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Supporting Enterprise Clients with a Small Strategic Team

Highland supports several large, global CRM clients by planning with them and deploying our team strategically.

Four Highlanders stand in front of a whiteboard covered in colorful sticky notes, laughing with each other.

Highlanders collaborating in our Chicago offices | Photo by Bridgett Colling

Just because Highland is a small business doesn’t mean we exclusively work with other organizations our size. In the Highland portfolio of clients, 65% of Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM) end-users are enterprise-size organizations, 23% are medium-sized, and 12% are small businesses.

That’s a high percentage of enterprise clients. How can Highland (with a total team of about 30 people) be a strong, long-term partner to enterprise organizations comprising thousands of team members?

We face these questions regularly:

“How can your small team support our large sales fleet? Will our project span a longer calendar time because your team is smaller? Do you have the capacity to take on a project this large?”

We tend to see this pattern: small to medium-size businesses will work with us for their initial rollout, then train an internal team member to maintain their CRM. Larger clients tend to rely on our CRM team for ongoing enhancements and cultivate a long-term relationship with the CRM Specialists at Highland.

The six members of the Highland CRM Team in the Highland office

The Highland CRM Team

A Tale of Two Clients

Client A is a global manufacturing client. Highland partnered with them in 2016 for the initial customization and rollout of their CRM. In the years since then, our joint CRM team has assisted with onboarding additional regions, integration with their Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) and Configure Price Quote (CPQ) systems, and a rollout of Sugar Market. Client A, though large and globally distributed, has adapted agile methodologies and expects frequent, ongoing enhancements to their CRM. Highland meets with a small steering committee weekly and prepares a Production release once or twice per month.

Client A’s field sales reps are accustomed to receiving notifications a few times per month that their CRM is being enhanced. This approach drives adoption: the field team knows they can provide feedback and see the changes without waiting for annual “big bang” release cycles.

Client B, a healthcare equipment sales, rental, and service company, engaged Highland back in 2015 for the initial configuration and rollout of their CRM. Since then, Highland and the client have partnered to deliver multiple integrations: with a data warehouse, their human resources system, a third-party industry dataset, commission servicing tool, and stand-alone marketing automation tool. Within the CRM itself, as usage increases and sales processes evolve, Highland and the client have performed a complete overhaul of the data hierarchy in the Accounts module (over 60,000 records), customized the Opportunities module to streamline the client’s Challenger Selling methodology, and built out the Strategic Account planning process within the CRM.

Client B saw their CRM usage surge during COVID-19 due to two main factors: 1.) more sales team members were working remotely and needed to collaborate; and 2.) they sell, rent, and service equipment in every type of healthcare setting, who all saw their patient populations increase sharply. Highland is proud of our work to support this client and make an impact for everyone suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sample long-range plan for Client B from 1Q2019 (Build Account Visibility) through 3Q2020 (Enhance Opportunities).

Sample long-range plan for Client B

Keys To Success

The keys to our success with these large CRM customers have roots in Highland’s core values: People First, Be Curious, Be Transparent, and Give a Damn.

1.) Business-savvy product owners

At each client, there are PEOPLE who know their business and their sales processes inside and out; we call them CRM Stakeholders or CRM Admins. One designated point person is in contact with Highland many times per week. This CRM Admin also has deep experience in the CRM, so they have a good idea of the system’s capabilities. An extended stakeholder group (or steering committee), including field sales reps, executive sponsors, and IT engineers, convenes regularly for governance and strategic planning. However, the Product Owner remains the key point of contact for Highland throughout all projects.

A sample timeline for CRM Governance, including team roles, meeting cadence per year, per month, and every 1–2 weeks

A sample timeline for CRM Governance | Image provided by Elizabeth Mankowski

2.) Prioritization

These key stakeholders know how to prioritize CRM enhancements for maximum business value. They are empowered within their organization to make decisions, based on value delivered to their Sales organization. Highland often receives advance notice of new initiatives, and we plan for work with our enterprise clients six to twelve months in advance.

A six month planning timeline for Client B, which includes prep, migration, build outs, data imports, ERP integration, etc.

Client B future planning

3). Frequent, transparent communication

With our Enterprise clients, we hold weekly or bi-weekly meetings to review priorities, demo work in progress, and confirm release dates. Most of our clients also participate in a shared Slack channel for instant messaging. And yes, we still use email too. When we’re not living through a pandemic, the Highland team will visit our Enterprise clients in person about twice per year. We love seeing our clients in their offices or facilities. We take the time to share a meal, re-cap the last few months (or year) of working together, then look forward.

Left: Beth leading an in-person CRM training. Right: The virtual Highland team, transitioning to Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Left: Beth leading an in-person CRM training. Right: The virtual Highland team, transitioning to Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

4). Continual deployment

Through repeated refinement of our deployment processes, we have reduced the risk of changes going to the Production CRM. Clients trust us to follow our own process, testing,and gaining sign off before deployment. With one client, we follow their internal IT change management process and obtain a service request number for each deployment. One client authorizes releases every two weeks. Another client schedules releases ad-hoc as soon as new features are complete and tested. We track client deployments on our team calendar, which allows us to plan around our own team member availability. The benefits of continuous deployment to the Sales Team are obvious: changes are available frequently. No more waiting for quarterly or semi-annual releases.

Visual of Continual Deployment Releases. This client had deployments 2–4 times each month between March and June of 2020

Continual Deployment Releases

5). The right tools

For enterprise clients, we use three CRM environments: DEV, TEST, and PROD. At any given time, these environments may be out of sync as work moves through build, test, and acceptance.

How do we keep track? JIRA.

How do we plan deployments and obtain sign-off? Confluence.

Our team reviews the JIRA board on daily stand-ups. We look at work for individual clients, and we review our collective work across our CRM client portfolio.

Deployment release notes. Each note has its own link with the deployment name and corresponding notes.

Deployment (or Release) Checklists in Confluence

6). Designated Roles on our team

Each Highlander assigned to the project has their own area of expertise: CRM Configuration Specialist, CRM Developer, or Project Manager/Analyst. We collaborate on our internal daily stand-ups, as well as through our internal toolsets. Each person on the Highland team is responsible for bringing their special expertise, as well as contributing to quality assurance and overall outstanding client experience. When we say “Give a Damn” we mean that the solution works as designed AND that we designed it to meet the client’s specific business needs. We train on the CRM, our process, and our “soft skills” by practicing regular retrospectives, reading industry news and books, and by maintaining our certifications.

We’re Small AND We’re Mighty

With a pocketful of jangling keys to success, we feel confident to open any door: be it the home office of a global manufacturing enterprise, or a Chicago-based, family-owned custom fabrication business. So check the keys in your pocket. Which do you already have and which would you like to cultivate? Prepare your team and go after those larger clients. Be transparent and manage expectations.

Additional Insights on CRM Implementation

Need help figuring out how to how to avoid pitfalls and get more mileage out of your CRM? Wondering how implementing your CRM might transform your organization? Below are some of our best tips for enhancing your CRM.

How a SugarCRM Implementation Can Lead to Organizational Transformation
Moving Beyond Tactics and Into Strategic Business

3 Ways to Take Your CRM to the Next Level of Maturity
Ready to graduate from spreadsheets or get more mileage out of your existing CRM? Here are 3 ways to grow your CRM…

Don’t Build a CRM Without Thinking About JTBD
Knowing the “jobs” your CRM is accomplishing can lead to streamlined implementation and faster

5 CRM Integration Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)
Hurray! You have a CRM! Now what?

5 Tips for Implementing CRM Governance After a Merger
So your company acquired a new business (or you’ve been acquired yourself!). What does that mean for your CRM?

6 Guidelines for Managing Multiple Clients with a Single Team
How Our CRM Team Delivers Quality Work at a Sustainable

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