Phones and paper. Those were the only conduits that kept Foremost Insurance Group's ($800 million in assets, Grand Rapids, MI) field representatives in touch with agentsand vice versa. Lack of electronic communication made Foremost's account management system a paper-based nightmare that involved Foremost's home office sending 500- to 1,000-page monthly account summary reports to field sales representatives, who filtered through them to determine which reports would be distributed to which agents. It was not only terribly inefficient, but also cost the company money and business.
"There was a huge communications gap," says Kammi McDermott, director, agency sales division, Foremost Insurance Group. "The agents' biggest complaint was that they didn't know what was going on at Foremost. And the home office didn't know what was going on with them."
In the third quarter of 1996, members of Foremost's sales division, including management and field and phone reps, set out to find a solution that would not only reduce costs associated with a paper-based system, but also would organize account information, making the identification of sales opportunities easier. The group consulted with Cap Gemini (New York) during the process.
The group chose On!Contact's (Cedarburg, WI) CRM solution, which is powered by Sybase subsidiary iAnywhere Solution's (Emeryville, CA) SQL Anywhere Studio, which enables local storage and synchronization. Fifty Compaq (Houston) Armada laptops were purchased and distributed to the company's field staff and desktops computers were purchased for the 12 internal users. A Microsoft (Redmond, WA) SQL 6.5 server was also installed to support the solution.
Field reps were given a skills test to determine which training group they'd be placed in, because some of them had never used a PC before, according to McDermott. Before implementation, Foremost created a special help desk devoted to the project that is still in use today. All training, including classes on how to use email, was performed by Foremost. Reps also were given week-long training focusing on how to use the On!Contact solution.
Foremost is now saving time and money, McDermott reports. Because there are electronic records of accounts, "we can pull data up in minutes," she says. "Four years ago it probably took us three weeks just to determine which accounts we should call on." Foremost has also saved $2 million in operations costs over a three-year period. The entire project cost the company $1.2 million.
Looking back on the implementation process, Ed Sitz, senior tech support at Foremost, acknowledges that he regretted that scalability needs hadn't beenproperly planned for. "We grew faster than our current structure allowed," says Sitz. "We were almost in need of an upgrade when the solution was launched," late in '97.
Following users' suggestions given to the help desk, which has grown from one to three employees, Foremost implemented new screen designs, and upgraded to version 4.5 of the CRM solution. The upgrades were rolled out to Foremost's existing remote users, as well 15 new users. "The interface was changed to allow users easier point-and-click access to data that was most relevant to them," says McDermott. New users received one-on-one training on how to use the upgraded version, while more seasoned users received a one- to two-hour session at the company's national sales meeting.
In March 2000, Farmers' Insurance (Los Angeles) acquired Foremost and the entire Farmers' agent distribution was switched to On!Contact. In order to accommodate the additional 20 remote users and 12 internal users, Foremost is in the process of upgrading the Microsoft SQL 6.5 server to a SQL 2000 server. "This has dramatically increased response times for users, decreased the time spent on administrative functions, and will allow us to add new reporting and query tools the users have requested," says McDermott.
Case Study Closeup
Foremost Insurance Group, Grand Rapids, MI ($800 million in assets).
LINES OF BUSINESS
On!Contact's CRM product; iAnywhere's Sybase SQL Anywhere Studio; Microsoft SQL server; Compaq Armada laptops.
Launch e-agent distribution system.