Aaron Equipment boosts CRM with iBaan software

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Aaron Equipment Co. is a 63-year-old equipment dealer with a 21st-century problem: how to effectively link legacy data with Web-based applications to better serve its existing customers and prospects.

The company, based in Bensenville, Ill., buys and sells process equipment used in manufacturing, in addition to making its own line of equipment. Traditionally, Aaron has bought and sold equipment through printed catalogs that it distributed to users in chemical, plastics, pharmaceutical and other manufacturing industries.

An early adapter of the Internet, the company launched a Web site in 1991 to supplement its print catalog and provide product information, including digital images and specifications. Because of the complexity of its sales, which often require engineering counsel for configurations and pricing, the site is used to assist rather than conduct transactions. Most customers review product information in the catalog or on the Web site, then call to speak with a sales rep.

Despite the technological advances, Aaron still had 20-year-old legacy systems storing customer data. "We had islands of information and an interactive, useful Web site, but we needed a product that could manage all the different types of opportunities," said Alan Cohen, Aaron’s CEO.

The company came up with three core objectives: improve the appearance of proposals, lower marketing costs (primarily printing) and improve closing ratios. After reviewing many CRM vendors, Aaron narrowed it down to Siebel Systems Inc. and Baan, a division of Invensys plc, London.

"Baan was way ahead of the curve in being able to bring our front-office and back-office applications together," Cohen said.

The iBaan software has three primary applications—CRM, supply chain management and product life cycle management—and is targeted at the aerospace and defense, automotive, industrial manufacturing and electronics industries, said Don Brower, VP-operations and business development at Baan. The iBaan SalesForce product is priced at roughly $1,500 to $2,500 per user, with volume discounts available.

Aaron Equipment hired Crowe, Chizek and Co. L.L.C., an Indianapolis consultant, to implement the iBaan software; the process took about one year, Cohen said. Aaron began using iBaan SalesForce in early 2000 for a variety of functions, from improving communications between buyers and sellers of used equipment to handling customer inquiries.

Before implementing the iBaan system, Cohen said, the company’s equipment buyers often had no idea what the sales reps were working on, and vice versa. Now, with an integrated database that tracks buying and selling opportunities, the company has a closed-loop environment, he said.

Aaron has cut marketing costs by cleaning up its database and reducing the number of printed catalogs it sends out. Also, it has improved its closing ratios by 3%, while keeping sales even in a down year.

"I attribute most of that to the CRM package," Cohen said.

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