Brad Williams, president of DoExtra Corp., is excited about the cloud. Photo by Joe Gardyasz
Brad Williams, president of DoExtra Corp., is excited about the cloud. Photo by Joe Gardyasz

During his 28-year career as a corporate computer sales executive, Brad Williams has experienced several major technology revolutions, beginning with the transition from mainframe computers to mini-computers, then on to client-based servers. Now, he’s really jazzed about the next big wave sweeping the industry: cloud computing.

Williams, president of Des Moines-based DoExtra Corp., recently completed a buyout of the customer relationship management (CRM) software company from its retiring founder, Sunnie Richer.

“The reason I bought the company is because I absolutely believe that cloud computing is the next wave of the future for information technology, primarily because it allows you to develop and deploy applications much faster,” said Williams, who joined DoExtra in 2006. “It allows a business to worry about how do we build a software application that drives value, rather than worrying about whether my server is up or down or sideways. So I’m betting the company on it, personally.”

Spending on cloud computing, which refers to any Web-based service that is expandable and can be provided on demand, reached $16.2 billion in 2008 and is expected to grow to a $42 billion industry by 2013, according to International Data Corp., a global market intelligence firm.



Fragmented pipeline

For the past three years, DoExtra (pronounced dex-tra) has partnered with San Francisco-based Salesforce.com Inc., a dominant CRM software provider that offers cloud-based products. With $1.8 billion in annual revenues, Salesforce.com was ranked No. 4 in the Fortune 500 list of fastest-growing U.S. companies last year.

That pace of growth has rubbed off on DoExtra. “Bringing on Salesforce.com as a partner and having the ability to do projects based on (its products) has doubled our business in the past three and a half to four years,” Williams said.

Williams, whose technology career began with Digital Equipment Corp., launched his own company, Vista Technologies LC, in Des Moines in 1996, which he sold four years later to a venture capital firm. Seeking a new business in which to partner, Williams connected with DoExtra in 2006, and acquired an equity stake in 2008.

Since associating with Salesforce.com, DoExtra has worked with several major insurance clients in Greater Des Moines, among them FBL Financial Group Inc. and insurance broker Holmes Murphy & Associates Inc., to assist them in moving their sales and marketing databases to the cloud.

Holmes Murphy, which has 10 sales offices in the central United States, recognized that its sales pipeline needed coordination, said Kip Augspurger, a senior vice president.

“We were very fragmented in our understanding of what our business pipeline was, so it was very hard to forecast with any degree of certainty what our next six months or longer would look like,” Augspurger said. “So we decided this was critical for managing capital.”

Additionally, “salespeople tend to be a little disorganized themselves, so if we can empower them to be more organized and to manage more relationships and do it better – and give management a better lens into the future – then everybody wins.”



Out of the gate

Holmes Murphy’s experience is “pretty typical” of many companies seeking to automate their CRM processes, Williams said. Either data is locked into servers that only the sales people can access, or it’s fragmented on hundreds of personal computers. “So a lot of what we do is figure out where that data is and bring it all into one common system and make it visible for the people on the front lines,” he said.

Though probably 30 percent of DoExtra clients have moved at least some portion of their CRM systems to the cloud, Williams said, many companies across a broad spectrum of industries still won’t because of data security concerns.

“There are lot of what I would call highly risk-averse people who don’t want to take that leap,” he said.

Augspurger said he simply wanted a system that would enable his salespeople to manage more relationships and generate more sales, “and we discovered the cloud in the process.” After evaluating several systems, Holmes Murphy selected Salesforce.com and launched it in January.

“We got out of the gate well, and we feel good about where we stand,” Augspurger said. “My only scorecard here is adoption. I can buy 100 licenses for 100 salespeople, but if they don’t log in and use it, it’s a waste of money and it’s not a clear picture of the pipeline for management.”

The Salesforce.com systems sold by DoExtra are priced from $65 per user per month for a basic edition to $125 per user per month for a more advanced version.

FBL Financial has also embraced a cloud-based CRM system, Williams said. Using a customized version of Salesforce.com, FBL increased its telephone sales representatives’ productivity from 35 calls per hour to 45. About 7 percent of those cold calls generated leads that are forwarded to agents.



Three legs

For most companies, the journey to the cloud begins with sales force automation, which is one of the three legs of the customer relationship management stool, Williams said. A second leg, marketing campaign management, typically follows, with customer service and support usually migrating last.

“I would say 70 percent of the time, it’s a vice president of sales looking for help” who initiates interest in automating CRM, he said.

Once a company adopts a cloud-based CRM system, senior leadership must lead by example to ensure it’s utilized, Williams said. “Whoever is responsible at an executive level either has to use the system themselves day-to-day, or they need to be leveraging the data that’s in there.”