Careers: Interviews
CRM Expert Speaks...

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with CRM expert, Dean Guest.

In a challenging marketplace, Dean has found much success as one of the founders of iFusion Solutions Inc.

Discussion:
Q: Dean, it’s a pleasure to have you with us sharing your insights with the audience.

A: Thank you Stephen, I am very excited to have this opportunity to speak with you about Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Naturally being in this industry, I have very strong feelings about CRM. I believe it is critical for companies of any size to consider CRM as both a strategy and technology to survive in these difficult economic times.

Q: Can you detail your successes in the IT industry and what sparked you to start a company in 2003, considering the current economic climate?

A: I have been working in the IT sector for more than 9 years as a Business Analyst, Senior Consultant and Project Manager. During this period, I have implemented Enterprise Software Applications such as banking systems, utility management and billing systems, enterprise resource planning, and CRM for clients in various industries.

After becoming a high-tech casualty in the summer of 2003, I decided that I wanted to explore the option of building my own Professional Services firm with a focus on Microsoft CRM (MSCRM) application. I approached several other CRM industry professionals with this idea and quickly reached consensus that we were on the verge of a great opportunity.

In building a solid business case and conservative financial model, we assessed that MSCRM was ideally suited from a functionality and pricing perspective and would be well received by our target market in the Pacific Northwest. We also consulted with successful companies in the IT industry to act as a sounding board and to share their insights to help us lay a strong foundation for our new venture.

When I consider our recent successes, I feel even more strongly about our decision to enter into this venture.

Q: With so many recent iFusion successes, what lessons and tips can your share with our audience? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs interested in starting a company—can you give your top ten tips for business success?

A: We have definitely learned many valuable lessons along this path. I would be pleased to offer you a top ten list of challenges.

1. Know Your Business - People who succeed are the ones who know the most about what they are doing. Without exception, understanding your industry is fundamental, expert knowledge of your industry practically dictates your success.
2. Know the Basics of Management - Unless you can afford to hire a lot of professional help, you will need to address many of the basics of running a business. We have divided up areas of responsibility between the partners including accounting, business banking, payroll, and legal.
3. Have the Proper Attitude – Find something that you love and that has the potential of being a successful business. Enjoy what you do.
4. Have Adequate Capital - The first thing we did was to secure investment in the company. This included establishing financing and credit relationships.
5. Manage Finances Effectively – Cash flow is the pervasive financial management issue for small business owners. It manifests itself in ongoing capital, managing inventory, extending credit to customers and closely managing expenses and accounts receivable.
6. Manage Time Efficiently - The long hours and variety of tasks required to manage a small business demand excellent time management skills. Every small business owner feels stretched, especially during the start-up phase. Running any kind of business involves many different responsibilities and little time in which to fulfill them.
7. Manage People Fairly- A positive representation of your business has depends greatly on the quality and satisfaction of your employees. My employees have to be in tune with my goals and must know the image we want to portray to the business community.
8. Satisfy Customers by Providing High Quality - First and foremost, commit to providing quality and long lasting relationships. This establishes and maintains credibility with your customers.
9. Know How to Compete - My best advice for competing successfully is to find your own distinctive niche in the marketplace. It could be price, product, service or experience, but whatever it is build your business around that core strength.
10. Cope with Regulations, Mundane Tasks and Paperwork - The person who enjoys paperwork is rare in our society - and small business owners are no exception. In fact, since people who start and manage their own businesses tend to be "doers" - active people who like to accomplish things - they may become the most frustrated and overwhelmed by and paperwork.

Q: What must businesses and IT professionals know and what should they do to be competitive?

A: In any business, honesty and integrity are two of the most valuable assets a business can possess. At the end of the day, a client must believe that their business partner is going to stand by them through good and bad times. Service, loyalty and dedication to making our clients succeed is something that all IT professionals should always hold in highest regard.

Q: What do you feel are the top five hottest topics of interest to both businesses and IT professionals today and what will be the topics in two years and in five years?

A: IT solutions can help small businesses accomplish many of their key objectives today. These solutions can:

1. Strengthen product and service offerings

2. Help companies capitalize on new marketplace opportunities

3. Open new sales and distribution channels

4. Improve responsiveness to customer needs

5.Help companies gain a strategic advantage over the competition

As far as predictions go, I believe that these points will continue to be relevant and continually require constant improvement.

Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in IT in the next five years? [This could be companies, technologies, …and so on.] What advice would you give to enterprises in their adoption of technologies in the next five years?

A: Very good question. iFusion has developed its business as a Value Added Reseller for Microsoft and in turn clearly sees Microsoft as a leader in IT. One of the largest concerns in the sector today is the financial viability of business application vendors.

As Microsoft continues to invest huge amounts of time, effort and dollars into improving and expanding their suite of business applications, many competitors will have difficulty keeping up with Microsoft aggressive solution roadmap.

As far as advice to companies out there planning for the future of their infrastructure and business applications, all I can recommend is that they complete their due diligence tasks, and ensure that solutions chosen can complement their IT platform.

Q: What are the top challenges facing businesses and IT departments in the next five years and what are your recommendations to meet/overcome these challenges? Please provide specifics…

A: I think that overall IT professionals are having a hard time keeping up with all of the latest and greatest innovations being developed by companies like Microsoft Business Solutions. In order to stay on top of these advancements, companies would hopefully be able to rely upon their business partners who act as an advisor who will promote the right products at the right time. Some examples that come to mind right away are:

1. Changing corporate philosophy so they think in terms of business productivity rather than software when in comes to CRM
2. Staying on top of new product developments and technology
3. Adjust corporate attitudes so that business processes are truly designed to better complement the needs of your customers
4. Ensuring system integration with corporate legacy systems


Q: If you were doing this interview, what six questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

A: I think I would want to raise the following questions:

1. How did you develop your business concept?
2. How did you finance your operation?
3. What are your financial projections for 12, 24 and 60 months?
4. What is your strategy to scale your operations?
5. What is your strategy to expand your business offering?
6. Would you consider merging with another company?

My answers to the same list of questions would be:

1. I decided to exploit my knowledge of the industry and business contacts to become the manager of my own destiny.
2. Private financing
3. I would not disclose actual numbers, but would estimate 50% growth per year
4. Controlled growth, using cash flow primarily to finance
5. We are considering offering the full suite of Microsoft Business Solutions products as well as other Microsoft Productivity Suite tools
6. Yes, if it made good business sense

Q: Thank you for sharing your valuable insights with us today

A: I really enjoyed speaking with you today and hope that we were able to share some good points with your audience.

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