In this blog, we highlight a lesson learned when we used a Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement online data source connector, called Instance Web API, for Power BI reports.
Prestige is essentially a third-party brokerage firm, connecting meeting and event planners with contracted hotels, resorts, and cruises for groups ranging from 10 to 20,000 attendees. By consolidating the purchasing through one experienced and qualified source, Prestige is able to develop and create the experience for successful meetings, conferences, expos, and tradeshows.
In just the last few years, Prestige has endured a corporate restructure, acquired a company that broadens its core competency to include onsite event production, and tripled its annual revenue. The transformation and growth they enjoyed needed to extend to their technology infrastructure. To make it happen, Prestige partnered with PowerObjects to implement Dynamics 365 for Sales as well as a marketing automation PowerPack add-on. The project was so successful, they engaged PowerObjects’ PowerSuccess team for an ongoing commitment for support and system enhancements.
Prestige was founded in 1986, but 2012 was arguably the most transformational year in the company’s history. Three of the organization’s top salespeople bought the company from the founder and immediately changed the culture. In the years that followed, they enjoyed 300% growth in revenue. That’s great news, of course, but the problem was that their technology infrastructure was not keeping pace. Running a business with Excel spreadsheets and a bargain basement CRM solution was doable when they were small, but as a company nearing the $100M mark for annual sales, that kind of infrastructure was not sustainable.
In 2017, Prestige set their sights on finding a technology solution that was commensurate with their stature as an industry leader. While they considered other products, they quickly settled on Dynamics 365, primarily because they were already committed to the Microsoft stack – particularly Excel – in other areas of their business. Plus, it would integrate easily with the online event management software tool they use, Cvent, and their accounting software solution, QuickBooks. Next, they needed a partner to help with the implementation.
PowerObjects won Prestige’s business, largely because of the education offerings, collaborative consulting practice, and sales methodology. “I really liked PowerObjects’ sales process. It was very refined and flowed quite naturally,” says Jordan Sanford, Director of Business Systems at Prestige. “Someone comes in, figures out our business needs and does the bid. Then the handoff to the team doing the actual implementation was really seamless.”
As a third-party brokerage firm, Prestige is fundamentally a sales organization. They refer to themselves as a site selection agency – they help meeting and event planners through the process of site selection, which typically involves finding a hotel for the event. Prestige does the contracting, negotiations, and reservations with the hotels. Their sales process is to identify, prospect, sign, and deliver, and Dynamics 365 for Sales proved to be the ideal solution for the identify and prospect stages. Prestige’s salespeople typically need 5-10 unique interactions before they can convert a prospect to a customer, and everything is now tracked in Dynamics 365, with visibility and transparency across the organization.
In Prestige’s previous CRM, it was very difficult to track sales activity across time. It was easy to enter the information but next to impossible to extract it. Ultimately, the sales team simply stopped using it because there was no value in it for them. With Dynamics 365, not only is it intuitive and easy to track activity and extract data, but they now have built-in automated processes to aid in the sales pursuit. “Emails are automatically tracked to the account, and we’ve built auto-generated reminders of each salesperson’s own traces,” says Sanford. “It prevents potential clients from falling off our radar. The sales team loves it.”
The bottom line is that now the sales team has the tools to be more strategic about the time they spend working on prospects. Whereas before they just worked on the people that came to mind, it’s now very obvious who needs a phone call because they created a dashboard view in Dynamics 365 that shows the top prospects that haven't been touched in 30 days. There is a direct correlation between the efficiency of the sales team and revenue generation. Based on 1Q 2019 earnings, in fact, Prestige is on track for another year of greater than 20% year-over-year growth.
A somewhat unique aspect of Prestige’s business is that the revenue from a sale made today isn’t realized until well into the future – often as long as 18 months later. That’s because Prestige isn’t paid by their clients – the organizations planning the meetings; rather, they bill the hotels where their clients are hosting events. Typically, accommodations are booked 1-2 years in advance of a big event, but Prestige won’t see the revenue until after the event is completed. It’s a business model that doesn’t lend itself very well to tracking results against incentive markers. For example, Prestige might have a contract with a major hotel chain that rewards them with a 10% reduction in room rates if they book, say, 1,000 rooms over the course of a year. Obviously, that’s pure profit for Prestige, so they are deeply incented to hit that mark – and to chase it vigorously if they are close to it near the end of the year. Unfortunately, they never had the level of insight into their data to provide the needed visibility. At least not until Dynamics 365.
“Tracking the incentive programs used to be smoke and mirrors,” says Sanford. “But now the entire sales team sees how close we are to hitting those kickers, and of course once that happens, they get paid more! So, they are super incentivized now.” Indeed, it’s been a real game-changer for Prestige. “But remember, that when we sign a deal in November, the revenue is not coming in for December like it would for most business – the revenue will come, perhaps, the following November. As a result, we must be way more strategic about it.” The incentive reports that once took Sanford three or four hours to pull are now available in real-time for the entire company to see.
Another unique aspect of Prestige’s business is the concept of pickup, which is the difference between the number of rooms reserved and those actually used. For example, let’s say the reservation called for ten rooms for ten nights – or a total of 100 reserved rooms. Eighteen months later, it almost never ends up being 100. Someone cancels at the last minute, someone gets sick and leaves early, someone else wants to stay a few extra nights, etc. In the end, maybe 98 rooms were used, maybe it was 105. The difference is the pickup, and it used to be a nightmare to reconcile pickups.
Before implementing Dynamics 365, Prestige would email an Excel spreadsheet to the hotel and ask them to populate it with the reservation pickup information. Inevitably, the hotel would have the data in a different format, so they would just send what they had. Someone at Prestige would then have to compare the two and try to make sense of it all. It typically ended up in a pdf that was printed, copied, faxed, copied again… an arduous and painful process.
Prestige had a unique take on PowerSurveyPlus, one of PowerObject’s marketing automation PowerPack add-ons. Whereas most business use PowerSurveyPlus to survey customers, Prestige uses it to reconcile pickups with hotels. At the completion of an event, an automated email from PowerSurveyPlus is sent to the hotel. It already contains the reservation information pulled from Dynamics 365. There are no formatting or version issues to worry about. The hotel simply fills out the “survey” with the actual numbers.
“When the hotels return the survey, the data automatically pushes back into our Dynamics 365 system so the accounting department can see it immediately,” says Sanford. “PowerSurveyPlus has been incredibly helpful because pickup used to be one of the most painful aspects of our business.”
Simplified pickup reconciliation and visibility into incentive thresholds are great, but a true evaluation of the economic impact of a Dynamics 365 implementation requires measurable data and tangible results that prove its value. Prestige has them. In terms of efficiency gains, for example, the accounting department is now half its former size despite doing twice the amount of work.
“The workplace efficiencies we’ve gained since implementing Dynamics 365 are astronomical,” Sanford reports. “A year and a half ago, when we first started looking at doing this, we had three accountants and were looking to add a fourth. Now we only need two: they are 100% caught up on their backlogged work and our businesses has essentially doubled.” Reducing headcount by two people results in an annual savings of ~$200,000 when salary and benefits are considered.
Prestige also saw a year-over-year 23% lift in closed sales rates, an improvement Sanford attributes to the real-time insight the sales team has into hitting various commission thresholds. He says, “Like most sales organizations, we have certain incentives – like higher commission rates and tropical vacations, for example. In past years, our salespeople had to just wait until the end of the year to find out if they made their number. With the reporting capabilities afforded by Dynamics 365, they can now see how close they are to their next commission threshold. It’s a giant motivator to close one or two more sales.”
One reason Prestige was drawn to PowerObjects was the availability of Dynamics 365-related courses, especially the Boot Camp. Prestige flew Sanford to Minneapolis for the week-long Dynamics 365 Boot Camp before the project kicked off, and it paid huge and immediate dividends.
“I took the class right before we started, and I would strongly suggest to everyone who is considering a Dynamics 365 implementation to do it. Have someone on your design team go to Boot Camp because it helps you talk Dynamics,” says Sanford. “Like, there’s a language to it. When you're talking about entities, workflows, views, sub grids, and everything else, you might not know exactly what you want or how to describe it but knowing that these are the words to use to articulate to your team can make all the difference.”
Boot Camp provided Sanford with the language to use in the design process, but the value of a good Dynamics 365 education didn’t stop there. Once Prestige went live with the solution, Sanford immediately began identifying ways to tweak the system to provide even greater efficiencies and capabilities. Without the foundational knowledge acquired in Boot Camp, he wouldn’t understand what could and couldn’t be done.
Every Dynamics 365 implementation is a learning opportunity for the organization. Based on the old adage that ‘You don’t know what you don’t know,’ PowerObjects always takes the time to help users learn the technology for themselves because only once they truly understand the capabilities can they articulate how to best use the technology to benefit their organization. That approach combined with the Boot Camp had Sanford continuously conceiving of ways to greater benefit Prestige throughout the implementation. Of course, he was repeatedly told, ‘Sure, that can be done but it’s out of scope for the implementation phase of the project.’ Undeterred, he kept a running list.
Armed with just enough Dynamics 365 knowledge to be dangerous post-implementation, Sanford intended to start working through that list of enhancements. He knew full well it would take him hours and days to complete tasks an expert could finish in mere minutes, but he was committed to making ongoing system improvements. His PowerObjects partner on the design and implementation team suggested an alternative: PowerSuccess. “I think he fundamentally understood that I like to tinker with things and realized that I would probably end up breaking it,” jokes Sanford.
The truth is PowerSuccess provides a collaborative partnership that empowers Prestige to continually enhance and strengthen their implementation. It enables Sanford to take care of the simple stuff himself (usually after a quick phone call for advice) while leaving the significant enhancements to the experts at PowerObjects.
The PowerSuccess program gives organizations a dedicated resource, which means requests aren’t going to a blackhole that doubles as a generic mailbox – instead, they go directly to their dedicated systems engineer. For Sanford, that means help from someone who knows Prestige’s system intimately is just a phone call away. “There have been so many times,” says Sanford, “that I've said to our PowerSuccess Engineer, ‘Hey, it'd be cool if we could implement such-and-such, but I think it’ll probably require a really roundabout way to tackle it.’ And he’ll say, ‘Oh, actually there's an extension that we've built for that.’ It's incredible – on a weekly basis he comes back to me with a solution to a problem I figured couldn’t be solved.”
Sanford and PowerObjects have weekly calls to prioritize and work through open items. It’s also not unusual for them to email back and forth on an almost daily basis. Sanford says, “I’ll shoot him a note asking if a certain thing can be done. He’ll get back to me a few minutes later saying, ‘Yep, here’s the field you need to tick.’ I might have figured it out myself eventually, but he just saves me so much time!” When the email exchanges tread into more complicated territory, they usually table the topic for the weekly call. It’s a cadence that works effectively for both sides.
Obviously the PowerSuccess partnership saves Prestige lots of time in terms of system administration and capability enhancements. But it also offers tremendous intangible benefits, as well. “Daily access to my PowerSuccess engineer honestly keeps me sane,” says Sanford. “I would drive myself crazy trying to find solutions on my own. And it reduces my stress so much. Just knowing he’s a phone call away if something goes terribly wrong gives me such peace of mind.”
Prestige has already seen PowerObjects’ four pillars in action. The implementation project was Service, PowerSuccess provides their ongoing Support, the Dynamics 365 Boot Camp provided the Education, and they’re using PowerSurveyPlus, one of the PowerPack Add-ons. So, what’s next?
In the near future, Prestige hopes to get away from their current marketing automation tools and start using more PowerPack add-ons. In the same way that it made sense to select Dynamics 365 because they were already deeply invested in the Microsoft stack, it just makes sense to keep everything under the PowerObjects umbrella. Sanford says, “The thing is, PowerObjects just figures out ways to make our lives better. What more is there to say?”
The workplace efficiencies we’ve gained since implementing Dynamics 365 are astronomical. A year and a half ago, when we first started looking at doing this, we had three accountants and were looking to add a fourth. Now we only need two: they are 100% caught up on their backlogged work and our businesses has essentially doubled.