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The Core Group, CRM, and Change Management: A Recipe for Sales Success

Today’s blog post was written by Kayla Silverstein, Marketing Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

The Core Group is one of the top four national food service agencies in the United States, selling to operators including hospitals, schools, the armed services, and hotels. They employ 1,200+ people with 52 offices nationwide, and their sales reps support many of the leading Consumer Foods Brands.

The food brokerage industry has been largely consolidated in the last five years. The Core Group acquired more than 15 companies in the past two years alone. Amidst all of this consolidation, food manufacturers demand more information on how their products are sold and the value that The Core Group provides them. These demands, coupled with the organizations’ rapid growth, drove the need to standardize technology across the business. Prior to working with Sonoma Partners, The Core Group owned four different, disparate instances of CRM. Add a widespread use of spreadsheets and you can understand why they lacked visibility across sales regions.

Sonoma Partners deployed a single iteration of Salesforce across all divisions and outlined a change management and national training program. We sat down with Michael Freed, VP of Sales Technology, to discuss the project, how the training sessions are going, and what’s next for CRM and The Core Group.

What motivated you to consolidate systems and invest in a single CRM platform?

Freed: Our customers expect cohesiveness. You have to be able to work as one no matter how many offices and clients you have. We wouldn’t be able to meet these expectations if we didn’t invest in a single CRM platform.

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Sonoma Partners built us an Envision plan (CRM Roadmap) that looked at our requirements, our use cases, and our people to design a CRM deployment strategy specific to us. Our biggest challenge from our initial planning in Philadelphia was to build a platform that would allow for 100 % adoption of the system across all Division of the company. Sonoma Partners has a great model that puts their consultants in the front seat to get better insight into how we do business here. I really believe it’s made a fundamental impact on the system’s architecture and its subsequent adoption.

Sonoma Partners also helped us operate off of a crawl, walk, run strategy. This ensured we didn’t take too much on at the start of the project, over-engineering the design and functionality at the risk of missing out on the quick wins and getting everyone up and running with the basics. This method really resonated with my team and our users, and we’re pleased with the results. I continuously tell our users that we need to get the fundamentals right. I want our employees to get used to the system, get the basic steps right, and reach out if they have questions. Once we get everyone up and running with the basic functionality, then we’ll move into more strategic efforts.

What are some of the items next on your list to tackle with Salesforce?

Freed: I’m really interested to see how Salesforce can be optimized for our more specialized use cases. For example, our K-12 team works with food distributors to sell primary schools. For this division to use Salesforce, it will probably require different dropdowns and timelines to report. I’d love to see CRM reflect these differences. As we become a more specialized organization, I look forward to adjusting CRM accordingly.

How well has the system been adopted so far?

Freed: It’s been an interesting process. There’s always a lot of trepidation about moving onto a new system. Historically, this industry has combatted a lot of bad software, and some people still have a bad taste in their mouth. Getting our leadership engaged was instrumental in driving user adoption. Sonoma Partners helped us develop messaging that illustrated how CRM was just one piece of the puzzle in making us a better organization overall. It’s not about adding process to our work; it’s about meeting new industry standards and exceeding our clients’ increased expectations.

The second thing we’ve done is create a system that we believe is better than everything else out there. We’ve added a mobile app that allows people to access the system on-the-go. They’re not working on the weekend just to log their calls, or trying to remember a page worth of notes six days later. With the mobile app, we’ve created more immediacy in our call reporting. This is essential to improving our operations moving forward and making us more proactive, instead of reactive in our work.

Lastly, we’ve adjusted our training process along the way, ensuring people walk out of our sessions with a better sense of what to do and how to do it. We have adjusted the sessions from the feedback we received in the surveys Sonoma Partners built for us. Now we can focus on teaching our employees how to integrate this new software into their daily tasks. We are nearly finished conducting training sessions around the country and we’re very happy with how things are shaping up.

Did you feel the training plan Sonoma Partners helped set you up for success and evolve over time?

Freed: I think the training model was built properly and in a way that when we got in front of 50 users at a live session, we can be flexible and interactive to the needs of our sales team and adjust from there. It’s not a textbook approach to training. It’s iterative and responsive to what works for our people and culture.

How do you feel your role as a sponsor has impacted the change management process?

Freed: I see myself as responsible for keeping the momentum going between all parties. To be a conduit between senior leadership, our users, and the technology platform with Sonoma Partners. If you picture a wheel with a lot of spokes, my job is to keep the wheel turning. I think it’s important to view my role in this global manner for the purpose of monitoring our overall progress.

What tough decisions have you had to make during this implementation process?

Freed: I think the toughest decisions revolved around the details that went into the initial deployment, and how much we wanted to put into the system from the beginning. CRM systems never stop evolving. I’ve talked to many people at our organization who have different ideas for how to do something, or what they want the system to be able to do.

Again, you need to be careful that you’re not trying to run before you can walk. You need a system that will last and stand the test of time, and then add layers. You don’t want to take layers away because you went too far, too fast. I think the challenge is to not react to every demand and make sure we build something that’s sustainable at first with the basic fundamentals, and then grow and strategically expand from there as we grow as a company.

What would you consider a measurement of success for the system once it’s up and running?

Freed: When it comes to training, I’ll know its successful when everyone is following the same disciplines in their reporting. In the long term – which is more exciting to me – is how we take this technology and make it a strategic instrument for ourselves and our clients so that we’re providing value every day. The true measurement of success will come when we provide better results to our clients by making more strategic calls as a result of what we’re doing in Salesforce.

Now that you can tell that story of cohesiveness, how have things changed?

Freed: It’s a door opener for us. We’ve already had conversations with several industry leading  clients based on the fact that we’ve deployed Salesforce and are making steps to bring our business units together. The next step will be integrating our systems with our clients, and we’re quickly moving in that direction.

How does CRM help you better compete?

Freed: It’s a necessity. Our competitors utilize their technology as their lead in. For the Core Group, we believe our winning edge begins with our people centric culture and sales execution. Our CRM platform is a great tool for us to facilitate our execution strategy.   If we aren’t consistent in how we’re reporting to our customers, it becomes clear that we have gaps in our cohesiveness as an organization. Now that we have that cohesion, we can compete more effectively. And now that our system is built better than anyone else’s – thanks to Sonoma – we can not only play alongside our competition; we can surpass them.

How do you see the future of CRM in your industry?

Freed: It’s essential. We’re in a data-centric world right now, and our clients are constantly seeking data insights. The Core Group is essentially a sales call factory. We sell to distributors who sell to end users – we’re not in the direct selling business.  But now the industry is shrinking the gap. We have the data to tell us how to best use our time and make the best calls possible. We’re defining new roles within our company to support this. With more prescriptive data to make more strategic sales calls, we are now providing the tools to be more effective in executing against it. That’s where the future is: how do we maximize our effort and plan our effort. The industry is evolving to make sure our work matters to us and our clients, and CRM is the platform to help us get there.

Our thanks to Michael Freed for taking the time to discuss their project with us. If you’re curious how your company could improve with a new deployment of CRM, let us know.

Topics: CRM Best Practices