How ABA Advisors built an end-to-end system for business growth - a Zoho One story

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed November 17, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
What happens when a COO joins a fast-growing company, but finds a labyrinth of legacy systems? Robert Craig of ABA Advisors did something different. He didn't just buy new apps - he built an end-to-end operating system, with Zoho One. Here's how he did it.

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(Robert Craig of ABA Advisors talks Zoho One)

The October 2021 expansion of Zoho One gave me an opportunity to dig in with a Zoho customer (How Counter Culture Coffee drives their sustainable coffee business forward with Zoho One). If there's one thing I want to understand about Zoho One, it's how far customers can take it.

Enterprise software has scant few examples of "all you can eat" software offerings. Zoho reports that the average Zoho One customer is using 21 apps.

Given the chance to talk to ABA Advisors about how Zoho One works at enterprise-scale, I took it. The only issue? We ran out of time to talk about all the apps.

Not a problem: after our talk, ABA Advisors COO Robert Craig sent me a list of the Zoho One apps in use - 22 in total. But: the number of apps only matters if they are in heavy use. Time to delve in.

Craig told me ABA Advisors ran into that good kind of business problem: managing fast growth.

The company was started ten years ago by a man who's been in the industry for over 36 years. He was in a partnership for 26 years. He was very successful there, and developed a proprietary cash flow statement. During that time, working primarily with physicians in the southeast, this new proprietary cash flow was really helping the doctors that he was working with - so he decided to go out on his own. He started ABA ten years ago, and he just started growing so fast.

How fast? Craig continues:

ABA grew to 86 employees in 15 different states, with clients from from coast to coast, probably more than 2,000 clients at that time.

Managing growth - in search of an end-to-end system

To manage that growth, they needed someone with large enterprise tech experience - and that's where Craig entered the picture in 2018.

So they hired me. I have a technology background, a large organization background, as well as a small business background. They were looking for somebody who would get them up to date, because all of their systems were very siloed. Very, very disparate - it was quite the challenge.

Some might jump in with a quick software upgrade - not Craig. He started by listening:

I came in and started working with the team that was here. I'm very collaborative anyway, in my approach to any organization that I work with. So I just started working with the people who knew the software, knew the systems, knew the culture, and then started based on that.

Craig knew one thing: he didn't want a bunch of point solutions.

I started taking steps into looking at other software, looking to see how we could best bring an end-to-end system that would help. ABA has grown at 10 to 15% every single year, without any kind of marketing whatsoever; they have a very strong word-of-mouth referral program.

The new ABA Advisors web site, launched last year, added to the growth problem in a good way, with financial/tax planning solutions for physicians, veterinarians, dentists, and other small businesses:

We get probably on average one [serious prospect] per day, where they're spending a couple hours looking through the website, and they send us an email, and we have about a 70% conversion rate. So all of that means that we really needed to have a scalable solution, because our expected growth is going to probably double in five years.

Moving to Zoho One - "We are on the closing end of having a clear end-to-end system"

And that's how Zoho entered the picture:

We started looking around. I really wasn't familiar with Zoho at the time. I've worked with other CRMs, lots of other systems. I tried to think outside the box... There were so many manual processes, tracking by spreadsheets, etc. It was a bit of a nightmare, and very spaghetti-like.

So when I saw Zoho, and started looking at the suite of apps they had available, the way they integrated, I saw a vision for something that I was hoping could work. I started exploring that with a Zoho partner. And she connected me to a Zoho developer, and it really just started to click. All the things that I was trying to accomplish, we realized were possible.[Author's note: that partner is Michelle Hill, who goes by the handle ZohoQueen on Twitter].

Fast forward two years: how far has Craig's team taken Zoho?

We are on the closing end of having this clear end-to-end system, where a lead comes in through our website, or we enter into the Zoho Leads module, all the way through project management, converting the client to an actual project that we're doing, closing those out to compensation, and rolling all those in together. And then billing the client, and having that automatic pay authorization on the back end. All of that, from end-to-end, is just in the final phases.

It's not all done yet, but Craig says his end-to-end vision is within reach:

We are about ready to be where I wanted to be - so we can be scalable. At that point, we're meeting our client's needs on a consistent basis, month in and month out. We have 3,500 clients now, in all 50 states.

I told Craig: most executives in his situation would probably start with a finance system upgrade. But Craig chose the end-to-end challenge.

We built out the whole HR side of the company as well. It's really a holistic approach to people management. It's not just focused on productions, not just focused on culture, but it's all of it together.

And how do you track the success of an end-to-end system? 

I'm a real fan of the balanced scorecard approach. It really takes all those elements into play, which is how we're leveraging one aspect of Zoho Analytics. We've got all these different pieces in there. We've got the CRM, the way we track tasks after every client meeting, to new forms - and different things that we built in Zoho People, as well as Zoho Projects. So all of those pieces, and Zoho Creator - all those pieces come together. 

We can pull all that information out through Zoho Analytics, and display that in a dashboard to our team members. So they know exactly where they where they stand, at all times. And so it's just a fantastic model.

Craig says this is all part of his three-year plan. By next end of 2022 Q1, he says, "We'll be fully at the place where we where we wanted to go." I won't go through all 22 apps ABA Advisors is using, but Zoho Subscriptions is key, given ABA has a recurring revenue model. They integrate Zoho Books with Quickbooks online, their prior accounting software. "We're able to leverage all those pieces," says Craig.

The wrap

One thing Craig is pleased with: the Zoho Analytics dashboards for their team of accountants and business advisors. They can check the status of projects and outstanding tasks, as well as tax notices ABA's clients might have received. From there, they can drill into the individual client or task:

It's their go-to every morning. They're looking at that first thing, before they embark on the project, or whatever tasks they need to do next.

I've talked to several customers who've made the most of Zoho One's apps. But ABA Advisors is the first I've talked to that opted to build an entire end-to-end process. It's a compelling way to approach what Zoho One can do.

To get there, Craig needed the right Zoho partners, including Zoho development partner Nimbis, and an ongoing dialogue with Zoho as well. With 15,000 projects in Zoho Projects right now, and thousands more on the way for tax projections, Craig knows he is getting there. He's had feedback for Zoho on how to make things work at that type of scale, including changing API limits. But all told, he is glad for what he's accomplished with Zoho One: "It's working for us, that's for sure."

Though the end-to-end completion date is in sight, Craig says in the meantime, he's thought of other ways he wants to expand the system. That's always how it goes. I'm looking forward to seeing how many Zoho One apps Craig has in play the next time we talk.