In 1896, a growing Michigan city was making strides in the tourism industry with the founding of a convention and visitors bureau, the first organization of its kind in the world. Today, with a staff of 50, the Bureau works closely with its network of members in its mission to market and sell its metropolitan area on a worldwide basis as a destination for leisure and business travel. Attractions include venues for conventions, trade shows, corporate meetings, tours and incentive travel as well as a film location. An important part of bringing that mission to fruition is to manage the seamless delivery of everything from t-shirts to tours. To do that, the Bureau relies on a very influential partner: customer relationship management (CRM) technology offered by Microsoft Dynamics CRM and The TM Group.
Help Wanted: Technology that’s up to the Challenge
Like all organizations whose livelihood depends on negotiating multiple constituencies across multiple industries and time zones with no room for error or down time, the convention bureau needed a technology solution that could help it continue to fuel the area’s economic engine.
The Bureau’s manager of information technology says the previous system simply was not up to the challenge of taking the organization to the next level – and beyond. “We were dissatisfied with the lack of integration possible among different components of the system,” she says. “Key functions didn’t talk to one another; that required us to either develop costly add-on solutions or rely on manual processes that were both time consuming and prone to errors. In our business, errors often cost us sales.”
Specifically, the previous database and operations modules featured front ends that were outdated, did not incorporate advances in technology and failed overall to meet the Bureau’s future needs. Furthermore, since many of the modules most heavily used by the Bureau were still using outmoded technology, they didn’t have the flexibility needed to adapt to new and improved versions of other software offerings in the market. Lack of integration made viewing critical information difficult.
Due to the lack of proper workflow engine functionality in the previous system, the Bureau’s team was able to perform only the bare minimum workflow requirements. There was no automated request management approval process, including audit trails needed for quicker handling of requests and reduction of paper waste. There was no integration with Microsoft Outlook, which the IT manager says led to a lot of lost information since clients and partners are communicated with via e-mail. Adding to the frustration, the Bureau had to continue using its current version in order to use the existing fax integration system. While a fax system may not be critical to organizations in other industries, the convention bureau relied on it through the existing database – an important part of the sales process.
In addition to these limitations, two problems that needed a solution to quickly rose to the top of their wish list. “Our previous system didn’t allow remote access via any Internet browser, which I thought put us at a competitive disadvantage given the amount of time that our team spends on the road promoting our region,” the manager says. “Also, business intelligence is critical to our success. Our previous system simply did not allow for our business intelligence needs. We had to develop custom reports in order to overcome that issue.”
To top it all off, the Bureau’s sales team couldn’t access the data required to respond to inquiries remotely. That meant that travel time – critical to making sales in the travel and tourism industry – was, essentially, down time.
The convention and visitors bureau conducted a competitive and comprehensive search-and-compare process. The software solutions considered included the standards for destination management organizations. After considering several options, the evaluation team put six offerings through the paces, and narrowed the field down to three. The main criteria, the IT manager says, were having the flexibility and extensibility needed to cross-integrate with other offerings. “Our main concern was to be able to customize according to changing business processes,” she says. Informed by its careful and thorough research, the organization selected Microsoft Dynamics CRM from the TM Group because, as she explained: “Microsoft Dynamics CRM fit all of our criteria.”
The IT manager and her team selected Microsoft Dynamics CRM for its ability to provide a higher level of service to the Bureau’s members and, ultimately, their mutual customers. Central to that ability is a deep and seamless integration among constituencies of various sizes and specialties. “Collaboration is critical to our success, to our members’ success and to the success of our region,” she says. “We do not sell widgets. We’re a sales and marketing organization, and our members are the reason for our existence. Accordingly, we are committed to making sure they can collaborate and have a bigger impact collectively than they could as individuals.”
The IT manager is responsible not only for solving day-to-day problems but also for ensuring that the bureau can adapt to the times. Microsoft Dynamics CRM gives her tools she needs to do that – and more. Working closely with The TM Group to complete an internal pilot, the solution was deployed without the glitches that often go along with transitioning from one technology to another. “We turned off the old system and turned on the new one in a single day,” she says. “We had two days for Microsoft Dynamics CRM training, which we did by department so that we could answer questions most relevant to each.” While the deployment was underway, she built customizations within a development box and then moved them over for general use. “After that, we spent a couple of weeks helping our users,” she says. “It was easy.”
The IT manager is currently developing executive dashboards to add to the vastly enhanced business intelligence capabilities. “To further simplify the process of getting reports out, we are building dashboards that cater specifically to users within the organization, including executives, managers and individuals,” she says.
Thus far, the benefits of migrating to Microsoft Dynamics CRM include:
Easy, familiar, simple: A CRM solution is only as effective as its users, and the IT manager reports that users throughout the Bureau are quite pleased with the switch to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Key to the satisfaction is the fact that Microsoft technology is second nature to those who use the system. “They can handle their own markets, and also the breakdowns within each of those that are based on each person’s specialty,” she says. The ease of the Microsoft system eliminates headaches not only for users but for her as well. Previously, the manager and her very lean IT team had to provide organized, cohesive data on demand, which required the generation of new code and new reports. For the three-person IT team, each request equaled a new report. Now, with the Advanced Find feature, people generate their own reports when they need them. “Our users are happy,” she says, “and we’re free to do other things.”
Customer service on-site or on the go: One of the most significant ways Microsoft Dynamics CRM is benefitting the Bureau is by offering users throughout the organization the access they need to deliver superior customer service regardless of their location. This is particularly important during the sales process. By accessing the CRM solution via the Internet, the Bureau’s sales professionals can respond to potential clients with up-to-the-minute information such as the number and cost of hotel rooms available on the dates they’re planning to hold an event. “They go into Advanced Find, adjust according to the specifications of the potential client, and send a customized Quick Campaign on their own without having to go through the import-export process,” explains the manager.
Maintenance … simplified: She reports that maintaining and customizing Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a breeze. “We’re doing add-ons and accelerators that make information easily and quickly accessible to those who need it – where and when they need it,” she says. “Our system is easy to maintain so we do all of our maintenance in-house.”
Predictable Costs: Thanks to Microsoft’s Software Assurance licensing program, the organization’s costs are metered, thus sparing them from the unknown. “We maintain our licensing agreement, which allows us to upgrade when and how we’re ready rather than having to upgrade before we’re fully prepared,” the manager says.
Fueling the Economic Engine: The IT manager says the deployment of Microsoft Dynamics CRM has helped the Bureau contribute to the health of the metro area’s overall economy when it matters most. “We’re all being stretched, so the more efficient we can become, the better,” she says. “Our use of Microsoft Dynamics CRM has really allowed us to do that.” For example, she’s been able to easily set the parameters of the tracking functionality to cover not only hotel stays, but other related services as well, and will soon be able to quickly produce valuable data by integrating sales data with financial information and expense reports. In addition to helping provide a higher level of customer service, it will also help the Bureau quickly articulate the specific value of becoming a member to businesses that are interested in joining.
Thriving Now and in the Future: The Michigan metro area is no stranger to challenging economic times. Armed with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and a healthy dose of determination, the IT manager says the convention and visitors bureau is up for the challenge. “Our members are looking to us now more than ever because the economy is bad,” she says. “They need quick and comprehensive responsiveness, and our technology makes it possible for us to deliver.” But beyond its performance today, is the promise Microsoft Dynamics CRM holds for tomorrow – and beyond. “This technology provides us with a platform on which we can grow,” she says. For an organization that’s been delivering value for more than a century, that’s important.
For more information about this case study, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the TM Group, please visit www.tmgroupinc.com or call 888.482.2864.