National Grid Gets More Customer-Centric With Salesforce CRM

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Utilities, historically speaking, were never synonymous with choice. Instead, electricity, natural gas and water were delivered as a public service, using a designated provider.

But all of that has been changing, thanks to deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, the growth of wind power and solar power, and the promise of “relentless and disruptive innovation” that are transforming utilities as we know them, in part by giving consumers more choices.

Utilities that want to succeed in this environment must evolve — but how? The answer for U.S. energy supplier National Grid — which operates in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island — has been to become a more customer-centric and sales-oriented organization that also helps consumers navigate these new energy supply options.

To realize that change, National Grid has not only redesigned its business and sales processes, but implemented Salesforce CRM software to support and manage those new processes. To learn more, I spoke with National Grid’s Terence Sobolewski, vice president of sales and program operations, whose responsibilities include administering the utility’s 60 energy efficiency programs, and David Boccio, the director of customer data and systems, who’s tasked with delivering analytic insights to the organization’s customer-facing business units.

Honig: What was the business situation at National Grid prior to your adopting Salesforce?

Terence Sobolewski: We’re the amalgamation of a number of utilities — some larger, some smaller — across the northeast, and importantly it’s both gas and electric utilities. On the electric side, we had account management and service tools, because residents or businesses didn’t really have a choice for taking electric service. For gas service, however, customers have alternatives — they can heat with oil or electric.

So those businesses had sales processes and growth orientation, because they were competing for customer attention. As those came together, we had a sales force with enormous potential. But serious gaps in business processes first needed to be addressed, and we needed the sales force to operate as a single team.

So your project had a systems-replacement angle, but also an enhanced sales element?

David Boccio: Yes, but as a systems guy, my first question is always: What are your business requirements? We’d done a restructuring — moving people — but not a process restructuring. We needed to answer questions like: How do you track a lead? So before salesforce.com came in, we created a prototype, nicknamed Bridge, to help the business define its CRM requirements.

Were you focused on Salesforce the whole time?

Boccio: Yes, our leadership team had prior experience with it — and while we had a stated corporate direction to use SAP, we preformed some due diligence, and it was clear that SAP wasn’t going to meet our price or timeframe requirements. So we got the go-ahead to work with Salesforce.

How did you come to work with Cloud Sherpas?

Boccio: When we were talking with salesforce.com, we wanted to have one neck to strangle. After discussing high-level requirements with some of the big firms that salesforce.com recommended, however, the numbers we were getting back seemed out of whack to us. So we went back to Salesforce and asked them to connect us with a firm that was smaller, nimbler, hungrier, and they connected us with Cloud Sherpas.

I have to say, the tone — from the first conversation — was what we were looking for. It was a smaller outfit, they were much more interested in a true partnership, and from my perspective, they’ve been the best integrator I’ve ever worked with. It wasn’t just a technology firm, but it was a technology firm that understood the sales process.

Sobolewski: Dave probably understated the situation we were in, after having gone down the path with a larger firm, the entire project was in jeopardy. We had some expectations of what could be done with Salesforce, early on, but after the initial discussion the price tag escalated significantly. We thought we were in a bad place — to the extent of maybe abandoning the project. That created a stir with Salesforce, to the extent that they got us in touch with Cloud Sherpas.

How has the project — which you named Gridforce — proceeded?

Sobolewski: Overall, the reception has been good, and Gridforce is also a way to coordinate sales people who come from various teams. We’re already using Chatter and are eager to look at a vendor portal and possibly some customer portals. We now manage processes from lead to sold, and we’re continuing to integrate downstream and backend systems so we can manage from lead the way to fulfillment.

How did you find the right mix between creating a management tool — for reporting — and enhancing salespeople’s productivity?

Sobolewski: We didn’t have a single system we could go to for account data and information. That made this project entirely valuable, from day one. That’s one key point.

Second, the CRM software provided structure, including the invaluable ability to better communicate and manage activities, assign tasks to other people, and case

functionality — submit, track, report. Now, we have some extreme reporting requirements, from a regulatory standpoint. To some extent, Salesforce was meant to serve those regulatory requirements, and people understood that.

Where we’ve created value, we’ve had stronger adoption, stronger participation and support from the sales team with the CRM system. Where we added less value or made things hard, we’ve had to revisit. Over the past six months, we’ve been cleaning up any areas we made administratively burdensome.

Your Salesforce implementation went live in August 2012, and you had another major milestone in February 2013. What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

Boccio: Find the right implementation partner and bring all stakeholders to the table early on to discuss end-to-end processes.

Sobolewski: Identify champions across the teams — folks who are interested in and emotionally committed to the project — then have them be part of both the project sprints and design work.

How does this project fit into your future business strategy?

Sobolewski: For us, the idea of having a CRM system is to enable critical interactions with customers, and to support not just the processes we have today — electricity distribution, energy efficiency and gas growth — but also future ones, including electric vehicles and efforts to advance the grid through smart grids or smart metering types of technologies. We need to have both systems, as well as the customer-oriented culture, to make that real.

Furthermore, we want to be the utility that doesn’t just deliver the gas or electricity, but which uses it efficiently. Because we are not financially tied to the commodity itself, we can be compensated not just for delivery, but for acting for customers in ways that are more valuable. Distributed generation is one example of that. Customers want to install solar and look at wind projects — and study each one’s advantages and disadvantages — and while commercial organizations will sell each of those, a utility can impartially advise customers not just on selection products, but best utilizing them.

By doing so, your organization starts to look and feel like a commercial sales force — a customer-oriented organization that’s looking to deliver better value, and products and services to customers, and one that’s more proactive and engaged than the utility industry might have been in the past.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.

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