How a Custom Microsoft Dynamics-Powered CRM Helped Cinnaire Manage Private Equity Deals Better

June 11, 2024
2 min

Founded in Michigan in 1993, Cinnaire is a nonprofit organization specializing in community development finance by providing creative capital solutions to projects with high social value that may not otherwise receive support from traditional financial institutions.

Cinnaire’s toolkit of services includes programs that lend funds, finance development and manage and build all the components of strong, vibrant communities.

Over the past 30+ years, Cinnaire has grown to manage over $4 billion in real estate assets across 12 states, encompassing more than 50,000 housing units.

In 2020, Cinnaire partnered with Ascendix to improve their operations through Microsoft Dynamics 365 Online implementation for contact management, property, and deal pipeline tracking

Today we welcome Ryan T. Robinson, President of Cinnaire to delve into:

  • The essential custom features required for effectively managing private equity and lending deals,
  • The challenges faced during their self-implementation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM,
  • The value of partnering with a CRM consultant for successful CRM implementation and custom Microsoft Dynamics CRM development.

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Scope of Services We Delivered to Cinnaire

  • Baseline Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM audit of the existing data model, page layouts, and general process flows to support future growth and evolution of the solution.
  • A CRM roadmap creation for deploying the recommended changes to the current state as well as process mapping support for equity, lender, and developer flows.
  • Custom CRM modules development on top of the MS Dynamics platform.
  • Ongoing Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM support and evolution.

From Excel to Spark CRM: Overcoming Initial Challenges

Ascendix: What challenges did you face that made you seek help?

Before we implemented our current MS Dynamics-based CRM solution – “Spark “- all of our processes were managed using Excel and email, which proved to be very challenging. Also, we’ve encountered other challenges like:

• Difficulty in Retaining Internal Knowledge: Key personnel with deep institutional knowledge of our workflow took new opportunities or retired, taking that expertise with them. Meanwhile, we were hiring more staff each quarter as our footprint expanded.

• Unmanageable Excel-based Pipeline: Our pipeline, containing hundreds of deals, was managed in Excel, and accessed by numerous employees, which became unmanageable. The file would often break, with people deleting or altering information they shouldn't, compromising the integrity of the pipeline.

• Reporting Challenges: When questions arose about the status of our pipeline, assembling an accurate, up-to-date report became almost a full project.

Therefore, we needed a solution that allowed us to track the status of all opportunities in real-time throughout this workflow.

Ascendix: What specific requirements did you have for the Microsoft Dynamics CRM configurations and functionality to support private equity and lending deals?

When we initiated this Microsoft Dynamics CRM customization project, we sought external help to develop a more efficient workflow system. The initial concept was straightforward: we wanted a system where a business developer could input information from a conversation with a partner.

The CRM system also had to automate workflow that would seamlessly transition a deal from the ideation stage to closing, while keeping relevant team members informed throughout the process.

As opportunities progressed and became more concrete, the system would advance through various stages, accumulating more data to reinforce the integrity of each deal record.

Ascendix: What solutions has Ascendix provided in response to the operational challenges you were facing at Cinnaire?

Initially, Spark started with equity and lending workflows when the system was launched on February 15, 2022. However, we've seen considerable expansion in its application over the last two years. We've built out additional modules like:

• A Disposition Module supports the Asset Management department in navigating developer partnerships once the tax credit compliance period concludes after 15 years. This module aids in managing the exit process for limited partners and tracking valuations and data related to property. Asset Management Compliance Team uses Spark CRM to track and manage data related to annual property inspections and tenant reviews.

• Events Module, which initially served to organize events and conferences, streamlining the invitation process for staff sign-ups and managerial approvals, has evolved to encompass tracking sponsorship opportunities, the distribution of marketing materials, and inventory management. It also facilitates order tracking for new inventory allowing logging an order, recording its receipt, and verifying its accuracy, automating the entire event tracking process for our team. It replaced the old method of using Excel, which was often inaccurate.

The latest module developed was for our ‘Innovation Team' that explores new opportunities for the company, presenting these opportunities to the Executive Team to decide whether to integrate them into our operations or not. We created a step-by-step process within this module that enables the team to gather staff ideas, compile relevant data, and guide them through the executive approval process.

All these modules highlight the flexibility and ease of developing new features within Dynamics 365 CRM.

“Working with Ascendix feels like a true partnership, something I've rarely experienced with other vendors.

It's like working with a team where I can just send a message, and everyone is there, ready to assist.

It's more than just business; it quickly evolves into a partnership that feels both personal and professional, which is something I truly appreciate and want to continue fostering.”

Ryan T. Robinson, President, Cinnaire Syndication

Ascendix: What was the project team composition?

The team composition has remained relatively stable throughout the project. Initially, the team structure was the following:

• Project Manager (PM),
• Senior Solution Architect
• MS Dynamics 365 Developer

During this time, I met weekly with the Ascendix team. I would bring ideas to these meetings, and by the next week, they would have turned these ideas into visuals.

We would review these visuals together, decide on a direction, and continually refine our approach. It was a true partnership, designing a system that met our needs.
Throughout the development process, the team was constantly providing feedback on our ideas, presenting various options for what we envisioned.

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Future Enhancements for Spark CRM

Ascendix: How do you see the Microsoft Dynamics CRM system evolving over the next few years? Do you plan to implement any further enhancements?

We are definitely planning to continue investing in our CRM system in the following ways:

Automate processes for onboarding new staff and managing transitions when staff leave the company for our HR Team.
Expand the core equity and lending workflow of the system with data integration from other systems. This would enhance profiles for account records we track within our Spark CRM. We are looking to connect these systems to bring back detailed property-level financial information to create comprehensive partner profiles. Provide our entry-level analysts with a history of each partner's portfolio performance. This would include how their properties have performed and their risk ratings.

Ascendix: Could you describe the significance of the CRM system to your company’s operations and strategic goals?

One of the major benefits of the implementation of the CRM system is its role in our weekly pipeline calls where we review the pipeline of deals we're aiming to close, particularly during key times of the year.

Now, instead of relying on printed materials, PDFs, Excel, and Word documents, we use Spark CRM to screen share dashboards directly during the calls.

Our teams interact with live data, ensuring the integrity of the information; and any changes discussed in the meetings are immediately updated in the system. This has significantly enhanced the efficiency and accuracy of our operational processes.

Those calls have become shorter and more focused on the relevant details of the pipeline. In addition to this:

• Checking the CRM system has become as fundamental as checking one's email at the start of the day, significantly improving our communications about fund structuring and pipeline integrity.
• We're effectively collecting data points as a deal progresses from concept to close, building integrity around that data record.
Anyone can query the system for data points relevant to deals at all stages, because they are centralized, allowing us to generate reports and understand virtually anything we want.

Just last week, our CEO, Mark McDaniel, mentioned he was at a Michigan Housing Council meeting where there was a discussion about the rising total development costs per unit over the past few years. He was curious about what our portfolio indicated.

In about 15 minutes, I was able to pull data from the last three years from Spark, including deals that are not yet closed. This quick access to data allowed me to provide him with both historical and projected figures.

I shared this information with him, and he, in turn, shared it with the housing council. The following day, it was presented to the Lieutenant Governor for use in research on housing in the state.

Having this information readily available is incredibly powerful and a significant change from when such data was dispersed across 600 Excel files.

What we're seeing is efficiency from every angle when we work with this system.

Why Cinnaire Chose Ascendix as Their CRM Partner?

Ascendix: Why did you choose Ascendix over other Dynamics 365 CRM consultancies?

One of the most significant factors were the case studies on Ascendix website I read before an introductory call.

One of these studies mentioned your partnership with Colliers, a large real estate company, which gave me confidence that you have experience with substantial businesses and that they are satisfied with your services.

Another point was your pricing structure. It offered a blended rate that turned out to be one of the best and most affordable relationships, producing impactful results.

When we compared it to others, their fees were more than double.

Your pricing structure made a significant difference and I didn't feel like I was compromising on expertise or responsiveness.

Ascendix: What would you say about Ascendix’s deliverables and the quality of the service? What’s your general impression of the services we performed?

I'd give it an A-plus. Ascendix was very good at documenting the commitments we agreed upon, which gave me assurance that our discussions were being taken seriously and followed up on.

Initially, there was a clear fee schedule, and we agreed on pursuing certain builds. As our relationship developed, we became more comfortable and transitioned into a less formal interaction, still committing to paths forward based on mutual trust, unlike other groups we've worked with that are extremely rigid and have frequent staff turnovers.

The continuity and ability to work together based on trust, rather than through lawyers, has been very helpful.

Your pricing structure made a significant difference and I didn't feel like I was compromising on expertise or responsiveness.

Ascendix: Why is it necessary to partner with a CRM consultancy to ensure the success of your project?

I think it’s important to engage with the CRM consulting partner early on. For example, we have three IT people who are brilliant in their ways, but none were MS Dynamics architects.

We were early enough in our development stage that we had to undo some things in our system. And it could have been a lot worse if we had waited or messed around with it for a decade.

But once we engaged with Ascendix, everything changed. We could simply state what we wanted, and it would be implemented exactly as needed.

In addition, our team learned things like finding the right amount of storage in the right places to ensure the system runs efficiently, which was something we weren't as educated about before.

It’s the small, behind-the-scenes adjustments that make a significant difference. That's why it's crucial to bring on experts early in the process.

Your pricing structure made a significant difference and I didn't feel like I was compromising on expertise or responsiveness.

Read a Complete Case Study of Spark CRM Development for Cinnaire


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