Independent research company, IBRS, enhanced and contextualised their customer communication, while saving 30% using Zoho One.

The Company

Independent research company, IBRS provides in-context advice to Australia's leading IT executives. For Chief Information Officers (CIOs), choosing the technologies, staff and practices to empower their organistions is a huge feat. Having all been senior technology executives themselves, the team at IBRS provide evidence-based, practical advice and strategic consulting to their CIO clients, ensuring they have the best change of being successful.

Dr Joseph Sweeney, Advisor for the Future of Work with IBRS, says: "We want to make sure organisations are making the best decisions for thier ICT operations and investments." While IBRS is a small organisation, they are a highly experienced team of experts who have all previously worked as CIOs or similar. Joe himself has run several development teams across the Asia pacific. "I want people to enjoy their jobs. We get to help organisations on their journey to reach their goals by leveraging technology. It's very rewarding," smiled Joe.

"We can help organistions making a decision on how an organisation should deploy technology, the strategies they should use and how to make the business run better," explained Joe.

The Challenge

IBRS has been in business for 20 years, and during that time, they've developed a strong understanding of the importance of a good business software. About 5 years ago, Joe and his team realised they had to make a change from their previous CRM software, Sugar CRM. "There is nothing wrong with Sugar CRM, but we noticed our customers started to consume information and advice in different ways. When we reflected on the traditional approach to a CRM, we realised that it wouldn't cut it. It couldn't give us the depth and breadth of services we needed," said Joe.

A very important requirement for IBRS was security and privacy. "We deal with sensitive data. In some cases, some of our clients strategies are highly confidential, and we deal with many public sector organisations. For us, security and privacy are very high on the agenda," explained Joe. They also had to consider a software solution that would take care of all client touch points, including email and marketing tools, as well as, internally facing processes like communication and analytics. Joe and his team began an extensive review of the market.

Given his niche, Joe has had countless experiences of moving CRMs or ERPs from one vendor to another. Often such migrations required significant effort, money and time with huge risks, without actually adding a lot of new business capabilities. "Often upgrading a CRM doesn't actually result in much change or new benefits. You still have the same process that you had before - the CRM just has a better interface," said Joe. After he and the IBRS team spent a bit of time using the system, running tests, and learning from the Zoho support team about the capabilities, security settings and infrastructure, he became comfortable that Zoho would do the job. "We ran a quick pilot project, which highlighted not just the CRM but all the marketing automation capabilities, and the executive agreed that Zoho would give us what we needed to really change the business," said Joe.

The Solution

In the end, IBRS chose Zoho One, because it covered their CRM needs and gave them Campaign, web management tools, analytics, and 50 other applications they could grow into.

The IBRS team expected the migration from their old CRM to Zoho One would take three to four months. "It's very difficult and risky to switch a critical information system. In our case,we had to take 17 years worth of existing CRM data - tens of thousands of interactions - and bring it into an entirely new environment," said Joe. To his surprise, IBRS were able to migrate Sugar CRM into Zoho in less than two weeks. "We literally had the whole CRM moved over, tested and turned on over the Christmas break. This migration was pretty dang fast."

"While many CRMs focus on sales cycle & metrics, Zoho CRM gives us the power to choose what is important to us," said Joe. IBRS knows who they are selling to and for them, sales information is not that important compared to customer satisfaction and customer project timelines. The team has been able to create custom dashboards inside the CRM to visualise customer engagement, projects stages, how customers reach out to them, and what information they are wanting from IBRS. Joe integrated Zoho Analytics with the CRM and was able to bring it inside the CRM where it is easily visualised in a custom module, "These metrics are now shaping how we do our research and what topics we do research on," said Joe. By tracking these metrics, IBRS was able to see that 4 months into the lockdowns, many organisations were stumbling with Microsoft Team governance.

IBRS noticed that most of its clients experienced security loopholes in Microsoft Teams, not due to a flaw of the product, but because of rushed and weak governance. IBRS saw a spike in interest on this topic through website enquiries and via clickthrough rates in email campaigns. They saw the demand, capitalised on it, ran events and released reports highlighting best practices for Microsoft Teams governance and information management. "This is research directly driven from information coming out of Zoho. It became a huge topic for us and led to multiple reports and peer networking sessions, where multiple clients came together to discuss these issues, which led to more research," Joe continued. "It's a great way of showing how a fully integrated, modern CRM and user experience platform - when it's viewed in the context of several digital services that support it, i.e. analytics, campaigns, reporting - can totally change how an organisation like ours delivers its services. And that has been the single biggest win for us. People ask 'how are you using Analytics in your CRM?' And we say forget sales, it's important but it's not the main thing. It's what matters to our clients and their needs. For us, it is about ensuring a strong engagement model and providing research that actually matters. That's been incredibly successful."

The IBRS team uses Zoho SalesIQ to see what their website visitors are doing, and to make sure they're getting all the information they need. "It tells us what information we need to reinforce on the website and what research we need to produce for our clients," said Joe. They are also using Zoho Campaigns to understand what topics their clients are interested in. Joe added, "We can customise those mailers to our individual client needs. So that's just amazing."

One of the last things IBRS had to consider when migrating to Zoho is what to do for their collaboration environment. For the past 17 years, they had been using Google gSuite for collaboration and content production. "Would we stick with Google complete with its 17 years worth of documents, or would we move entirely to the Zoho environment which has a very powerful Google-like digital workspace as well?" said Joe. In the end, they decided to stick with Google but integrate it with their new Zoho workspace. "It was a very simple thing to do. It was literally a checkbox, and after that, anytime someone new joined, they would have access to all of the communication history in the CRM." Because it's now integrated, they've been able to use Zoho Bookings to schedule meetings, and sync those entries with Google Calendar to get an overview of the week, without manually creating Calendar events.

IBRS also uses Zoho Flow to pick up the calendar entries and add it to the project tool within Zoho Connect. "We recently started working on a large scale study for a government organisation that has required many interviews. I used the booking system to allow the interviewees to choose a time that was free in my calendar. Then Flow added it to the Connect project dashboard we set up, so the government organisation could see how the interviews were going. So we totally closed that loop and it was 100% automated and accurate," Joe continued. "I can tell you that when you're doing countless interviews like that, and people are not making the interview, or they're postponing, or they're moving things around due to COVID, having that full visibility through the entire project plan was just magical. I was so much more effective. So fantastic integration and automation capabilities!"

Benefits and ROI

Like many customers, the biggest benefit for IBRS in switching to Zoho One, was transitioning from siloed applications, to one platform and subscription that connected multiple touch points for the clients, while being the one point of entry for all business information. "Being able to bring all of this together into the CRM is really useful," smiled Joe. The combination of products within Zoho One enabled IBRS to easily run sales automation and add a whole range of new services, but more importantly to understand what their clients actually wanted.

A huge unforeseen benefit was that IBRS rolled out their new Zoho One system a few months before the coronavirus outbreak started. "We really had to start turning on more of these digital services, and because we had bought an entire platform, we were able to evolve incredibly quickly over the COVID period," Joe added, "And we've continued that same rate of innovation now."

Speaking on Zoho One and transitioning to a new system right before coronavirus changed the world, Joe shared how it's helped IBRS, "It turned out to be absolute gold, and we got a whole range of other services that turned out to be incredibly useful." Joe added. "The most incredible thing we've built and added to the system is a custom dashboard of all of our clients activities - all of these different things ranging from the emails, web interactions and enquiries they send, to the meetings were having with them. All of this information is tracked through Zoho Analytics, which now sits inside a tab on the CRM. And it's not really a CRM in the traditional sense. I would say it's a digital engagement platform being driven by all these other channels of communication, and that, I believe is what I would call a truly modern customer experience system. It has fundamentally changed how we think about what we can do for our clients and how we service them."

"Another thing that helped us feel confident with the Zoho platform is their attention to privacy and security," said Joe. "IBRS deals with sensitive data and in some cases our clients strategies are highly confidential. We also deal with public sector organisations so we take privacy and security very seriously." Joe shared feeling very comfortable with Zoho after asking the support team several questions about our data policies. A big win for them was the fact that Zoho is GDPR compliant. Joe explained, "they have great controls for GDPR, which is the European standards for privacy that you must meet if you want to be International." GDPR enforces when customer data can be processed and in what way, and Zoho meets this law not only for Europe where it is necessary, but across the world to ensure customer data is handled privately and securely.

"Zoho also provides little hints, for example in Campaigns, we would often send emails with a link to, but the actual link underneath that piece of text was sending them to another page within our website. The mismatch was picked up because of the potential to get us flagged as being suspicious," Joe continued, "And they were right! So they're actually looking at not just the privacy and security, but also our reputation. It's proven to be incredibly useful to an organisation like ours, which quite frankly, we really don't (yet) understand the digital marketing stuff that well. So by having somebody covering it, you know, backing us up, it's been very beneficial."

Zoho's customer support was another benefit Joe highlighted, "It's very rare that you can send through a customer request, especially when you're in the onboarding phase, and get a response within hours. They have a really strong support community." For IBRS, being technically knowledgeable, they knew what they needed and created a specific project plan for migrating to Zoho. "The Zoho user community has been increasingly active, the global community and Zoho forums are a wealth of information and Zoho itself is incredibly effective at providing the information you need."

To top it all off, IBRS was able to save one-third of their software costs. "The really amazing thing is that it actually saved about 30% compared to our previous investments in a CRM. Zoho One is actually a lot cheaper than our old CRM, plus we get all of the other marketing and workforce productivity services," said Joe.

Looking forward

Joe started to experiment with Zoho Creator and plans to continue with it in the future. "I put Creator on hold because I could see myself creating all sorts of new services with it. Essentially, having Zoho is a bit like being a kid in a candy store. There's so many things you can do and so many ways of doing them," said Joe, excitedly.

"This year, we've been able to focus on what really matters to us." IBRS' focus has been on has been on making sure their clients, prospects and businesses they communicate with, get the absolute best communication experience. "By automating our processes, we've been able to offer everyone an incredibly easy and effective communication and engagement model," said Joe, "I've found Zoho One has made our business processes incredibly easy and effective and it gives us great insights into our customers and business."

From all of us at Zoho, thanks for sharing your story! We can't wait to see what you get up to next.