Highland Solutions builds on social selling experience

IBM Connections software is the touchstone for successful sales and ongoing product development

Published on 26-May-2013

"To be of value for sales people, CRM needs to be more than a data entry system. We’ve created integrations that, when data is entered into our SugarCRM environment, trigger valuable internal information from IBM Connections to aid in selling efforts." - Scott Taback, vice president of business development, Highland Solutions

Highland Group, Inc

Computer Services

Deployment country:
United States

Social Business for Sales, Social Business

IBM Business Partner:
Mercury Consulting


Headquartered in Chicago, Highland Group, Inc. (Highland Solutions) is a privately owned technology and business process consulting firm. It provides IT services and solutions for companies of all sizes, focusing on effective customer-facing systems such as CRM and e-commerce. In business for more than 12 years, Highland Solutions partners with technology leaders, including IBM, to serve customers located primarily in the United States.

Business need:
Highland Solutions wanted to build a social selling platform to streamline collaboration for its sales teams and to use as a foundation for new service offerings.

The company integrated its IBM Connections software with its SugarCRM platform so that moving between applications was seamless.

Sales reps can quickly assemble the right people and access the most relevant information and best sales practices to help close deals faster.

Case Study

Headquartered in Chicago, Highland Group, Inc. (Highland Solutions) is a privately owned technology and business process consulting firm. It provides IT services and solutions for companies of all sizes, focusing on effective customer-facing systems such as CRM and e-commerce. In business for more than 12 years, Highland Solutions partners with technology leaders, including IBM, to serve customers located primarily in the United States.

Streamlining collaborative selling

Highland Solutions executives know that the best way to sell customers on the value of a technology solution is to use it within their own organization. That’s why the company is learning from its experience with IBM Connections software how to build an effective collaborative selling platform for its customers. Its goal is to help reverse the ratio of a seller’s time spent preparing for a sale and the time spent on customer-facing activities.

“Current statistics indicate that salespeople spend only about 40 percent of their time selling. The remainder is taken up with finding the right information, accessing subject matter experts, creating content, getting approvals and doing the other administrative work necessary to advance a deal,” says Scott Taback, vice president of business development at Highland Solutions.

A good example is the request for proposal (RFP) process, which requires getting people together from across departments in various locations and time zones to answer questions, review documents, approve legal details and sign requested forms. Highland Solutions has built a solution to streamline these kinds of collaborative processes for its own sellers and to use as a foundation for new service offerings.

Building an orchestrated sales approach

Recently, Highland Solutions deployed an upgraded version of Sugar Professional software in the IBM® SmartCloud® Enterprise environment. It also worked with IBM Business Partner Mercury Consulting to implement IBM Connections software. The next step was to integrate Connections software with the SugarCRM platform. “We wanted to make moving between the two applications a seamless experience for our sales reps,” says Taback. “We named the solution we built Semantic Sales Insights.”

With the integrated solution in place, sales reps continue to manage opportunities through the SugarCRM platform. Now, however, information targeted to help move leads into sales is pushed to reps from the Connections application while they enter their leads in the SugarCRM system. The information provided includes recommended subject matter expert communities, sales presentations, marketing material and RFP templates. “Our salespeople used to spend a lot of time putting together their own presentations and hunting down information for RFP responses. Now we send relevant content to them based on the information they enter about each lead. We sometimes refer to our integrated solution as SemanticCRM because, with it, information ‘finds’ the seller based on the keywords of a deal.” says Taback.

Transforming the RFP process

In addition, Highland Solutions transformed the way it handles RFPs. Sales reps used to manage the entire process through email. It was not only frustrating but also highly unproductive to slog through hundreds of emails to find the most current version of a document or scour the address book for the right people to sign paperwork or answer product questions.

“Today, we do everything through our RFP Planning and Management community located on IBM Connections, We also have a wiki for scoring an opportunity,” says Stephanie Blahut, inbound marketing manager, for Highland Solutions. If there are unclear areas in the RFP, the company has a forum area to discuss strategy before responding.

When the firm decides to pursue an opportunity, the project manager opens an activity within the RFP community. The activity is structured much like the RFP table of contents. Tasks are built into the activity with to-do items that the project manager can assign to specific people with deadlines. Using the Connections software messaging capability, people can ask questions, make comments and post attachments within the activity or a specific to-do item.

The Files function in Connections software serves as a repository for RFP documents, automating version control as content is created, reviewed, and finalized. It provides links back to the associated task or item. When multiple people work on a document, they can upload their updates to the Connections application without fear of saving over someone else’s work.

To complete the process, the RFP project manager posts the RFP draft in the QA Community for team quality review. Staff members can converse, document and work through the remaining checklist items. The project manager then stores the approved RFP in SugarCRM under the appropriate account record, and the system sends alerts to assigned account managers and customer engagement personnel.

“People understand their directives going into the RFP. They understand their tasks. They receive updates and notifications through Connections. They can focus on their assigned work while also engaging in the larger conversation,” says Blahut.

Evolving an organizational “google”

Going forward, Highland Solutions plans to continue building out the organizational use of Connections software to provide a one-stop shop for information. It wants to use the platform to promote standard operating procedures and best practices and to share information about new developments, new customers and projects. “One of our best examples of organizational use so far has been the news feed, which essentially replaces our mass email updates by providing the latest on discussions, posts and files,” says Blahut. Everyone can securely search this information; it is not locked away in someone’s inbox.

Each department employs, or is planning to employ, the Connections application differently. Marketing started using Connections software to plan campaigns. Highland Solutions trainers look at housing documentation and templates in the Connections application and make regular updates to those items that may be beneficial to other customers. So if a training specialist needs to create a configuration document, he has a place to go to find similar content; he doesn’t have to start from the ground up. The development group plans to use Connections software to discuss big-data issues and collaborate on finding out how much of their work they could reuse instead of rebuilding the wheel each time.

Another idea on the roadmap is using the Connections application to foster best sales practices. For example, if a sales rep is focused on selling a particular product, the Connections solution could offer three activity streams proven to be the best approach to closing the deal.

“Connections is becoming an organizational touchstone, helping us validate, store and retrieve all our intellectual capital across the organization,” says Blahut.

A social business...
Embraces networks of people to create business value and exhibits three underlying tenets. It is engaged, transparent and nimble.
With ready access to the right materials and experts, Highland Solutions sales reps have more time to spend face-to-face with customers, building relationships.
IBM Connections software supports revenue growth by enhancing information sharing across departments on new product ideas and more effective sales campaigns.
Highland Solutions speeds response to requests for proposals (RFPs) with one place for people to collaborate effectively on content creation, assembly, review and approval.
Entry point: Deepening customer relationships

For more information

To learn more about IBM solutions for social selling, please contact your IBM marketing representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website: ibm.com/social-business/us/en/solutions/social-selling

To learn more about Highland solutions visit the following website: highlandsolutions.com

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Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

IBM Connections

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2013 IBM Corporation Software Group Route 100 Somers, NY 10589 Produced in the United States of America May 2013 IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, and IBM SmartCloud are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. It is the user’s responsibility to evaluate and verify the operation of any other products or programs with IBM products and programs. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided.

  • Scott

    Scott Taback

    Vice President of Business Development