In 1993, Harry Shaughnessy began planting the seeds for what would eventually grow to become Relevant CRM. Relevant CRM works with over 400 national and international customers by helping them with their sales and marketing customer relationship management (CRM). The company provides consulting services, training and technical support to help people properly implement updates and change into their business.
Relevant is really a DBM CRM, meaning it helps businesses increase clients’ efficiency and effectiveness by collecting and tracking sales, marketing, and customer service information in a single database.
“We help them build the workflows so that they work smarter and more effectively,” says Shaughnessy, the company’s President. “The net result is that sales people can work with more customers and have closer relationships with those customers. They can remember more things and then as a business, they can plan through their forecasting and information that they get from their sales people and plan their business better.”
Shaughnessy attended North Carolina State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. As a hungry college student, Shaughnessy began providing IT services as a part-time job. The varied IT work he received gave him a broad base to build on and enhanced his ability for self-learning.
“There was one business where the owner’s children went to my mother’s kindergarten class, and she says, ‘Harry can help you with your computer.’ And I didn’t know a thing about their network, but I found a book on their shelf when they weren’t looking, and I figured out how to make their printers work and business was started.”
Shaughnessy soon realized there were opportunities in the contact management field.
“As I was working with customers, I found there was a lot of value in contact management,” he explains. “So we said we’re going to do contact management only. That’s GoldMine, and that’s really developed, and we’ve grown and gotten more niched since then.”
With only one business class under his belt and no marketing experience, Shaughnessy admits to making some mistakes getting Relevant CRM up and running. He continued to learn the business end of the industry and listened to advice from business mentors he met along the way. The turning point was an intensive sales class that taught techies how to think in terms of sales.
“One thing that really helped me is taking a class in sales,” he says. “It was a year long program with Sandler Sales that really kind of took my technical mind and taught me how to sell and think like a sales person. I can’t say I used everything I learned there, but when you focus on it for a year and really try to improve what you’re doing, it helped a lot.”
When Relevant CRM was just starting, it conducted business using a horizontal model. If a business could use their products and services, Relevant CRM was a willing business partner. The company grew and with that growth a large group of skill sets was also needed. Shaughnessy and his management team evaluated their situation and a decision was made to shift their focus to vertical niches.
“We’ve focused on office equipment dealers, material handling dealers and heavy equipment dealers,” he says. “These businesses are really manufacturer reps. They re-sell equipment to businesses by focusing on individual markets. We have solutions that are ready to go, that we can still customize, but it’s a lot easier to express the value to the customer if we can show them a system that’s already done. We can show them references, and they can talk to those people. These people are the same kind of business, they talk the same language. They know each other, actually. By working in these specific markets, it’s really helped our business, and it helps our customers too.”
Shifting to a vertical sales strategy also helped to streamline the company’s sales process by allowing them to re-sell the same products and services. This strategy also helped Relevant CRM have a starting baseline to work from when dealing with new customers
“From the sales perspective, we’ve built so many great things for all these different customers and really struggled to sell them again, so there’s value to the customer that they know what they’re buying. They can get a lot more value for the dollar, but for us it’s great because we can re-sell the same things. “
Under Shaughnessy’s direction, Relevant CRM has evolved into not only a successful business, but also a fun place to work. A “shorts and t-shirt” atmosphere puts employees and customers at ease and helps to eliminate presumptuousness. Although some customers want a more formal environment, Shaughnessy and his team have found that most customers feel a more casual environment enhances the business relationship.
In these tough economic times, Relevant CRM is facing the same challenges most businesses are facing. The biggest of which is cash flow and cash flow management. Its solutions to these and other problems are using good decision-making tools to move the business forward quickly but safely. Relevant CRM also recognizes the need to continually change.
“There’s just a constant need to refresh,” says Shaughnessy. “Technology is constantly changing, what people are going to buy and what they’re going to do. And you have to keep moving, and so, that’s probably our biggest theme, that whatever it is, it can be changed. And we’re willing.”
Documenting their processes is also very important. So much so in fact, that it is part of the hiring process. An ongoing task that all employees have at Relevant CRM is to ensure the documented processes are in alignment with how their job is actually performed. Any differences are addressed and corrected. As with a lot of companies, Relevant CRM learned that documenting their processes wasn’t always going to be easy, but the company has worked through the problems and developed a workable and efficient organization. While the company is still relatively small, Shaughnessy is very focused on developing and documenting the correct processes as a foundation for future growth. He also foresees that this solid foundation can be replicated to serve different vertical markets.
“At first we just wrote down everything,” he says. “Don’t worry about the processes being perfect. Just worry about improving it. This is not a beginning and an end. It’s a constant tinkering with the system.”
Looking forward, Shaughnessy sees consolidation and the down economy as his biggest business challenges. He has seen his market shift and companies not normally associated with CRM entering into the marketplace. One of the methods Shaughnessy plans to use to overcome these obstacles is to pursue recurring revenue. As a friend once told him, “I think of my business as a toll booth. So, how can I build a tollbooth? How can I have something that people need to use my services to get where they’re going and become part of the process?”
To potential business entrepreneurs, Shaughnessy offers the following advice.
“Listen to what the customer wants to buy. Sell what people want to buy. You hear a lot of people say. ‘I’m going to start a business. I’m going to do this, because that’s what I’m good at.’ That may not be what people want. And when you talk to them about what you have, put it in terms of what they want to get, as opposed to, ‘I do all these cool things, or I can make these.’