Customer Relationship Management programs can help keep the work flowing.
On certain days, do you have too many clients with too many boats with too many customized needs? Do you forget whether it was John Larson or Joe Larson who needed the eight blue-striped cushions by June 15? Or do you lose track of inventory? Common problems, indeed, for marine fabricator shops, large and small.
One answer might be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Maybe. In theory, CRM programs centralize the business-to-customer relationship from sales to service. All business data is stored in one location and accessible—or intended to be—by all. CRM software programs boast such outcomes as improved customer service, increased customer retention and newly found profitability.
But that’s not always the case
According to Kathy Jenkins, a computer consultant and an instructor in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., with a specialty in marketing, CRM software was developed in the early to mid-1990s. After Oracle entered the field, programs began to proliferate. Despite the many CRM programs available on the market, Jenkins acknowledges many businesses, which have incorporated CRM packages into their operations, have found them complex and far from user-friendly. Or the programs can’t link the sales side to the financial side of the business. Or they aren’t accessible from mobile devices.
Such was the experience of William Bennett, owner of Boat Bright Canvas Inc. since 2008 in Hardeeville, S.C. At age 31, Bennett considers himself tech-savvy, especially after serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps in both the Persian Gulf and the Asian Pacific. However, as recently as last fall, he could not operate the CRM program at a workshop where he was supposed to demonstrate its capabilities. “I simply gave up,” he says. “It was impossible.
“There I was trying to demonstrate the CRM program, and I couldn’t get it to function,” Bennett recalls. “Instead of informing people and helping a business, it turns out many CRM programs are cumbersome if not almost impossible to use.” When trying out another CRM program at Boat Bright Canvas, he found it so unwieldy to use that he sent it back before his trial period was over.
“CRM is a nebulous term for software that is defined and used in different ways by different people,” explains Jenkins. “Sure, it is a software package and there are many out there. Many are difficult to use. Most importantly, an effective CRM package should be a tool for keeping track of winning customers and keeping those customers profitable.
“It is critical for a business to use a CRM program where system input is easy for a sales force or online sales force to manage and that they can get feedback out of the program,” she adds. “If you can’t get feedback out of CRM, then it’s ultimately useless. That’s why things fail. To avoid failure, a CRM programs needs to integrate all aspects of the business.”
Operational versatility a must
So what makes a good CRM package? One that allows management, marketing, sales, production, inventory and the staffs of financial or other departments to all see the project status and a customer profile simultaneously. Another must, in this digital-oriented 21st century, is that a CRM program must have mobile capabilities. It is not enough for it to be Wi-Fi friendly in the office, but staff working on a project in a marina 30 miles away must also be able to input data, access the same information, and communicate with the central office.
According to Bennett, yet another CRM program he test-drove had no mobile capabilities. “When my guys are at a dock using a mobile device to bid on a project and they can’t even enter the data…this is cumbersome and a deal-breaker,” he says. “Eighty percent of our activity is away from the shop. Today you need the mobility of an online platform.”
Jenkins agrees. “Good packages are flexible and can be customized to meet the needs of a sales force,” she states. “Staff needs to be able to enter the information that is specific and important to their project. Wherever they are.”
It is also important that a CRM program allows a business to reach beyond custom service or customer satisfaction surveys, Jenkins says. Does it allow for all aspects of the business to interface? Does it tie into the company’s financial systems? Can the accountant see what inventory is being ordered and for what customer? If a business can access the right customer information, then the business, itself, can be analyzed.
“To be successful, a CRM package should function in two ways: It should be both a strategic tool and an analytical tool for the business,” Jenkins says. “A key component is that CRM tracks the customer journey from being a prospect lead to becoming a customer to keeping that customer as a repeat client. You are looking for customer loyalty, and you don’t want to lose track of your customers.”
All customers want to be remembered, and it is tiresome when a business keeps asking the customer for the same information. Jenkins cites the example of contacting a bank by telephone. After punching in your account number, the last four digits of your Social Security number and your birthday, you are then connected to a customer-service person or banker. They ask for the exact same information and you wonder why.
“This redundancy on the company side really irritates customers,” Jenkins says. “With a good CRM program, everyone in the company can access the identical customer information, everything is standardized. You don’t need to keep asking the customer for the same information. This builds trust in the organization.
“Critically,” she adds, “a good CRM program is not just a sales function of the business, but it is an integration tool for everyone in the system. It helps a company to be customer-based.”
Beta testing offers promise
Still searching for a CRM program that would facilitate Boat Bright Canvas across its many powerboat and sailboat clients—many of them high-end customers—Bennett sat down with Justin Jones of inDats, to test-drive his CRM program at the January 2016 Marine Fabricators Conference in Clearwater, Fla.
“The CRM program is called inTex, and it was developed by this guy from Salt Lake City—Justin Jones. It was amazing,” Bennett explained.
Jones, who has owned his marine canvas business—Sewlong Custom Covers—in Salt Lake City since 1999, also works as a computer consultant through his business, inDats, which stands for Innovative Data Solutions. And inTex is one of those solutions, tailored specifically for the marine fabrication business.
Although it is still in the beta testing stage, Bennett knew after five minutes it was exactly what he needed. “It interfaces with QuickBooks, with mobile devices, with contacts, with inventory. You don’t have to duplicate information,” he said. “It is editable, you can add photos—it’s really nice and it interfaces with everything.”
After checking out inTex online, Jenkins noted that it also was scalable. “It looks like inTex is going beyond just a CRM program, it is a total-solution package that ties everything together—HR, finance, inventory, sales and customer service,” she says.
“After five minutes I told Justin that I was sold, to let me know when it was available, and that he didn’t need to waste more time on me,” Bennett says. “He should demonstrate the inTex program to someone else.
“This program will solve all of the issues of sharing information between four staff people and our accountant,” he adds. “It streamlines the customer process through all employees and all phases with minimal complications and overlaps. Everything is immediately referenced. It is exactly what I have envisioned for my business.”
Jenkins is mindful that there is no “magic bullet CRM software.
“You need to find a software package that fits your business,” she says, “based on your company’s size and needs.”
Mason Riddle is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.
Fabrication-oriented software holds potential
The CRM software program inTex might not be a magic bullet for marine fabricators, but it won’t be for lack of trying by its developer, Justin Jones. Its mother company, inDats (for “Innovative Data Solutions”), is an off-shoot of Jones’ other Salt Lake City-based company, Sewlong Custom Covers, which he incorporated in 1999. A self-described technology geek and a successful entrepreneur, he grew up in a big industrial-sewing family in Salt Lake City.
In 2007, Jones discovered FileMaker and was convinced it was the ideal application for Sewlong. By 2011, inDats was in operation, which in turn led to the development of inTex, software designed specifically for the marine textile fabrication business.
InDats is dedicated to developing solutions to simplify, centralize and automate information for small to medium sized businesses.
“InTex allows a marine-fabrication business to manage its marketing, production process, inventory and clients,” explains Jones. “It can keep track of the details from thread to fabric color, inventory level of materials and purchase orders. It is a CRM software program and so much more—it is a total solution software.”
Jones was demonstrating inTex at the Marine Fabricators Conference in Clearwater, Fla., in January, and the program immediately convinced William Bennett of Boat Bright Canvas Inc., near Hilton Head, S.C., that it was the CRM he’d been seeking. “Sign me up; I will buy it,” stated Bennett. “I’m 95 percent convinced it is the answer.”
Not so fast, warns Jones. InTex is still in the Beta phase.
Ultimately, according to Jones, inTex will increase efficiency and effectiveness by using technology to standardize and automate the information within the canvas shop environment. InTex is intended to eliminate the ad hoc process and to consolidate all of the vital information for running a canvas shop into one centralized information system.
Significantly, inTex will allow client information to be managed from a central place. No lost orders or dropped information. Estimates will be easily created, instantly converted to a PDF, and emailed to the client. Upon approval, one click will send the estimate into the shop as an order. Workflow efficiency will also be increased. The order created from the estimate can be used to auto-populate project details with the tasks, materials and patterns to complete the job. Patterns, projects and materials can be cross-referenced. Teammates can punch in and out of specific tasks in order to manage time tracking for the project, and internal payroll needs. Inventory tracking will be more easily managed. Staff can easily access project vendors, materials and cost information.
Described as a “relational database,” inTex is a time-saving tool; the click of a button will create and instantly submit purchase orders to vendors. And an invoice is just a click away.