Learning process improvement via Zoho and pizza at Learning People

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan May 7, 2019
Learning People has grown in scale, which brings with it the need to formalize processes and practices around CRM.

Mark Wheatland

Brighton-based training firm Learning People has a simple enough mission statement as articulated by Mark Wheatland, Head of Partnerships and Products:

We provide career-ready education for people who want to get into the tech sector. 

The firm pitches that its online courses are trusted by major employers, including Virgin Trains, Jaguar Landrover, Visa and PaddyPower Betfair. As well as Brighton in the UK, the company has offices in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It’s a classic example of an organization that has grown over time and in the process, found its business applications needs expand as well. Wheatland argues: 

I think as the business matures you kind of go from a situation where you’re just trying to manage day-to-day and get things done and have somewhere where everyone can find stuff, to thinking, ‘OK, well these are the processes we need to improve’. 

The company uses the Zoho One applications suite. It began small and with the emphasis on CRM, recalls Wheatland: 

We started off with two or three people; now we’ve got the best part of 100 people using it. Historically we started using Zoho because it was for two people and it was free. That was the deciding factor I think to an extent. It was purely for the use of the CRM. We were capturing people’s details on a webform and that was linking with Zoho very well. That was the foundation - getting information from the webform into leads and then process that through the CRM. 

Nowadays we use Zoho Finance, we use Analytics, we use Projects. We’ve just started looking at Zoho People and Sales IQ. So we’ve got a Zoho One package that we’ve had for about nine months. We’re probably actively using about 10 or 12 applications, with probably 80 people using CRM and maybe 10 people using Projects or 12 people using Finance. So it’s a mixture of users within the business, but we are using quite a lot of the suite now. 

CRM does remain at the heart of this however: 

The CRM process is central to how we do our business, It holds the customer records and that enables the customer contact to be regulated and automated. It also enables you to have that visibility, so everyone's got visibility into what's happening. You can see when people have opened emails, then you can set tasks, etc. You've got the integration with for us Zoho Finance so we can see what people's payments have been coming in as well, all through the CRM screen. You've got the ability to sync in Zoho Desk, so if our student care team are handling a ticket that will be visible in the CRM as well. So although the applications are separate, you’ve got visibility inside the CRM.

Learning to choose

There is an advantage in being to ‘pick and mix’ from a suite of integrated offerings, he adds: 

The advantage with Zoho One is there might have something in the package that you haven’t used yet, but you can go on to use it. Zoho Projects is a classic example. We decided we needed a way to tabulate key projects and get key stakeholders involved and for them to understand what was going on inside projects at all times. And that has worked really well for those people who are running those projects. It doesn't touch on from a lot of people within the business, but for key stakeholders when we're rolling out a new project, it is a really useful tool. 

So I think now we are in a situation where we go, ‘OK, this is the process that we need to improve, this is the new thing we're going to do - what are the tolls that we’ve got available to us within Zoho One to do that?’. Workflows and automations is a big part of that. A lot of what we're doing now is trying to automate people processes and interactions with customers. In any one month we have five or six thousand inquiries into our database.That kind of goes through the funnel, but even then you're probably looking at 300-400 customers and they will have to be contacted as part of a contact strategy for those people whilst they're in the sales pipeline. Being able to automate that makes life a lot easier because it's just sort of manual lifting.

Learning People is, says Wheatland, “far from perfect as an organization”. It is however ‘eating its own dog food’ and learning on the job:

I think one of the things that we're learning to do is to revisit the process needs as Zoho has evolved, because one thing you will find as a user that you look round and Zoho has improved something. There’s another button in there that didn't exist a couple months ago. Data analytics is a good example of something which is helping quite a lot in terms of building methods of getting data out of the system that we didn’t have six, seven, eight, nine months ago.

So there's lots of things coming in all the time. They are helping them. It's a big job for us as an organization to to kind of get those organizational processes right so that we are utilizing Zoho to best efficiency. It’s not a panacea in the sense that if your processes are wrong, Zoho is not gonna fix that for you. You have got to be clear about what your process is need to be or what that customer goal is. That’s how your businesses can work. If you’re sure, Zoho enables you to do those things.

As the firm has expanded, so too has the number of stakeholders with an interest in the business systems and the need to formalize training around process and practice. Wheatland explains: 

For their sins, until fairly recently, new people when they joined the company  used to get two hour training session from me on how to use Zoho nd that would generally be about it and then their peers would help them. When it was 10, 15 of us, it was very easy to share and spread the knowledge and kind of control and monitor what was being done with the CRM. When you start to get to 30, 40, 50 people, you then need to introduce some best practice or start to go down the road of Blueprints, which we have. 

Blueprint is a feature within Zoho Projects which allows users to define and design a workflow to automate processes in an organized manner. Wheatland says: 

Blueprints do offer the opportunity to control how people use the CRM. And I think that's probably good -  as we grow as it's very difficult to get time to get people to monitor that best practice. We've got guidelines and we do some training to make sure that they know how to do it, but you know, two weeks in they’re probably not going to remember that. And then they’re sat next to Bob who’s found a shortcut. At the end of the day, the key point about the CRM and the reason why it's so useful is because it's capturing that information and putting it somewhere where we can find it and use it to make business decisions.

He adds: 

As we’ve grown, you have more stakeholders and their needs are more developed. So you find it’s good to have conversations because as much as you try to avoid silo mentality, as things fan out, that starts to happen. I’ll tell you something really sad.  About a year ago we started having after work Zoho parties which involve key stakeholders staying behind after work, having pizza and talking about all the things that were a pain point for them. What's causing sales issues, what’s causing finance issue, how could marketing help, how operations could help. That was a start of a process of improvement of where you just have people in the room, with bottled beer as well just to tee things up, and just start to talk about things and make sure that everyone’s understood where everyone's coming from. Sad as it sounds, it actually very productive and useful.