Recipe for Success: Understanding Your Problems, Partnering – THEN Bringing in the Technology

By Chris Bucholtz

What if someone told you they could free up 60 hours of your managers’ time each month to work on innovating the way your business finds new customers?

I’m guessing your answer would be, “yes, please!” But most businesses never are offered such a boon – primarily because it takes self-awareness of their own processes and inefficiencies to even contemplate the need for such an offer.

Security Public Storage (SPS), a family-owned and operated self-storage company with 42 self storage facilities located in California, Nevada and the Washington D.C. metro area, was just such a business – but it broke the mold by assessing its needs and spotting a crucial aspect of its business that could be made more efficient through the use of CRM.

The company was using what several companies in the self-storage industry use to monitor and collect customer data – pen and paper. “It was taking SPS two to three weeks to compile reports from the previous month’s end,” said Bill Harrison, CEO of Epicom. “After they took a step back and measured where their time was going, they realized that 60 hours of management time was spent each month compiling reports that could be automated and done in minutes if they just had a system in place to do this.”

The company used Sitelink as its onsite management software, but it did not know where customers were coming from and what rental trends their tenants had in common. The expenditure in time for execs was bad, but when the company realized the additional hit brought about by a lack of timely information, the situation became even worse. “Because it took too long to compile the reports, SPS wasn’t able to act quickly enough to change where their advertising dollars were going,” Harrison added. “For instance, if they ran several ad campaigns in several different media channels, they didn’t know the effectiveness of those campaigns until more than halfway through the next month. So another month would be wasted.”

Don’t think that SPS is unique in its suffering – the problem of Post-It note/spreadsheet customer management is widespread in the storage industry (and, indeed, in much of small and medium-sized businesses).  But SPS is unique in that it was able to step back, assess the situation, and find a partner that could help them solve their issues. That partner was Epicom.

Instead of flinging technology at the problem, Epicom first stood back and made sure it understood SPS’s problems. “They wanted to track their inbound calls and have a way to better track their ad campaigns,” said Harrison. “We custom built a solution using Twilio, which allowed them to do unique phone number tracking at a very low cost.”

Correlating those numbers to other customer data meant a CRM solution. “After understanding their biggest pain points, we were able to design a custom CRM system built on SugarCRM that would give them flexibility to scale their business and add more facilities quickly,” said Harrison.

Part of that customer data would, naturally, include information about existing tenants. That was contained in the Sitelink software SPS used to manage its properties. “Integration capabilities were an important factor,” said Harrison. “Epicom integrated Sugar with Sitelink. We also built a custom call script for them and embedded the recordings of their inbound calls from the ad campaigns. After the system was built, some training was required, but they were able to get going fairly quickly.”

SPS was also unique among newcomers to CRM in that it had a plan to measure and evaluate ROI right from the start. First to be measured was the ability to “capture more inbound leads,” said Harrison.” They could more quickly qualify them and move on to the next caller. Also, they could better target their advertising campaigns, and measure the number of converted leads per advertising source. This was a metric that could never fully be measured prior to having the CRM in place.”

As a result of the combined efforts of Epicom and SPS – Epicom for its implementation work, and SPS for understanding its own needs before the implementation – the system began producing efficiency gains and revenues from the moment it was turned on. “Once the call operators began using the system, the data instantly began to populate their reports. They rolled out the system slowly at first to test out the workflow and make sure they didn’t need to make any adjustments to the system. They are now rolling it out everywhere.”

The Twilio integration has had a major impact on the company’s operations. “Our call volume is anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 calls per month,” said Steven Ford, the company’s manager of field services. “Before the Twilio-Sugar integration, we were lucky to capture a couple of hundred calls a month. Now we capture six times that many and we know which online source our inbound calls are coming from.”

But, since CRM is always a work in progress, the two organizations are already looking toward the next phase.

“Moving forward – and for other storage companies – the big picture for the CRM implementation is to be completely integrated,” Harrison said. SPS hopes to “get a better ROI not only from advertising, but also aggregator services (by placing available units online, like an Orbitz for the self storage industry), returning customers, call center conversion rates, and more.”

The SPS case shows just how important planning and insight are to pinpointing problems in order to get the right technology solutions. SPS could have charged ahead and tried to do everything on its own – but without some reflection and the help of a set of fresh eyes from Epicom, it might well have made the wrong technology choice and ended up where it started – and lost a pile of money. Instead, it examined its problems carefully, found a partner that was a good fit, and together deliberately addressed the issues that were sapping its efficiency.