the next few years we have decided to consistently invest in developing our new CRM.  The CRM is going to become a group project for our company where we get feedback from the customer and our staff, and literally every week we will deploy new versions of the CRM.

New Features

Already we have added these features in our new CRM:

-This CRM is much quicker than the old CRM which allows our staff to be more efficient.
-The CRM is built with a modern infrastructure to make it quick and efficient for our staff and customers.
-Every action in the CRM is traceable which allows us to track every image and note associated with an order.  This will help us to deliver impeccable customer service.
-The CRM can store information about our customer’s past orders which allows our customer’s to easily reorder their custom product.
-The CRM allows our production and customer service team to easily sort through orders so that we can make sure we meet all of our customer’s deadlines.
-We have the capability of matching particular staff with particular orders to make sure that each customer is matched with a staff member that has the skills to meet their needs.

Upcoming Features

Upcoming features that we are working on to enhance our CRM are:

-Automatic reminders to the customer and to our staff when a customer’s deadline is nearing so that we do everything possible to meet the customer’s deadlines.

-We will tie our customer survey into the CRM to ensure that all of our customer’s are receiving the very best service and highest quality product.

-We are working on enhancements that will allow us to choose which production line to put your order in and which shipping service to use to ensure the quickest delivery

These are just some of the amazing things that you can expect as we continue to roll improve our new CRM

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