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How (and why) a marine consultancy made Zoho core of their business

Graham Dallas - BDM ABL Group speaks about his Zoho experience
During ZohoDay 2022, I had the chance to have a longer conversation with Graham Dallas, business development manager of the ABL Group. Graham was responsible for the implementation of ABL Group's new CRM system.

ABL Group is the result of a 2020 merger of AqualisBraemar ASA and the LOC Group. It is a 400+ person global energy and marine consultancy that helps companies around the world transition toward offshore renewable energy sources, clean shipping, and sustainable marine practices.

Formerly Microsoft Dynamics users, ABL Group first began working with Zoho in 2021 via an implementation partner, and they collaborated on a design and build of a customized CRM solution for their business. Soon, the second phase of implementation will begin, which then includes integration with Oracle NetSuite. One of the main challenges facing ABL Group was the integration of two different businesses, one of them already using a "chunky" CRM solution and the other one not having a system.

if you do not want to read too much but prefer watching the edited interview, you can do so here.

The challenge to address was that ABL Group, also because of the recent merger has a lot of differing business structures that shall be supported via one single system. Luckily, the structures weren't necessarily complex - the business just has a lot of different requirements due to the different regions and lines of business.

ABL Group started with a small team of experienced persons who went into this implementation projects with open eyes and some ideas. They assembled a list of 6 candidates that they narrowed down into three with Zoho being the winner after a series of in-depth conversations and discovery sessions with the vendors and their implementation partners. The team members independently assessed the vendors and came to the same conclusion.

The main reasons for this decision have obviously been functional fit and a commercially very competitive offer. But, as importantly, ABL had a good feeling about Zoho's company culture and was able to quickly build a trust-based relationship with the implementation partner.

Although coming in with a clear understanding of how they do their business, this level led to taking a good look at how processes are modeled in Zoho to challenge the own understanding. Consequently, the implementation did not just force existing processes and procedures into the system but instead think about the "why". Why is ABL Group doing things as they are done? Are there better ways? Normally, there are.

The result was an adaptation on both sides, processes changed and the system itself was enhanced to fulfil all requirements. That way, and in constant exchange with the business users, a system that has a high adoption rate was stood up quickly, in spite of push-back from users with bad previous experiences. Key was the ability to easily and quickly adapt the system to requirements, with the ability to prove that things work for the users - and that better than what they are doing at the moment.

It is noteworthy that ABL Group concentrated on the users first, not on management!

 If you can measure it, you can improve it 

The next step then was reporting. Once the data was in the system and the system in use, it became possible to create meaningful reports, reports that actually help the users to track their opportunities and to be able to improve their status. This is what gives users that the system is working for them and is not just a tool to control them and to take "their" contacts and "their" connections away. Instead, it helps the users to perform sales as the team sport that it is.

Of course, management needs data for decision-making, too. This is achieved with real-time dashboards, something that wasn't possible with the old solutions. Instead of being confronted with PowerPoint presentations or spreadsheets, managers now have the ability to see live KPIs at a fingertip and to drill into the live data, to get the answers that they need.

 The biggest challenge? 

Introduction - or replacement of a CRM software is always a challenge, but what is the biggest one? Is it the remodeling of the processes, containing the implementation effort, or something else?

Consistent with what I hear from many other Zoho customers, it is the people. Graham says "I guess it's just people don't like change, I understand. The new way isn't like the way they do things. Another thing that I've seen before in previous companies when we've got integrated CRM systems is that there is a little bit of 'these are my contacts and these are my connections and these are the people I deal with' whereas a CRM system in its core is a collaborative effort and there's no secrets and everybody is open".

 So, what is next? 

After the project is before the project. This is particularly true in an agile project environment. Obviously, there is some continuous improvement. But then in general, it is about integrating Zoho with more business systems, in particular the Netsuite ERP and the web site for lead generation, which requires the activation of some marketing tools. An implementation of Zoho Desk will help streamlining the internal support. And having a Zoho CRM + subscription, there are many more apps that Graham is "dying to try".

 Anything Zoho doesn't deliver? 

We clearly see a raving customer. But is there anything that is amiss? The answer is clear: "I struggle to come up with anything that we haven't managed to get. We've come up with some crazy ideas. Can we do this, this and this? And the answer is usually yes. Or it's let's go have a think about it. And we'll consult with Zoho, have a chat and then usually a couple of days later we've got some suggestions what we can do. We haven't had to really compromise on anything and we've been quite demanding".

 My PoV and analysis 

Of course, ABL Group, like all the other customers I talked to during Zohoday 2022, have been reference customers. The replies to this question are amazingly similar, and need to be taken with a grain of salt. All the customers I talked to extended their implementation out from an existing scope and did not tap too deep into the ERP arena, if at all. Still, this is testament to the breadth and width of the functionality that is offered by Zoho. And this is even more interesting as Zoho's churn rate continues to fall from an already low level, while the number of used Zoho apps is going up. This means that Zoho managed to nail its target market pretty well. Add to that, that the customers chose Zoho after executing a software selection process that often included tier one vendors.

The combination of functional fit, knowledgeable implementation partners, very competitive pricing and a unique corporate culture is hard to beat. 


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