Case Study: Holmes Corporation

Educational Product Distributor Replaces Eight Databases with one centralized Microsoft Dynamics CRM Database

“The integrated solution with Microsoft [Dynamics] CRM, Microsoft [Dynamics GP] Great Plains, and Microsoft Office System programs allow us to succeed by working in the way the company and its employees prefer.” Erik Hinkie, CIO, Holmes Corporation

Holmes Corporation helps the nation’s premier associations meet the educational needs of their members by delivering first-rate educational products. Initially, Holmes Corporation’s customer information was scattered across eight different GoldMine databases; customer service performed redundant entry of data, salespeople toggled among databases to find customer information, and lead sources were not easily tracked. With the help of OTT, Inc., Holmes Corporation replaced GoldMine with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, consolidating its GoldMine databases into one Microsoft CRM database. With tight integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the company’s financial management solution, Microsoft Dynamics GP, the availability of information greatly improved across the organization.

Business Needs

Holmes Corporation (HC) helps the nation’s premier associations meet the educational needs of their members by delivering first-rate educational products. The company drives sales through its business development and distribution network, provides customer service and technical support, and produces, fulfills, and distributes programs. For customer relationship management (CRM), HC used eight GoldMine databases to track sales leads and contacts. For financial management and accounting, the company used Microsoft Dynamics GP. As the number of client associations increased, customer data grew to over 80,000 contacts. HC began to outgrow its lead and contact tracking systems and looked for a higher degree of integration and automation.

“GoldMine served us well for a couple of years,” says Erik Hinkie, CIO at HC. “However, as our business grew, both in size and complexity, it left much to be desired.” The primary challenge was the lack of connection between sales data and customer data, according to Hinkie. “Our sales people couldn’t readily see sales history for a contact, and our customer service representatives couldn’t readily see detailed customer notes.”

Because GoldMine and Microsoft Dynamics GP were not integrated, staff had to create duplicate entries in both systems. For example, when a lead in GoldMine became a customer, all the information about that customer had to be re-keyed into Microsoft Dynamics GP. HC did not have a method of synchronizing information between GoldMine and Microsoft Dynamics GP or, for that matter, among the eight different GoldMine databases in which the contact information resided.

HC’s sales process was not automated or standardized at all. Each salesperson handled leads and recorded actions taken with them in a different manner. Some team members entered data directly into GoldMine and managed the sales process there; others used spreadsheets to handle leads on a daily basis. Importing customer contact, account history, and other information from the spreadsheets into GoldMine was a tedious and time-consuming process. Because of the inefficiency of handling the leads, potential sales were falling through the cracks. Each salesperson would analyze a list of leads and respond to those that looked most valuable, but there was not enough time to respond to every lead.

Not only was HC unable to track the conversion of prospects into customers, the company also lacked a way to relate customer purchases to lead sources, salespersons, or marketing campaigns. This inability to trackkey information made it impossible for HC to generate metrics and gauge the effectiveness of its sales and marketing strategies.


HC investigated several CRM solutions. Says Hinkie, “I considered basic solutions such as ACT! and GoldMine as well as third-party products that might be able to assist with the integration to Microsoft Dynamics GP. I quickly realized they wouldn’t provide the level of functionality we needed. I also looked at more complex solutions by companies such as Siebel. These proved to be too complex and expensive for our small business.”

Choosing Microsoft Dynamics CRM over

HC narrowed the field down to and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The two primary reasons for this decision were tighter integration with Microsoft Dynamics GP and better data security. “ did provide a third-party integration product,” according to Hinkie. “But with Microsoft offering both Microsoft Dynamics GP and CRM—and with both these products using a Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 database— just couldn’t match the level of integration.” Regarding data security, Hinkie points out that offered a hosted model, but that he was concerned about the company’s critical data residing outside of the business infrastructure. With Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics GP, HC would always have total management over its data volumes.

Implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM

HC replaced its GoldMine application with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. OTT, Inc., an award-winning Microsoft Partner headquartered in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, assisted with the implementation. OTT, Inc. began with a requirements phase that included an analysis of existing infrastructure, as well as interviews with the sales, marketing, customer service, and IT departments. This research led to a detailed project plan.

“We knew, right from the start, every step of the implementation—how long it would take, what internal resources would be required, and when we would be ready to go live,” says Hinkie. “During the process, we ran into a few minor bumps that could have been ‘mountains to cross’ if it weren’t for OTT, Inc.’s expertise, experience, and professionalism.”

Tightly Integrating the Solution

In addition to implementing the Microsoft Dynamics CRM modules, OTT, Inc. made use of several complementary, third-party products to deliver a high level of integration. OTT, Inc. used Scribe Insight to tightly integrate Microsoft Dynamics CRM with Microsoft Dynamics GP, and a product called WebConnect from c360 to make it possible to bring customer information received from Web sites directly into the Microsoft Dynamics  CRM database. In addition, c360’s Core and Sales Productivity Packs display all account information from both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics GP in a single screen and ease the management of relationships between multiple accounts and contacts with a special relationship chart.

Another aspect of integration at HC is the integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the Microsoft Office System programs used throughout the organization. For example, sales associates can manage Microsoft Dynamics CRM customer records through the Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003 messaging and collaboration client. They also can produce quotes within Microsoft Dynamics CRM, incorporating current

customer information, and produce these quotes by means of templates in Microsoft Office Word 2003. In addition, they can manage e-mail messages generated in Microsoft Dynamics CRM with Outlook 2003 as well as Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as the Primary Sales and Support Technology

Now, Scribe Insight enables Microsoft Dynamics CRM to be the primary interface for all customer-related sales and support activities across the company. The 23 users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the 9 users of Microsoft Dynamics GP share fully synchronized information between their two SQL Server databases. Customer contact information entered or changed in either application automatically propagates to the other. Orders created in Microsoft Dynamics CRM can be submitted from there, directly into Microsoft Dynamics GP, and invoice information from Microsoft Dynamics GP is viewable in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Customer inquiries from the Web enter directly into Microsoft Dynamics CRM, where personalized auto-responses are generated and sent to every lead, based on the customer’s answers to questions on the Web form. The workflow manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is configured to identify an especially important lead, such as someone indicating interest in a high-volume purchase. An important lead triggers e-mail alerts and auto-scheduling of call activity for the appropriate sales person. Activity reports for each salesperson identify stalled or neglected leads to ensure no potential sales are being lost.


By implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM and integrating it with Microsoft Dynamics GP and Microsoft Office System applications, HC has measurably increased its ability to handle sales leads, eliminated re-keying of redundant records, and helped increase customer satisfaction through greater responsiveness and availability of information. In addition, the company now generates more value from its investments in technology and skills. “The integrated solution with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Dynamics GP, and the Microsoft Office System programs allows us to succeed by working in the way the company and its employees prefer,” says Hinkie.

1,000 Web Leads Each Month Processed Automatically

In the past, HC sales people spent a great amount of time dealing with lists of leads, manually prioritizing them and comparing them against multiple databases to find duplication. Sales associates didn’t even have the time to respond to every lead. Now they spend more time selling because the whole process is so much more automated. Even before the process of replacing the existing Web contact forms with WebConnect forms was complete, HC was already seeing 30 to 40 leads each day, transmitted directly from four WebConnect forms into its Microsoft Dynamics CRM database. That number is expected to increase as more of the company’s storefront Web sites become enabled to use the WebConnect forms.

80,000 Microsoft Dynamics CRM Records Consolidated, Worker Productivity Boosted

HC’s sales contacts are no longer split among eight different GoldMine databases, redundant and isolated from the records in Microsoft Dynamics GP. Now these 80,000 records all reside in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM SQL Server database, which is synchronized and tightly integrated with the SQL Server database used by Microsoft Dynamics GP. The SQL Server database is supported by the Microsoft Windows Server™ operating system, part of Microsoft Windows Server System™ integrated server software. Users of one product can work with information from the other; and changes made to records in one system directly propagate to the other.

“Our records are more dependable and complete, without manual quality assurance,” says Hinkie. “In addition, employees operate within the same, comfortable software environment all day long. They can bring their skills to fruition more effectively—no matter whether they administrate customer records, send e-mail, write a proposal, or close a sale.”

Improved Responsiveness and Heightened Customer Satisfaction

“With our old system, we never had the time to respond to every lead,” says Hinkie. “We now immediately respond to every single lead.” In several ways, Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps make HC more agile and responsive to its customers:

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM captures all inquiries submitted through numerous Web sites for follow-up as sales leads
  • All inquiries receive an immediate, personalized auto-response providing requested information
  • Sales associates automatically receive immediate alerts to important leads, so they can make personal contact while customer interest is high
  • If the lead is an existing or past customer, the sales person can review the account history in Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  • Customer service professionals have ready access to all information about a customer in a single screen, including information from both the Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics GP databases
  • Everyone at HC has access to the knowledgebase feature of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and can thoroughly research a contact or customer’s history with the company
  • All sales associates and managers have a complete view of customers, prospects, and leads, without having to use any other application than Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

The Microsoft Dynamics CRM knowledge base proves to be a valuable business tool for HC. “Our knowledge base prior to implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM was a simple HTML-based solution in a question and answer format,” says Hinkie. “Not only does the Microsoft Dynamics CRM knowledge base provide a much more efficient and robust knowledge repository, but also we can now tie knowledgebase articles to contacts, accounts, or our customers.”

For example, using the Microsoft Dynamics CRM knowledge base, HC can deliver an even higher level of customer support. Sales associates can be aware of the fact that a customer may have had a support issue in the past. They can review the resolution and verify that the customer is fully satisfied with the company’s support.

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