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Six tips for simple, effective SMB cloud CRM implementations

Thrush Aircraft flew through a cloud-based CRM implementation by engaging employees all along the way. Here are tips based on its success.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Payne Hughes Jr., son of Thrush Aircraft Inc. owner Payne Hughes, is always telling his ever-ambitious father to dial it back a little and not bite off more than the company can chew -- at least when it comes to implementing new tech.

Such was the case in 2014, when it came time to implement an SAP cloud CRM system incorporating sales, service and social media for the 300-employee company. Thrush Aircraft makes small aircraft for the agriculture, border patrol and firefighting industries in about 80 countries.

It was tempting to buy into many of the features the CRM system had to offer, integrated down to the last hook into the company's existing SAP core implementation.

"He's got that mindset, 'Let's do all this great stuff,'" the younger Hughes told SearchCRM after presenting at the SAPinsider Customer Engagement & Commerce 2017 conference. "I tell him, 'Let's pump the brakes and get some wins first.'"

Starting small speeds employee adoption

Thrush has a 250,000-foot assembly facility in Albany, Georgia, where it operates metal-cutting, riveting, welding, aircraft assembly, mechanical operations and two painting booths.

Hughes said Thrush needed to launch a sophisticated cloud CRM system that could track aircraft service data, as well. After getting the system running in conjunction with consultant KPIT Technologies Ltd., and also achieving employee buy-in, he offered the following tips for attendees to the session embarking on their own cloud CRM implementations:

  1. Compare multiple vendors, but consider the integration complexity. Hughes and his colleagues considered Salesforce, and they liked it. They chose SAP Cloud for Customer because it would cause fewer migraines when connecting to their existing SAP back end. However, Thrush's original choice was on-premises CRM, on which Hughes quickly pulled the plug and went with the cloud version, "because it looked more like Salesforce," he said.
  2. Start out "Apple simple." Whether or not you like Apple products, Hughes said, they are simple to learn. The iPhone, for example, comes with no instructions, but most people can figure out how to use it by hitting the power button and a few instructional screens. Getting employees to buy into cloud CRM is similar: Just start out with a minimal feature set that requires minimal training.
  3. Think about practical implications of turning a feature on. For example, Thrush turned off the birthday field and associated reminder features. Employees don't send birthday cards to customers or leads -- and weren't planning to start -- so those data points no longer clutter the customer data set.
  4. The corollary: Hide all unused features. Thrush's CRM screen probably reflects 20% of the system's available features -- 80% of which the company doesn't use -- so stripping the interface to bare bones makes it appear as uncomplicated as the company needed and fostered employee adoption, according to Hughes.
  5. Add in features in later phases as employees find need. If you start out with bare-bones CRM, people will find new uses for cross-department data tracking, sharing and organizing. Be willing to add this functionality as users find their own paths.
  6. Above all, look at your processes. See what ported over well to the CRM, but also what new interesting processes the CRM enables.

Perhaps the biggest example of this for Thrush was the social media customer interaction piece. Hughes admitted it's a work in progress, as the company is still figuring out how to best use the social media response mechanisms inside its SAP CRM.

They were turned on at first, and then overwhelming things -- at least to a business Thrush's size -- began happening, such as positive Facebook comments generating new help desk tickets by the hundreds. Hughes said they'll circle back to that and manage social at some point, because it is important.

Don't shop by cost alone

In sum, Hughes said small and medium-sized businesses need to look at several different CRM systems, and they shouldn't automatically assume a more expensive system has deeper features, is easier to use and will scale up most efficiently. Different CRMs will work better for different companies -- depending on how their business processes align with the CRM's features.

He said he's been pleased with his company's choice for CRM for the most part, and he hopes it will put Thrush on the growth path that his father envisions: increasing production capacity of its planes that cost a little over a million dollars each.

Hughes also said the service component of the CRM enabled Thrush to track its planes through ownership changes, warranty and maintenance records, and -- if they happen -- crashes. "Kind of a 'Carfax' sort of system," he said.

Probably most importantly, implementing the cloud CRM on a minimum feature set allowed employees to get to know it and use it -- and connect with their customers better. The data inside the CRM has suggested new relationships -- people in the same region customers may know, but also "people they ought to know," Hughes said.

"The ag[riculture] aviation community is a bunch of retired military pilots who came back from war and didn't have a job. So, they started flying. They love flying -- it's exciting," Hughes said. "It's a tight-knit group, and they talk to different people. Being able to distinguish who's a good buddy or a cousin ... we wouldn't be able to do without this system. It's huge."

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