Five Questions about CRM Software with JumpStart’s Resident Guru Ben Keller

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is often thought of as a tool for salespeople; but a well-customized CRM system is also critical to the success of most modern nonprofits. While these organizations may not have “customers” in the traditional for-profit sense, they do have plenty of “clients” or “constituents” whose interactions they need to manage.

That’s where CRM can help.

As JumpStart’s head of IT, Ben Keller has helped the venture development organization build a fully customized CRM solution built on the widely popular Salesforce platform. His work has been so successful, it has spread across the state of Ohio to other nonprofits looking to revamp the way they collect and report data.

Today, Ben and his team are also helping other nonprofit organizations across the country implement their own custom CRM software solutions using JumpStart’s system as a model. Recently I sat down with him to learn more about the basics of CRM and how JumpStart helps other nonprofits use Salesforce to drive greater impact.

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is CRM Software and how is it used?

The acronym CRM has traditionally meant “customer relationship management.” Commonly people think of this kind of software as a method for salespeople to manage their pipeline of customers or potential customers. The fact that the leading CRM product is named “Salesforce” pretty much tells you how most people use the software.

Of course, we don’t do sales in the traditional sense at JumpStart. We are a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners, so we’ve had to turn the platform on its head. We don’t use Salesforce to “sell,” we use it to manage our interaction with our clients, or constituents.

Salesforce works extremely well for us as a basic CRM platform, but we’ve had to customize it extensively. Truthfully, you might not even recognize it compared to the out-of-the-box product.

Why would a nonprofit want a tool designed for salespeople?

For nonprofits, it’s not about sales, it’s about data. Successful nonprofits have to be able to track their relationships with the people and organizations they are trying to help. That’s how they show their funders and supporters they are making an impact.

Our funders give us money to generate outcomes. We realized very quickly that a custom-built CRM system was the only way for us to manage the amount of data we need to collect over time, especially since we are often required to cross reference that data and report out the metrics to our funders and/or the media.

So, what specific data or “metrics” do you use salesforce to track?

Our primary constituents are entrepreneurs and small businesses in Northeast Ohio. We provide them with capital and technical assistance, so we track a lot of internal metrics about how we help them. What are we doing for each client? Which staff members are working with them? How much time have we spent with them? All of this information has to be tracked down to the day and dollar.

We also track outcome metrics – the amount of jobs created/retained by our clients, growth in sales, growth in operating expenses, patents they’ve received, the amount of capital they’ve raised, etc.

And, since inclusion is such a big part of our work, we track a great deal of information about race, gender and geography. In many cases we keep data all the way down to census tracts, because we are being asked to help people in very specific geographic areas.

Those are just the basic fields; but when you use CRM software, it goes much deeper. For example, we don’t just track the amount of venture capital our clients raise, we also track where that venture capital is coming from; because it makes a big difference to our work whether our clients are finding investment capital within our region or attracting it from one of the coasts.

We also track our internal metrics against our outcome metrics, so we can see whether the companies we are spending the most time with are the ones producing results in our region.  What if your funders want you to spend more time in a particular niche, but you are seeing more impact in a different area? It’s important to know these things and only good data can give you that kind of insight.

Why Salesforce? Why did you choose this particular CRM platform?

First off, Salesforce is very affordable, especially for nonprofits. That definitely makes a difference; but I think the real beauty of the platform is its flexibility and the fact that it is cloud-based, which makes the data easy to access from any location.

At JumpStart, we help lead a network of more than a dozen other entrepreneurial support organizations, all of whom share the same data and track the same metrics. A cloud-based system is a must for organizations that need this level of collaboration, which I’d argue is all of them – because If you think you are working in a silo, you’re fooling yourself.

It makes sense for economic development organizations to talk to each other, coordinate their efforts and share data so everyone is speaking the same language and tracking the same outcomes.  That’s how you build a more efficient ecosystem.

What led JumpStart to begin helping other organizations build their own custom CRM systems?

JumpStart was one of the first groups to start using Salesforce in the economic development space, so there was really no one to help us when we started. We knew it was a powerful tool, but you just can’t get the full benefit of CRM without serious customization, especially if you aren’t a traditional sales organization.

Since there was no real blueprint to follow in our line of work, we did it ourselves. Eventually one of our primary funders, the State of Ohio, noticed the strength of our data and asked us to help other organizations across the state so they could setup similar systems to make their operations more efficient.

Over time we noticed that we had created a package that combines all of the key customizations for the economic development space. We realized we could use this backbone to help others get where they are going much faster than if they had to start from the beginning like we did.

Bottom line, if you are a nonprofit group focusing on helping entrepreneurs or small businesses, we’ve been where you are. We speak the language and we’ve customized Salesforce to speak that language too. Ultimately, our clients find that they save time and money by using our expertise instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

Are you a nonprofit interested in learning more about JumpStart’s CRM solutions? If so, contact me at scott.thompson@jumpstartinc.org.