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The CRM software market wasn’t the same all the time — it has gone through the way of rapid transformation and evolution. And so has done our journey in the CRM market. Our CEO, Wes Snow will tell what route curves we had to take for 26 years in the tech space, what CRM platforms we’ve worked with, and why, finally, Salesforce and MS Dynamics 365 platforms became our top choices for strategic partnership.
Today, Ascendix is a seasoned 26-year CRM consulting and custom software development veteran with solid expertise in 10+ CRM platforms and building our own 17 CRM products and apps, catering to the needs of 200+ clients worldwide and 130+ specialists across the globe.
But it was not always like this. CEO and President of Ascendix Technologies, Wes Snow, will tell:
It all started back in 1996 when Ascendix was founded by two childhood friends from a small Texas town as a small consulting agency.
The CRM landscape was quite different back 26 years ago. As a matter of fact, CRM (customer relationship management) was not even a category. Sales Force Automation (SFA) was the early name to describe tools in this category. Contact management tools like the Act!, Goldmine, Telemagic, and Maximizer were early entrants into the contact management space and tried to extend their reach up the market, even though the first contact management system (CMS) was released in 1984 by Excalibur Source.
I’ll explain at once the difference between customer relationship management vs contact management system (CMS):
A contact manager or CMS is most often used when the sales interaction model of the organization is one-to-many. It means that a single sales representative is in charge of multiple roles within a company.
On the contrary, a CRM system is preferred for an organization with a many-to-many interaction model, when many sales representatives are targeting one job role.
Now, let’s have a look at the websites of these early marketing tools back in the 1990s and 2000s to have a sense of timing:
More than two decades ago Ascendix entered the CRM space with such a website:
Products like Goldmine and Act!, contact managers, were the source of inspiration for the initial business plan for Ascendix Technologies. Shortly after opening the doors, we started seeing new players emerge. As the salesforce automation/customer relationship management market was fairly immature and evolving, the tools available to deploy were somewhat limited.
One of those tools, SalesLogix, created out of the brain trust that invented Act!, became an early leader in the midmarket CRM category.
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The first release of ACT! took place on 1 April 1987 and was performed by Conductor Software originating from Dallas, Texas (interesting coincidence, isn’t it?). Originally, it was called Activity Control Technology and Automated Contact Tracking afterward. However, later on, it was reduced to the acronym ACT.
In 1993, ACT was sold to Symantec Corporation, and already in 1999, it was sold to SalesLogix (a bit later it changed its name to Interact Commerce). Afterward, ACT and SalesLogix as a part of Interact Commerce were purchased by Sage in 2001.
Beginning with the 2006 version, the name was revised to ACT! by Sage and later to Sage ACT!. Later, Swiftpage acquired ACT! in 2013.
SalesLogix, in turn, was acquired by Infor in 2014.
As such, we established the practice as a reseller and integrator for this product in 1996 and quickly became one of the top partners globally for this particular offering.
To feel the time gap, Microsoft had yet to come out with MS Exchange and Outlook was in its very early releases.
Pre-dating cloud computing, much of the consultation process around CRM implementations revolved around recommending hardware configurations, purchasing and installing software on-premises. This, of course, increased the start-up cost and challenged the low end of the market to truly be able to participate in implementing CRM tools at that time.
Another dynamic at play in the early days of CRM software is the notion of remote computing on laptops and the necessity for synchronization logic to be implemented and heavily relied upon for data to be reconciled with the centralized CRM server. It’s safe to say, this technology was and is still imperfect and could lead to significant amounts of challenges around data quality and integrity.
Around the turn of the century, a new computing model was being introduced by market disruptors led by none other than salesforce.com. While it took the market some time to truly embrace this way of computing, slowly but surely it began to take a foothold and dominate how people thought about purchasing technology.
At the same time, Microsoft had acquired the first business applications through the acquisition of Great Plains and began thinking about their CRM strategy as well. The vision with Microsoft was to take a very vibrant community of Outlook users and integrate CRM with this centralized repository of customer information.
At the time, it seemed Microsoft was poised to take the leadership position in the CRM category as they exploited the Outlook user base as CRM greenfield.
As the ERP market expanded along with the CRM marketplace, there were growing aspirations to tie the two disparate systems together in a unified business platform. Traditional powerhouses such as Oracle and SAP entered the market at the top and made efforts to make their solutions more economical for the midmarket.
This market and the idea of front office/back office integration pave the way for the entrance of NetSuite. while it had a CRM module, it was not really considered a “CRM-first” platform. While we had a brief stint in partnering with a “back office” consultancy to provide a complete solution, it was clear that our true strength was that of focused CRM consulting.
Having an established CRM consulting practice on SalesLogix, as Salesforce.com sought to create a partner network, we were invited to attend a recruitment event in San Francisco and shortly thereafter, became a certified Salesforce partner.
Around the same time, Microsoft invited us up to Fargo, North Dakota, for a similar recruitment meeting for the newly minted CRM offering. The chief difference in the partner programs between Salesforce and Microsoft is that the Microsoft partnership was allowing the partner to participate in the revenue share of software in addition to generating professional services revenues.
This influenced our allegiances early on and we found ourselves aligning more with Microsoft in those early days (a decision that was to be questioned later down the line).
For a period of 3 years, we were proactively pursuing projects on all three platforms (Saleslogix, Salesforce.com, and Microsoft CRM) and saw the roadmap for Salesforce.com and Microsoft far outpacing that of SalesLogix and started position our SalesLogix practice for sale.
As we started growing our Microsoft Dynamics client base, we started to feel the competitive pressures of the marketplace as more and more consultancies entered into space which led to discussions on how to differentiate ourselves and stand out from the crowd.
Having implemented CRM to companies scattered across many industries, we were retrospectively evaluating the solutions we had delivered to assess opportunities to specialize through verticalization. This was around 2006 and at the time, we had implemented CRM to several financial services firms and commercial real estate brokerages.
While our initial focus was on the Real Estate Investment Trust (both public and privately traded REITs), 1031, and TIC marketplace, we soon were drawn to the larger pool of commercial real estate brokerages and all the brokers within them as our dominant focus. At that time, the tools available for commercial real estate brokers were far and few between, and most were non-platform solutions built on old technology.
What started as an attempt to simply train our consultants on the business of commercial real estate to provide professional services quickly evolved into a full-scale product development business plan transitioning Ascendix for the first time in its history to a bifurcated services AND product company.
Considering our deepening relationship with Microsoft at the time, we opted to use the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform as the foundation for our product: Real Estate Advantage (later renamed into AscendixRE) and to build a solution custom fit for brokerages that focused on tenant rep, landlord rep, and investment sales.
As it was our first attempt at product development, we had various missteps and wildly underestimated the effort of getting a product that was marketable and supportable out the door. For instance, instead of committing a full-time team to product development, we naively thought we could allocate developers part-time to work on the product “in-between” products to maximize billing revenue to help foot the bill for the product development.
At this point, we decided to take a look at offshoring strategies to maximize our investment dollars in that we had decided to bootstrap this product development effort instead of taking on debt or equity partners. Over the course of 2 to 3 years, we visited and partnered with a handful of partners in various countries including China, Argentina, India, and Mexico.
It wasn’t until we landed in Europe that we found a successful model and partner to get our product development going in earnest. Seeing the production we were getting from developing in Europe, we made the bold move to set up an office in several European cities buying out the contracts for those who were developing for us and converting them to employees.
After making some rookie mistakes, we finally got a product into the market and firmly positioned it to address the needs of the large brokerages such as CBRE, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield as well as Colliers and others. The partnership with Microsoft served us well early on as these large brokerages had large investments in Microsoft tech stacks and led us into several large-scale deployments.
After having been involved in several multi-year projects with these larger brokerages, we recognized that in positioning and designing our product for large enterprise brokerages, we weren’t really addressing a much larger community of small to medium-sized brokerages, not to mention the individual broker.
Our product had been tailored for more complex workflows and the pricing and deployment methods were not suitable for these smaller brokerages. So, we found ourselves losing ground to new competitors that had come into the CRE brokerage vertical.
There were many lessons learned in our first product built on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform, the largest of which is “less is more” when it comes to CRM for commercial real estate brokers.
In our attempt to make the perfect product and solve as many problems as possible, we had managed to make a very comprehensive but overly complex product that was not easy to understand or use.
This complexity of the solution often led to user adoption issues and general dissatisfaction with the product, especially when attempting to roll it out to smaller organizations.
Vowing that if we ever had an opportunity to develop a new product, we would take these lessons and apply them to form a much more streamlined product where we would seek “never to compromise” the core tenant in any well-adopted CRM: EASE OF USE/INTUITIVE DESIGN
In a purely defensive maneuver, we reached out to Salesforce to investigate and do competitive research on what programs they had to offer in that many of the products we had been losing to had chosen this platform to build a commercial real estate CRM solution.
Within a couple of days, not only did we get some invaluable research and competitive information but we were so impressed with the platform and the programs they had designed for partners that we decided to become a partner and build a version of AscendixRE on the Salesforce platform.
Beginners Guide: Why Salesforce for Commercial Real Estate Companies?
This put us into the market with two commercial real estate products on two different platforms positioned for different segments of the market; AscendixRE for Microsoft CRM was positioned for larger brokerages with deep alliances with Microsoft and AscendixRE for Salesforce focused on winning the hearts and minds of the individual broker, small workgroups, and boutique brokerages.
In our efforts to promote the products we had developed, the majority of our marketing focus and public identity quickly shifted to that of solely a product company. While this served us well in getting penetration into the market, we lost momentum with our professional services practice for CRM consulting.
With the deep knowledge we’ve acquired over the course of 26 years on both the Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics platforms combined with our investments in international offices, we’ve “rebooted” our marketing efforts as a CRM consultancy.
We started proactively pursuing engagements both inside and outside of the commercial real estate space.
Today, we are rapidly growing both sides of the business with the continued development of products built on top of both Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce as well as making large investments in recruitment to expand our CRM consultancy both domestically and abroad.
While we’ve had an existing reputation in the United States for years as a leading CRM consultancy, we are growing our brand internationally as well as having appointed a new practice lead for European CRM practice.
But despite walking through so much transformation and having so much experience under the belt, one thing remained unchanged: Ascendix is still led with the same enthusiasm and extreme dedication to their clients as it was 26 years ago.
In 2022 we’ve achieved a new level of Salesforce partnership. We became a Salesforce Ridge (Silver) Partner and AppExchange Crest Partner. And we are not going to stop on this but expand our expertise.
Having 25 years of CRM consulting experience, Wes has been on multiple advisory boards for CRM applications over the years including Salesforce, Dynamics 365, and no less than 10 other CRM platforms. Wes is a frequent guest of podcasts, speaker, and author of posts on CRM topics.
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