Salesforce Gives More Than 250 Sales and Support Reps at R. L. Polk & Co. Rapid Access to Customer Data

"Salesforce not only helps us to better manage our sales process—it also enables us to see where we are in meeting the post-sale needs of our customers. More visibility brings more accountability, and more accountability makes us a more successful organization."

  • The lack of a company standard for tracking customer contact data and account history hampered Polk's efforts to monitor the pipeline, identify and correct quality issues, and essentially revolutionize its culture with improved business processes and a stronger customer focus.
  • Polk replaced multiple stand-alone customer contact systems with's on-demand CRM solution for use by over 250 sales and support employees.
  • Salesforce helps Polk focus on its customers. Both management and employees have better insight into account history, the sales pipeline, quality issues (if they arise), and customer satisfaction.
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Decentralized Approach Hinders Business Goals

There's just one place to go for in-depth marketing intelligence about the automotive industry: R. L. Polk & Co. However, the company that delivers one-stop shopping for everything from historical data on the 1935 car market to current reports on regional consumer demand for SUVs had not at the start established a company standard for maintaining a history about its own sales activity and customers. By the end of the 1990s, Polk's decentralized approach to managing basic customer data was hindering the company's plans to revamp business processes and strengthen its customer focus.

"We needed more discipline around capturing important details from our customer interactions," says Wanda Dembeck, vice president, quality management for Polk. "However, without a central framework in place, critical data were only gathered on an ad hoc basis and saved in a scattered manner."

Founded more than 130 years ago, with its global headquarters in Southfield, Michigan, Polk is the premier provider of information and information services about the global automotive industry. Polk launched its motor vehicle statistical operations in 1922, when the first car registration reports were published, and the company now provides automotive intelligence to nearly every segment of the motor vehicle industry.

Polk's strategy for growing overseas sales is to deliver its premier line of automotive intelligence and consulting services using the latest technology tools available. To that end, the firm has significantly expanded its internal IT capabilities in recent years. Polk's premise: the faster it can deliver timely information and services to clients regardless of geographic location, time zone, or other logistical barriers, the faster it can expand its presence in emerging world markets.

Yet despite the technical sophistication of the new electronic distribution systems it was putting in place, Polk's internal ability to manage customer information remained fragmented.

Flexibility, Ease of Deployment Critical to CRM Success

Polk knew it needed to implement a CRM solution quickly, but with IT resources focused on customer needs, the company hesitated to launch a costly, multiyear CRM initiative. After reviewing several of the leading client/server packages available—and estimating the costs and time to implement for each—Polk decided to look into other options.

Polk was initially interested, but cautious, about's on-demand CRM service. "The team had some concerns about the application service provider model, specifically about flexibility and security," explains Dembeck. They also wanted assurances that they would not sacrifice CRM functionality, system performance response time, or the ability to customize by going with a Web solution.

An exhaustive evaluation of Salesforce convinced Polk that the on-demand solution offered the same benefits as traditional CRM vendors, with none of the risks or costs.

Salesforce Helps Polk to Focus on Customer Satisfaction and Sales

Today, more than 250 Polk employees are managing their sales and customer information via Salesforce Professional Edition. Sales representatives are enthusiastic that such rich CRM functionality is available through an intuitive user interface. "We have better insight into account history, something we desperately wanted but never had before Salesforce," says Mary McDonnell, senior vice president, strategic markets. "Our business depends on developing ongoing relationships with existing customers, and our sales reps can be more successful when they have a complete picture of a customer's interactions and experiences with Polk over time."

For management, Salesforce offers greater insight into the sales pipeline. "We went from little pipeline management to granular pipeline reporting with Salesforce. For the first time, management can get a real-time view of sales activity at any time," says McDonnell.

Through Salesforce, Polk also has a new window into customer satisfaction and can more easily track quality issues. "It's important to know why our customers are calling, what they are saying, and how well we are addressing their needs. Salesforce has helped us capture this data," says Dembeck. "Our ability to keep tabs on quality issues empowers us to do more than talk about quality - we can take action to solve recurring problems and work to implement the best and most common suggestions."

From a technology perspective, Polk appreciated the fact that no up-front investment was required for Salesforce, thus eliminating the heavy financial risk that comes with implementing a traditional client/server CRM system. Salesforce's on-demand utility model meant that deployment across the entire team was quick and easy. Polk executives were also pleased that required minimal input from IT and thus left important internal technical resources-as well as capital-free for other strategic business initiatives. "Salesforce is a low-cost, low-risk, low-maintenance solution that helps us focus on what we do best: deliver timely market intelligence to our clients," McDonnell says

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