In the second of our two-part Microsoft Power Virtual Agents series, we examine the difference between Chatbots and Intelligent Chatbots, and how AI can elevate chatbot capabilities and improve user experience.
McWane is a traditional and proudly blue-collar company headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. Nearly 100 years old, they are the epitome of a family-owned business – when one McWane family member retires, the next one steps in to run the company. Across all lines of business – including MPI – McWane’s sales teams are comprised of hard-working, old-school sellers who believe in the value of face-to-face meetings and firm handshakes. They work the phones, travel constantly, and focus on building traditional B2B relationships.
So, when it came time for MPI to implement a CRM solution, they weren’t going to be sold on bells, whistles, and unnecessary functionality. They simply wanted to get a good, solid CRM up and running. Since they were already using technology from the Microsoft stack to run their business, it made sense to go with Dynamics 365. And while they didn’t need anything fancy, they did want to make sure the tool they implemented was a joy for their team members to use. A partnership with PowerObjects ensured necessary customizations could be made to meet the unique needs of their business and that ongoing maintenance would be covered.
McWane Plant & Industrial Division (MPI) – a division of McWane committed to manufacturing and distributing AWWA valves, slide gates, ductile pipe, and waterworks fittings – was running their sales and marketing operations, as well as managing projects and new business initiatives, out of Microsoft Excel, Word, and Outlook. It is the inevitable and all-too-familiar outcome of steady growth over many years: an organization begins using a quite basic technology solution and simply keeps adding band-aids and workarounds as they grow. Eventually, they reach the point where it is no longer sustainable and seek an upgrade that won’t be too disruptive. That was the case with MPI, and they minimized disruption by selecting a CRM solution within the Microsoft Stack.
The challenges of running a business without the necessary technology infrastructure go beyond the obvious slow processing times and high costs. Indeed, it is the inefficiencies associated with an archaic system that can be crippling to a business. “Too often, we would recall that we had previously documented a certain process or procedure,” says Paul Briggs, National Sales Director, MPI, “only to discover that – because the person responsible for storing the document in their email files had left the company – nobody could locate it. We’d have to start from scratch again. That’s just not efficient.”
And without a central repository for rules, procedures, competitor analyses, and customer data, they were running the risk that sales reps in Florida and California, for example, were marketing and selling the same product differently. With inconsistencies come errors, customer and employee dissatisfaction, and higher costs. They needed to get on a level playing field with their competitors, many of whom were running Salesforce or other proven CRM systems. While Dynamics 365 was the obvious choice, they needed a technology partner to customize the system to meet the unique needs of their organization. They selected PowerObjects, an HCL Technologies Company and were off and running.
McWane is an old-school, proudly blue-collar manufacturing and distribution company with sales teams who do business the old-fashioned way: face-to-face meetings, firm handshakes, and traditional B2B relationships. So, when it came time to begin their technology transformation, they weren’t going to be sold on bells, whistles, and unnecessary functionality.
They simply wanted to get a good, solid CRM up and running – a centralized place to store client information, including call notes, updates, and changes. In other words, they sought the online version of a rolodex. But what they got was so much more, literally transforming their entire internal operations – from sales and marketing to project management, reporting, and data analytics.
The sales team uses it for tracking opportunities, accounts, and contacts. “We keep track of everyone in CRM, of course – everyone that we do business with,” says Andrew Chapman, Southeast Regional Sales Director, MPI. “But we also use it for keeping track of quotes, sales data, metrics, and competitor data.” It has streamlined everything for the sales teams. “As soon as I visit a customer, I put all my notes in Dynamics and the information is available in real time to everyone in the organization,” adds Chapman. “And when I meet someone new, I can put their business card into Dynamics and – boom – the new contact is created. It's sped up my reporting so much.”
MPI’s close rate has jumped as much as 10% since the implementation of Dynamics 365, which they attribute to how much more effective they are in following up on projects and quotes because everything is tracked in CRM. Briggs says that managers can now run a simple report of open cases and ask their staff to follow up with the potential customers: “In the past, so many opportunities just slipped through the cracks because on the Excel spreadsheet we were just viewing like our biggest 20 or 25 projects. Now we can track in real time every single opportunity.”
In addition to closing more business, MPI is leveraging Dynamics 365 to grow by creating upsell and cross-sell opportunities. It all starts with enabling communication and collaboration across the country. A salesperson in Florida, for example, can look at previous sales of a given product in California to see which additional products were pitched and/or sold with that product. This was something they just weren’t able to do before Dynamics 365. As Briggs says, “Running our business through CRM empowers us to consistently tap into the best resources for each project or sales call or price quote because we can quickly see which engineer or contractor we used previously – and to what degree we had success. It enables us to have better communication across the board with our entire salesforce.”
MPI has been careful to avoid the trap too many organizations fall into: spending the resources necessary to implement a new system but not to maintain and grow that system. To ensure sustained success, they enrolled in PowerObjects’ PowerSuccess program, giving them access to a dedicated support engineer who acts as their single point of contact for all their customizations, updates, and changes. Tim Smith, Dynamics 365 Sr. Technical Specialist at Microsoft, says, “During the sales process with McWane, we realized that what we were trying to do for them worked really well with the PowerSuccess approach developed by PowerObjects. It's just like, we're going to do x amount of development weekly – so McWane can control its own destiny. It's made them feel really comfortable.”
PowerSuccess enables PowerObjects and McWane to iterate desired changes and customizations. “Why it works in practice is that McWane doesn’t feel the need to do a ton of scoping and overcomplicate a project – they're really taking these little bite-sized chunks and then can operationalize it very quickly,” adds Smith. Obviously, the more a system is customized to meet the specific needs of a business, the better it will work for them. As Chapman says, “If we need something, we call our Support Engineer and he jumps right on it. Some requests take a week or two, but it’s not uncommon for him to customize our system while I’m on the phone with him trying to describe what we need.”
One benefit of working with the PowerSuccess program is that the support engineers are deeply experienced and routinely share best practices used by other PowerSuccess customers. While every business has unique processes and needs, there’s a certain degree of commonality across industries and businesses. When MPI is considering a change to their system, their dedicated engineer usually has seen a similar request and may have tried a couple of different solutions before landing on the sweet spot. “He steers us to what other companies have done already. When we don't know which way would be the best to implement something, he'll say, ‘most of the time my other clients do this’ or he'll give us a couple different options of what's possible in the system based on what we were trying to do,” says Chapman. “He definitely gives us options of what's available.”
In an average week, MPI communicates with their PowerSuccess engineer via email two or three times, as needed; they also have a weekly status call and biweekly training sessions. For all intents and purposes, they consider their dedicated engineer to be part of the MPI team because they work together so cohesively and consistently. Briggs says, “The single point of contact is key. The fact that he knows all the intricacies of our system makes customizing it so easy and accessible.” With respect to PowerSuccess, Smith adds, “I've never seen any other partner do this. And I think it is really genius actually. Customers don't have to make a huge commitment, and development is very rapid, very agile in nature.”
They are excited to implement the mapping technology that is available in PowerMap, one of the PowerPack add-ons PowerObjects offers free to PowerSuccess customers. They also look forward to integrating their quoting system with Dynamics 365. As Chapman says, “In the future, I'm excited to have products automatically go into Dynamics from our quoting system and then be able to look at an opportunity and tell exactly what products are on there, and be able to see different metrics about how many of which size valve we are quoting in an area.”
Perhaps the most exciting opportunity on the horizon is expanding Dynamics 365 to other business units within McWane. It has been so successful in MPI that other parts of the organization have taken notice. “This platform is going to help us definitely with integrations, acquisitions, and those type of things, says Briggs. “So, as we add to our portfolio within MPI and all across McWane, this gives us the platform to grow and for us to be able to be really organized in that growth. It’s truly exciting.”
Microsoft and PowerObjects have each developed strong Manufacturing practices for Dynamics 365, and as both companies commit resources to vertical-specific industries, Microsoft’s manufacturing experts are working hand in hand with PowerObjects to develop relationships with customers – like McWane – that we believe we can help reach new levels of success. In MPI’s case, they discovered they could implement and customize a great tool that’s so easy to operate, user adoption is at 100% and job satisfaction is through the roof. As they look to expand to other divisions, the future appears bright for the partnership between McWane, Microsoft, and PowerObjects.
Dynamics 365 has been a blessing. Our process is just much easier now. It's made our lives a lot simpler. If somebody is out sick or on vacation, instead of me having to pick up the phone to call one of the field persons to get information on an account, I just go into Dynamics and look at the account or project – and I immediately know exactly what's going on.