Having struggled with siloed applications, Knight Solutions finally feel like their business has a smooth and collective experience. All thanks to Zoho One.
- INDUSTRY Construction Consulting
- Key Apps Zoho One: CRM, Projects, Books, Cliq, WorkDrive, Writer, Sheet, Show, Learn, Vault, Connect, Forms, Assist, Sign, Social
Brisbane-based consulting company Knight Solutions specialises in implementing software for the construction industry. Specifically, they focus on Procore, software exclusively built for managing construction projects, including modules for general management, quality and safety, analytics, and finances. Having worked for Procore in the past, Robert Hudman, the Founder and Managing Director of Knight Solutions, is an expert in their systems. By combining industry-leading best practices with a deep understanding of every client's unique requirements, the Knight Solutions team delivers a glowing vision of Procore for every project.
Robert's familiarity with construction and the relevant software required has allowed him to create a niche business model developing easy-to-use, secure, and reliable systems for his clients. "I've spent a long time in construction. It's very tangible and I really like the people. Being where they have, I know it's difficult dealing with regulations, the construction process, logistics, rain, and everything else. I also know it's hard to find time to actually invest in the technology to support the construction process," he explained. Before founding Knight Solutions, Robert worked for Procore. "I worked in presales and I found I was too far removed from the process. I was so passionate about explaining how the technology would help our customers, but I never actually got to see it through." Now he oversees every step of the way, from inception to project delivery and even support.
Robert started Knight Solutions in November 2019. "All my team members are ex-construction, ex-Procore customers. In my case, I also used to work for Procore, so we have a really strong alignment with the customers that we serve," said Robert. In other words, Robert and his team have been exactly where their customers are. They know how a construction company works and what technology is required. "We are certified Procore consultants, but we're very specialised. Some other Procore consultants also service other software, whereas we just do Procore."
As with any startup, the challenges can be never-ending. In many consulting businesses, there are few capital investments required to start. "Not to discredit what I did, but as long as you have a phone, internet, and a laptop, you pretty much have all your capital investments to start consulting, so it's a very low barrier to entry," Robert said. For him and Knight Solutions, the biggest challenge at the start was not capital, but finding the right software to automate and manage every business process. "I had to learn to structure the books, sales, and marketing all while managing projects. Because it was just me at first, it was hard to be the whole business while also researching and implementing software to help me manage everything. Eventually I got there, but it probably took me a good 12 months to figure out what exactly I should be doing, and what systems should I use."
Nowadays, with the technology market being valued at over $5 trillion, there are more than a few software vendors to choose from, ranging from all-in-one solutions to single-app vendors. "I remember researching what was out there, trying to find the magic bullet. I went through countless reviews, Google searches, and YouTube videos, trying to figure out what would work for us before I committed to anything," Robert elaborated. "Generally, everyone in construction uses Microsoft, so I started with Microsoft 365, which is a great product."
Then, Robert needed to find a CRM and project management solution. "I tried a free account with Hubspot and a few others here and there, and eventually ended up finding Zoho One." For months, Robert used Zoho CRM and Zoho Projects, but ended up switching to a different vendor called Accelo. "I don't think I approached Zoho right in terms of the ecosystem and how it all connects together," he added. "Although Accelo was good, it was only after moving away from Zoho to another product that I realised what I was actually looking for, was Zoho. It was somewhat regrettable because I had to move data twice," Robert chuckled. "Now it's been over a year of using 100% Zoho One for sales and project management."
After coming back to Zoho in 2020, Robert has been able to extract more value from Zoho One than he originally thought possible. "We use Zoho One as our primary software system. On top of that, we're using Outlook for our email and calendar, Calendly for appointment scheduling, and Proposify for proposal management," he said. Before revisiting Zoho, Robert got comfortable with these third-party apps. "We've had really good experiences with these products on the customer-facing side, and that's extremely important for us. So we're not at a stage where we want or need to change these, but we pretty much run the rest on Zoho."
Getting started with Zoho was fairly easy for Knight Solutions. "I am comfortable with software. Although there were a few quirky things we quickly ironed out, I found Zoho easy to set up. Initially, I didn't use a consultant to help, but a coincidence is that through Procore I actually knew a Zoho Partner—Hari from Sync Ezy—and there were times I was able to call him if I was really stuck. He was a great mentor in that way," Robert explained. "I also found the Zoho support services are great. Being able to get a response to any product question pretty quickly is really beneficial for us."
"In terms of the apps in Zoho, for me, the standout product is CRM. That's the hub of Zoho in a lot of ways. Then Zoho Projects and Zoho Books are the other two that make up the core of our operations. That's probably the most critical bunch of tools for us in Zoho: Projects, CRM and Books. So I have all the integrations turned on for them. Now, when a deal in CRM is marked as closed and won, it starts a flow of automation. There is a blueprint governing it, but from there, it automatically creates estimates and invoices in Books, creates purchase orders for my contractors, and starts a project in our custom Projects module in CRM, with all the data automatically populated from the client files." To elevate the customer experience, Robert also integrated Zoho PhoneBridge with CRM to connect with Ring Central, a voice-over-internet provider, which makes customer calls easy to manage and track to each client record.
While Knight Solutions chose to continue using Proposify, an external proposal management app, they were able to integrate it with CRM. "I can easily pull contact records into Proposify from CRM, and depending on whether the proposal is accepted or rejected inside Proposify, it changes the deal stage in Zoho. It also tracks activities, so every time a client views a proposal, it posts a note against the deal. So yeah, it's a good integration. And the only reason we're not using Zoho here is because we've found our customer experience is nice and smooth, and customers seem very comfortable with it. We've had a lot of positive feedback on their experience, and if we don't get customers, the business doesn't work. So we'll stick with Proposify for that one," said Robert. For other documents, such as confidentially agreements, they use Zoho Sign.
On top of these core apps, Knight Solutions uses some others to enhance their business processes. On the collaboration side, they use Zoho WorkDrive and the Zoho Office Suite. "I enjoy using WorkDrive, and because we use Outlook for our email, we have WorkDrive TrueSync turned on so we can access our WorkDrive files from Outlook and save attachments sent via Outlook to our WorkDrive." He added, "when a document will eventually go to a customer, we stick with Microsoft products because that's what they're all used to. But for internal purposes, we definitely use Writer, Sheet, and Show a lot."
Initially, Robert was the only one in the business, but now that he has three other employees, maintaining team communication has become crucial. "Zoho Cliq is another app we use intensively for internal purposes. Before Zoho, we were pretty much all Microsoft, so we were using Teams. It worked well, but the way Cliq is built into so much of the rest of Zoho, it's definitely something we use a lot." On top of that, Robert uses Zoho Connect as a task board management tool to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks for his employees. "We're also at the early stages of using and growing into Zoho Learn. I think it's going to be a really good one for team training." The last internal facing app Robert has raved about is Zoho Vault. "I personally love Zoho Vault. The concept of being able to share your password with someone, but they can't actually see the details, is so good."
On the customer-facing side, apart from the big three mentioned early, Knight Solutions uses Zoho Assist and Zoho Forms, although will soon move away from Forms and switch to Zoho Survey. "At the moment, we don't really have any sort of help desk or support system set up, but I do use Assist every now and then. I think it's a really strong Zoho product, and it's great to be able to dial in and fix any issues our customers are having," explained Robert.
After setting up and integrating several apps within Zoho One, Robert said he recently got to a point where his expertise in the software peaked. "I could definitely spend time to learn and do it myself, but it would take me away from building customer relationships, which is pivotal. So it's not worth it to me to use time learning more Zoho products when these guys will do it faster." Knight Solutions recently engaged Zoho Partner Flexbox Digital to take their system to the next level. "They've come in and basically optimised all the automation I had set up previously. They're also working with Deluge and scripting, so it's definitely going to improve our processes."
Benefits and ROI
Before finding Zoho, Robert felt that his systems were fragmented and disconnected, a common theme expressed by other customers. Similarly, like many customers, after implementing Zoho One, Robert says his business processes finally feels like a smooth, collective experience.
Though some Zoho apps are still evolving to meet the needs of A/NZ customers, many apps are already mature and comprehensive. "I could try and look for better solutions, but if I did that, I would end up with all these point solutions that don't actually connect. We would lose so much. And I probably wouldn't find a better CRM. Zoho's is pretty rock solid." Robert says the biggest benefit Knight Solutions has experienced has been the breadth and depth of services offered in Zoho One and the tightly built integrations between many of them. "That's one of, if not the biggest selling point. It's not about the amount of products, but it's how they all connect that's important. And what we are seeing is that Zoho is progressively building out more functionality and improving the natural connections between them, which is great."
Moving to Zoho One has also been a huge time saver for the Knight Solutions team. Not only in terms of onboarding, but also having information available and accessible for all of the team at all times. "I don't believe that software alone makes a business successful, but I think what Zoho has done for us is provide a natural place to house all of the processes we have. We finally have systemisation. I have a spot for the project management stuff, CRM automation, contact management, and everything has a place," he added. Without proper systems in place, it can be an endless battle of trying to find documents or customer notes, and remembering who spoke to a customer or supplier and what was said. "I think without Zoho, we would have found a solution, but it would be too many things in too many places. As a business owner, I need to give my team members tasks and access to all the resources I have built up. I also need to keep track of their activities so I can understand where the business is at. So yeah, without Zoho, I think it would be really fragmented and quite time-consuming for us all." Another benefit Robert mentioned was how straightforward it has been when adding new staff to the system. "I was a bit worried how it would go, but it's been really easy for new team members to drop into the whole Zoho environment." With Zoho One, Robert can add new people and automatically give them access to the necessary applications and permissions for their job role. "It has definitely helped support the growth of the business," he said, speaking of Zoho One.
We all know that the last two years has seen a huge shift in how businesses manage customer relations and the general feeling towards remote work and digital transformation. For Knight Solutions, with the construction industry being very in-person orientated and having started the business just before COVID, Robert didn't expect to be stuck at home. "I thought I'd be driving around all the time to meet construction companies. I eventually planned to go online, but now we work almost exclusively online," he said. When COVID forced businesses to go online, those without systems already in place struggled to catch up. But businesses who were already digital or moving that way were able to adapt quickly, and some even flourished because of it. "COVID made us evolve and get really good at providing virtual services which, turns out, is a huge benefit. It's allowed us to service a much wider customer base. Now we work with customers across Australia, New Zealand, and even the US. I also think I've been fortunate to have picked a good industry at the right time," said Robert.
While Zoho is considered large and well-known in its home country, India, the western world is sold on the likes of Salesforce and Microsoft, considered the "powerhouses." Some people know the Zoho story and that's why they choose Zoho, but others, like Robert, are delighted to discover the vision behind the brand.
Robert also added that an important factor for him was the longevity of the vendor he chose. When you choose single-product vendors that are new to the market, you're taking a gamble on how long they will survive. Zoho has been bootstrapped, private, and profitable since inception in 1996, and the vision has always been to stay private. If there are corporate shareholders to keep happy, it can become less about customers and more about meeting KPIs at all costs. "From everything I've seen, Zoho is in it for the long term. They seem to be continuing to invest in building out bigger and better products and increasing the scale of Zoho One. Zoho Learn is a good example of this. Some of those Learn features were in Connect, but now they've built out a whole product that can help me share knowledge throughout the business."
Like all business owners, Robert faced challenges and bumps along the way, but his passion for construction, software, and people is what made Knight Solutions succeed and become the multinational consulting company it is today.
Looking forward, the team is excited to continue expanding their use of apps within Zoho One. "Thinking long term, if we produce some kind of recurring product, we will definitely look at using Zoho Subscriptions. Then we might use ShowTime for training, but we just haven't gotten to that point yet. I'm also looking into using Analytics to bring in all of our data from Zoho and our third-party apps, so I can see where the business is at and pull insights from the data. And the last product that we'll probably grow into, and that's just a maturity thing, is Zoho People. Right now, everyone that works for me is a contractor, but we would use People when we hire employees down the track," Robert said.
We, at Zoho are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Robert about his business. We look forward to seeing what you get up to in the future. All the best!