Gartner and 1to1 Customer Award Winners: Sales Optimization

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Gold Winner: Equinox Fitness Flexes Its CRM Muscle

Equinox Fitness prides itself on being more than just a fitness club. The quickly growing, upscale chain appeals to its slightly older, more affluent customers via chic design, a spa-like aesthetic, and a devotion to cleanliness.

As CIO Jeff Grayson puts it, "It's what you get out of a top-tier hotel in terms of impeccable service and cleanliness. If you stay at a Holiday Inn, everything's probably fine?but it's not the Four Seasons or the Ritz." Although Equinox has grown by 400 percent to 45 locations in the past five years, prospective customers were getting less than upscale treatment, Grayson says. The starting point of all this growth is gym memberships, which can be leveraged at other on-site services like spas, retail stores, caf? and, in many locations, child care. But the sales experience was not consistent with the club's service-oriented, luxury message, and management realized that continuing Equinox's dramatic growth would require reengineering its sales process.

"The sales process was managed largely through index cards," he says. As a result, the staff focused more on last-minute closing than on building relationships. Membership advisors would typically speak with hundreds of prospects each month, then bring their box of leads to the sales manager to review. Prospects were often mishandled with poor follow-up that reflected badly on the Equinox brand.

"From the start, we conceived of our
reengineering as a business project?with technology as the critical tool," Grayson says. "And we took as our mantra, 'Kill the cards.'" Equinox implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM software to support 250 advisors and managers in 36 locations and optimize its sales process. The Equinox team customized the applications to reflect a simple B2C lead management and contract closure process.

"Understanding that people's motivation for joining a gym is a personal thing is critical, and this tool helps us keep track of that," Grayson says. "Some people join because they're getting married in six months, or they have a college reunion coming up.... Our membership advisors' jobs are to establish a personal connection with the people they're talking to - and also, of course, to be very effective salespeople in the process." Now both current members and prospects are handled in a more professional manner, with timely and personalized communication, he says. The improved process emphasizes Equinox as a high-touch, service-oriented company that is interested in clients' fitness success rather than just a new contract or renewal. And, with prospect data now stored electronically, sales personnel can use that information to communicate more effectively with customers, opening more opportunities for upselling to existing customers, as well as continuing its rapid membership growth.

"Every prospective customer now receives a follow-up email from his advisor the next morning," Grayson says. "It's generated automatically, but there's space for the advisor to put in one or two sentences - 'Good luck with the wedding' - to make it more personalized." Within three months of implementing Microsoft CRM, he says, all lead cards were eliminated, and 100 percent of advisors and their managers were using the system. For the customer, Grayson adds, sales conversations are now more in line with Equinox's image of being "truly interested in your health, rather than just making a sale." As a result, he says, Equinox has seen a 10 percent revenue increase and RIO from the CRM system in less than eight months. Additional insight is provided by the tool's ability to let managers see such trends as same-day closing percentages; if they're going down, marketing can step in with a promotion that offers a better rate for same-day joining.

"The best thing about this is its simplicity," Grayson says, noting that the quick buy-in from staff is indicative of its ease-of-use. "The results speak for themselves."


Silver Winner: The Linc Group Builds Better Customer Insight

The Linc Group's 20,000-plus customers rely on the provider of facilities management and building systems to cost-effectively maintain and improve their facilities, maximize energy efficiency, and optimize operations. It's therefore critical for the firm to keep its 100 salespeople up to date on the information clients need to make them more successful.

"We didn't really have a problem; we had an?opportunity for improvement," says CIO Greg Lush.
That opportunity included the need to capture, store, and make more readily available to its sales team customer data in an enterprise system, as opposed to "holding it" in employees' heads, Lush explains. "We believe in capturing new customers and keeping them for life through exemplary service," he says. "To achieve this high standard we enlist everyone in the organization to participate in satisfying our customers." Thus, the need for shared information.

Instead of having sales managers use static reports based on dated information, The Linc Group, via deployment of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, now allows sales managers to conduct coaching sessions with salespeople while accessing real-time information, and can easily reassign accounts with every scrap of historical information intact.

As a result, Lush says, "CRM allows us to deliver an exceptionally high level of service with a personal touch that is essential to achieving our high customer retention rates. We couldn't do that before trying to use the 'tribal knowledge' that existed in people's heads." The company's close ratio has increased by 20 percent, with the added benefit of more quickly meeting customers' needs in a consistent and predictable way. The Linc Group now plans to continue integrating CRM into its other divisions.

"We've discovered that we can be a lot more successful and provide a lot more value both to external and internal customers by creating very robust integration scenarios," Lush says. "We're trying to get everybody addicted so they can't do anything without it being in CRM."


Bronze Winner: Mortgage Lenders of America Rises Above an Economic Downturn

It's no secret that this isn't the best time to be in the mortgage-lending business, but Mortgage Lenders of America has more than risen to the challenge. Automating its manual lead management processes has led to improved lead conversion and delivered new customer insight.

"We had fairly traditional types of processes to originate loans," says president and owner Philip Kneibert. "Our loan officers would talk to realtors and borrowers and financial planners to solicit referrals for mortgage loans. But that wasn't consistent with where we saw the market going. More borrowers were going online, more realtors and builders were offering in-house financing, things like that were happening." MLA started buying leads at $20 to $30 a pop, and "it doesn't take very long for those costs to mount up into a significant expense," Kneibert says. "We knew that we just had to measure and manage [the process] to make sure that it didn't kick us in the butt." Manual spreadsheets were cumbersome. "It wasn't long before we figured out we needed a better system to identify what was happening with our leads, not only to keep track of where each one was in the sales cycle but also what the training issues we needed to work with our loan officers were?. Basically, how to squeeze more value out of that investment."

Implementation of a Sage SalesLogix CRM system has been a godsend, Kneibert says. "We've been able to automate our sales process, making loan officers more likely to follow each step and minimizing the possibility that human error could account for lost sales." Kneibert says the results have been immense.

"Lead conversion has increased significantly, and our customer satisfaction survey scores are typically very high. We made up our investment in SalesLogix in four months." And, he adds, despite the current state of economic gloom, "the last quarter was the best one in our eight-year history. If you can survive [the current market], you can grow stronger and continue to compete."

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