by Dwight Gunnarson, Contractor’s Cloud Founder
Since the roofing industry, in general, is continuing to become more competitive and complicated, managing and organizing your processes and data is becoming a requirement. If you are still running a paper system, you are quickly becoming the minority. Chances are your direct competition is using one of these systems we’re talking about today.
There are many options on the market, each with their own flavor and style. There are so many it may be difficult to find the correct one for you.
Whether you are new to business management software or still looking for your perfect program, I’ll be discussing the CRM software mindset and I will be providing valuable tips that will give you confidence so you can make the right decision.
Reasons for Needing Software
So. What is software? Software is simply directions used by a machine to manage data conveniently. If you think about, the roofing industry generates a massive amount of data. You have information related to the customer, a claim, permits, materials, financials, schedules, etc. It’s only natural that with so much data to keep track of, software will eventually take hold as the prominent tool within the industry, considering automation is the wave of the future.
Here are a number of reasons why contractors such as yourselves invest in CRM and specialty trade softwares. If you are experiencing any of the following, chances are a software is your solution.
Poor Communication – Not being able to find a site address or the correct shingle color can be a clear result of a broken process or system, and it’s sure to create friction behind the scenes. Our products are designed to keep you and your teams accountable, so communication becomes open and transparent.
Not Accomplishing Goals – Being organized is required to accomplish your goals. It’s especially true if you are continuing to raise the bar of your success. Picking the CRM that can maximize your organizational ability will create efficiency that will free time to do other tasks and be even more productive.
Inefficiency Leading to Unorganized Project Data – Examples of being inefficient would include incomplete or inaccurate documents, tons of paperwork, physical files everywhere and physically losing paperwork. Unorganized project information, or lack thereof, increases the time to complete a job which ultimately increases the time to get paid. Choosing a software that can manage your different projects in a clean and organized digital folder, based off of the statuses within your companies process, will allow you and your team to eliminate wasted time and accomplish your tasks much sooner. To take things to the next level, a CRM that can provide you with unlimited statuses of a project is the one that is going to be able to adapt to your process the most efficiently, as it doesn’t limit you to how you can organize.
Difficulty Tracking Financials – It’s all about the money. And if you don’t know where your future money is and have no idea on when it’s coming, your ability to do more work becomes hampered. Choosing a CRM that can track and project where you are and where you are going to be when the project or event is all said and done is what will navigate your future path. Question your providers on what reports are available, and ask how you can filter and customize those reports. The more data you can collect, the better chance you have and scaling your business because you are able to see where adjustments need to be made.
Lack of Structure, Processes, and Staff Accountability – Examples of this would be not having your staff doing what is needed, not having a uniform way to verify completed work, and not having a way to alert those involved about the work that needs to be done. Running a team requires each of your staff to do their job. Unfortunately, if you’re not organized, it may be difficult to know if your team is doing their jobs. This leads to complacency and bad habits. Pick a CRM that can outline your process digitally, notify the team members within that process when a task is due, and track the exact status of any given project to the day. These abilities ensure that the people who need to be doing certain things at certain times, based off of your process, are held accountable to your standards of operation.
Lack of Historical Data – If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. The only way to get better year after year is to do things better than the year you did before. Since there is so much data to keep track of, knowing what data to keep track of may be difficult which leads to no self-analyzation. Without periodically checking on how you’re doing, you’ll never grow. Similar to the financial reporting, see what other reports the CRM you are evaluating has to offer.
Large Volume of Work – I think we can all agree that working a hail storm is a massive wave of information coming in at once. Without a system to manage it, you may be hurting the opportunities that are in front of you merely because of the sheer volume of work.
If you are experiencing any of the above, evaluating your options will significantly increase your chances at streamlining your efficiency.
The Software Mindset
The right software can greatly increase your productivity and efficiency. Having said that, software is not the secret of your success. Don’t let anyone tell you that. The secret of your success is your vision and leadership, and your software should be a tool to help you administer that vision and leadership.
To select the right software, you should first and foremost understand your own business’s needs, as well as its challenges. Are you implementing a process or a plan that governs how you run a job from beginning to end? If you are, hopefully, those processes are written down, so everyone knows what is expected of them.
How are those processes currently working for you and what would make them better? How connected are your staff, teams, and crews? Where do delays typically occur in your processes? How long does it take to get your money in the door?
It’s always a good idea to do occasional evaluations of your business and all of the processes that eventually lead to your output. If you don’t take the time to evaluate what you are doing, you’ll never know what’s working well and what’s not.
These self-business evaluations will make your software buying decisions even easier since they will prioritize what your business needs to achieve the success you are looking for, and this will help you better match a particular software to your needs.
Are you ready for software?
More often than not, the initial investment in any software is going to require commitment, time and possibly a paradigm shift within your organization. Especially if you are coming from a paper management system.
Moving to a new software may have challenges you need to prepare for, and they are as follows:
Goal Establishment – Establishing goals will be the benchmark on if your software choice is truly the correct one.
More Technical Staff – If your staff is not comfortable with a computer or mobile device, they are going to have to be. To get around this, we see companies designate support staff to assist with data entry for the non-technical staff. This is a great way to keep processes moving, but over time, you will find out this is inefficient and costly. Choose a CRM that will invest their time into training your staff properly. Most of them have that already built into their rates, but make sure to ask.
Be Prepared to Commit Time – Everyone is going to have to commit time to learn the system. As hard as we try to make the software easy and simple to use, there are no “magic buttons.” What you put in is what you will get out. Similar to riding a bike though, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Holding Staff Accountable – One of the main reasons for having a software system is to make sure the things you want to be done are getting done. If you have staff that has a difficult time staying on task and completing tasks on time, software will certainly expedite those issues and decisions will have to be made on the value of that staff member. But maybe that’s what you need if you want to level up your business. Another reason it is essential to evaluate your business and to be able to track your users.
Resistance to Change – If you want to grow your business in practically any way, you will have to change, and your staff will have to change along with you. Therefore, you need to be steadfast in believing the changes you want to make are going to benefit you and your company in the long run.
Commit to Using It – As with any tool, it does not earn you money unless you use it and use it correctly.
Change needs to come from the top down. Once a strategy is set, and the rollout begins, it’s up to the rest of the organization to adopt the change. This comes after lots of growth discussions and setting clear expectations for how a new solution will affect your company.
General CRM versus Specialty Trade
Since, there are many options on the market, each with their own flavors and styles; it can certainly be overwhelming finding the right choice for you.
What I call General CRMs are your Salesforce, Zoho, Hubspot, Freshworks. These are the big players that are designed for a broad spectrum of businesses. Most of them are easy to use and actually pretty inexpensive. But they are pretty limited in what they can do.
I’d stay away from these simply because of their generality.
Specialty Trade (Niche)
With Specialty Trade Software CRMs, you should get more industry experience. Here are the softwares that are here supporting this Win The Storm event:
- Booth #214 – Job Progress
- Booth #402 – Cutter Croix
- Booth #425 – Contractor’s Cloud
- Booth #704 – JobNimbus
- Booth #804 – Acculynx
Not all of these programs are the same. Some have more of a focus on insurance restoration, and some may have more of a focus on retail. Some have more of a focus on front-end marketing, and some have more of a focus on job management. Some are basic, and some are comprehensive. The point is, all of them have their own style and by speaking with as many as you can, you will undoubtedly find one that can match your specific needs and wants, if you ask the right qualifying questions.
With any of these companies, you should have a support staff that knows a lot about what you do and how you do it. Far more than a General CRM ever would. You see, these companies probably have the most knowledge and experience in assisting you more than any other service you use since we tend to dive into every aspect of your business including sales, production, admin, and everything financial. Collectively, we deal with thousands of companies and have a pretty good idea of what makes successful companies successful and failing companies fail.
None of the General CRMs are going to provide this type of knowledge and experience, which is the real value in our opinion. Beyond functions and features of the software, this should be the true value you’re looking for during your software search.
Many of these programs, if not all of them, have some sort of integration with QuickBooks. And most of these platforms are almost stand-alone financial platforms to get the most out of their integrations with QuickBooks.
All of these programs handle QuickBooks differently, so if QB is important to you make sure you understand how these programs conduct their integrations.
For more information about QuickBooks, visit our previous blog called
QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop.
Basic User Skills Required
All of us are guilty of advertising that we are really easy to use. And the ones that ARE really easy to use, tend to be the ones that don’t have much functionality.
But the fact of the matter is, none of us can claim that we are the easiest to use because we have no clue what technology skills you or your staff have. All of us deal with the people that now finally got their first smartphone all the way to roofers that create some of the most advanced spreadsheets that engineers would be envious of.
But in a nutshell, here are the minimum necessary technology skills a user of any of these platforms should have.
Basic Browser and Web Navigation – At a minimum, you should have a good understanding of modern web browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Know the difference between tabs and windows. Know how and where to refresh your screen.
A vast majority of web apps in existence struggle with Microsoft Edge and Explorer, due to the fact that Microsoft continues to be very compartmentalized in the design of their products. Because of this, Microsoft has lost most of the browser and search engine traffic due to the limitations and extra requirements for developers. However, I’ve heard they are building a new browser built off of the WebKit engine that powers Chrome and Safari, which should improve things for them.
Email – Most of you probably use some form of Gmail or Outlook-based email system. Web-based email systems are typically easier to use and are easier to access from anywhere. Google’s Gmail tends to be the most versatile and the easiest one to integrate with. Especially when you tie in Google Calendar.
I’d stay away from any Outlook exchange based email. I’d also stay away from any Yahoo, and yes they still exist, AOL based email systems. In our experience, these tend to be the least reliable due to their added restrictions.
Web-Based Calendar – Google Calendar seems to be the most popular calendar system being used today. If you use a web-based calendar system, know your settings and how to use them.
Many of the integrations these programs have are all based on the rules that govern your calendar system. So you need to know how to share and manage your calendars.
Mobile Phones & Tablets – Every day, more demand is being placed on phones and tablets, and rightfully so. Most of the effort is now being placed on making any software more user-friendly on these smaller devices. To get the most out of your software, you should know the ins and outs of a smartphone.
Industry Knowledge and Experience – This is not required, but it sure helps in identifying and understanding the functionality of the software. It is our recommendation industry training is provided before any software or technology training.
At a Minimum – If you have experience with online banking sites, stock trading sites, or if you spend a lot of time on any social media site, and do both on a desktop or mobile phone, then you should already have the technical skills required to use any of these programs.
Hardware will vary based on your job duties and roles. If you’re out in the field a majority of the time, you are obviously going to use a laptop, tablet, and a phone. If you are primarily in the office, then a desktop unit may serve you better.
The most common setup we see is a nice laptop you can take with you and plug into an additional monitor when you’re in the office or at home.
Dual monitor systems are really convenient when you need access to multiple programs at the same time. I would recommend a Dual Monitor system if you are an owner, or you are part of the admin and production departments.
An external mouse with a center mouse wheel for scrolling is very helpful. iOS (Apple) already has this built into their trackpads and magic mice.
Don’t be afraid of investing in good hardware. You’re only as sharp as your tools.
Basic Software Functionality
Any program you look for should have some standard functionality that includes the following:
- CRM (Manage Customer Accounts and Contacts)
- Lead Management
- Appointment Scheduling
- Production Ordering & Scheduling
- Financial (w/QuickBooks)
- Photos & Files
- Estimating (Optional if you strictly use Xactimate)
- Note very few of these, if any, fully integrate with Xactimate. Xactware is pretty particular about their proprietary information, and they keep it pretty close to the vest.
- Job Tracking of Project Status (Unlimited statuses is best. The closer you can look at a project under the microscope, the easier it is to stay accountable and organized)
These are all basic things that most of you do all of the time. The thing is, these are mechanisms to put data into. What you should really be looking for are the programs that do a good job tying all of this data together in a way that you can understand, so you can truly centralize the way you work, with their advanced functionality.
Workflows/Processes – Workflows are crucial to streamlining what you do and help get all of your staff on the same page. Some of these programs have basic buckets that you manually move your jobs through, and some have customizable workflows (unlimited buckets or statuses) that can adapt to YOUR finely tuned and tailored process rather than you having to change and adapt to what they have to offer. You need to decide what’s best for you.
Most specialty trade softwares are designed based on the vision and methodology of how the owner (typically a roofer) runs or ran their business. You need to do your research and make sure the software is versatile enough to run YOUR process. If you don’t have one, the software staff should be able to help you design one that fits your vision and goals.
Custom Commissions – Commissions tend to be one of the things that we see a lot of our customers spend a lot of time on, prior to moving to a software system. Commission calculation tends to take a lot of time. Some of these programs do a great job easing the headache of commission calculation. If managing commissions is a struggle for you, make sure you pay attention to how a software can assist you in this area.
Customer Portals – Customer portals are a unique way to stand out from your competition. A customer portal is also a convenient way to eliminate a lot of those pesky calls you get about what is taking so long, what’s left on my balance, I need a copy of my contract, who is my contact for this or that, etc. Take a second to think about all of those calls you have received this year alone. Now imagine if they never happened, yet all of your customer’s concerns were addressed. That is the power of a customer portal. Use this feature to open up even more time to be productive doing other tasks or getting even more work. Mrs. Johnson will think it’s pretty neat too.
Crew and Supplier Portals – Like customer portals, a crew or supplier portal is a convenient and easier way for your crews and suppliers to do business with you. Crew portals allow your crews to manage their work orders with you and upload inspection pictures directly. And supplier portals make ordering and pricing updates easier. Some of the CRM companies allow you to use this feature and they won’t bill you user rates for those crews.
Integrations with other programs – The future strength of these softwares will be dependent on how well they integrate with other programs. For instance, any of these programs will be hard pressed to make photo functionality better than CompanyCam. That’s why most of us integrate with them. In fact, Contractors Cloud was the first company to ever integrate with CompanyCam, and that is something we are very proud of. The same goes for hail mapping services like HailTrace and HailWatch, Eagleview, etc. When there is a company who clearly sets the standard on how to accomplish an objective, they become the obvious choice pretty easily.
Take all of the above functions and prioritize which ones are the most important to you. Then use this as your guide during your software evaluation process.
It’s important to define and focus on what your company needs versus what features are available. Simply choosing a software that has shiny bells and whistles without understanding how they benefit you may not be in your best interests. Sacrificing price for features should never be an option either. When you start sacrificing your efficiency to save a few bucks, you end up costing yourself in time, and you have to ask yourself how much your time is worth.
Software that Scales with You
If you are on a path of growth, you are going to want a software platform that can grow with you. This could mean being able to manage a large staff or getting deeper into analyzing your data. It could also mean providing ongoing training for current staff, initial training for new hires, and hopefully user rates that encourage growth as well.
If you run multiple corporate entities, you are going to want a software that can help you manage multiple companies and do it in a way where you can analyze them individually and collectively. Also, you may want a software that allows you the ability to run completely different processes for each company, and even completely different processes for the same company, based off of the specific event, project or trade you are dealing with.
To give you the most freedom and to allow you to run your company the way you’d like, look for the software that allows the most customization and adaptability. Otherwise, you will be forced to design your processes based on someone else’s vision instead of yours.
Let’s face it, there is never a good time to implement a new system or change to another one. But the time needed to get fully operational with these systems depends on the size of your staff, their existing technical skills, and the time you’re willing to commit. The functionality and customization within the program will be picked up on through the use of the product, along with proper education resources and training provided by your CRM company.
Searching for Software (1 to 3 weeks)
Spend time with your key managers to prioritize your wants and needs.
It’s also crucial that you do your research as none of these programs are exactly the same. Be prepared to do demos and have a list of questions and features prepared that you will want to see covered in the demo. It is the only way to see if the software platform fits your needs. Each demonstration can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on your questions and how deep you dive into the program.
Initial Training and Onboarding (2 to 12 weeks)
This varies on your role within the company. Management roles may need more time to learn since they are typically involved in the entire program.
It is a good idea to practice a top-down onboarding strategy which means ownership and key manager training first with sales staff being last. With the more robust softwares, customization decisions by the managers may be required to determine how the sales staff will use the software.
If you spend the required time to determine your company vision and goals with software, that will drastically reduce the time to implement it.
Before you sign on with a program, make sure you understand how available your data is. Be upfront and ask them if your data is downloadable and how much of it is downloadable. It may be outlined in their terms of service.
There may be a time where you leave the service for one reason or another, and if you do, can you download all of the data you entered? If not, you should be able to. You own that data. If you can’t download all of the data, can you at least download the important stuff, like customers, contacts, and general job information?
The security of your data is a common concern. More often than not, all of the data is backed up daily on secure servers. Being able to download your data at any time is added protection that you can initiate yourself. This is a good question to ask each provider.
Typically, you can expect an upfront fee and a monthly per-user fee with these programs.
Most of these systems implement an upfront fee. Some do not. But the ones that do, you can expect an upfront fee anywhere from $200 to $2000. Reasons for the upfront vary from company to company, but typically the upfront covers the following:
- The cost of resources and time to acquire and initially train you.
- The upfront investment shows a commitment on your part to learning the system.
Per User Fees
You can expect to pay $25 to $100 per user per month depending on the system and the functionality they provide. Some have a methodical reason for their per user charge and some will set your user charge by negotiation at the time of the sale.
Most of these companies charge you in advance for the next month’s usage. Make sure the company you go with only charges you for your active users and if they bill on strictly users that are marked active or if they bill on the users that actually log in. If they bill purely on active users, you will have to continually pay attention to who is active and inactive within your organization.
Make sure you have a good understanding of how users get charged and you don’t fall into a trap of being charged because you forgot to deactivate a user. Review the billing policies before investing in any platform.
As far as a return on your investment, excluding all of the benefits these programs provide (time savings, data analyzation, increased efficiency and productivity, etc.), if any of these systems can help bring in ONE additional job per month (with an acceptable profit of course), typically the software is paid for. With that being said, there are levels to the CRM industry, and you have to see which CRM meets the standard you are aspiring to.
Training and Service
Training and service is probably the most important aspect of the software platform. Find out if the software is a first-come, first-serve service system or do you have a dedicated account team. Either one works just fine, but you should feel like the software platform provides assistance that makes you feel like they are truly a part of your organization.
This gets back to the topic of General CRMs versus Specialty Trade softwares. Again, the specialty trade softwares should provide assistance in helping you build your business over and above simply training you on their software. Our companies speak to a broad spectrum of industry-specific clients from all over the world, and the vast wealth of knowledge we have collectively absorbed is at your disposal to take advantage of it and to use what it relatable.
If the software offers an estimating function, you should expect your support staff to know about detailed and per unit estimating, what Xactimate is, the difference between margin and markup, and so on. If the software offers financial functionality, you should expect your support staff to know a lot about general accounting practices, typical commissions structures, overheads and overrides, the in and outs of QuickBooks, and so on. If the software offers production functionality, you should expect your support staff to know about in-house crews versus subcontractors, a vast diversity of material knowledge, and suppliers/distributor operations.
Most importantly, make sure the software’s service team can help you devise a strategy to efficiently onboard your staff. Your time is limited, and so is ours. So having a clear training strategy that fits your company is key.
Best Management Practices
Congrats! You found a Software Solution you like and that you would want to invest in.
Below is a list of how we see contractors fail with software.
- Not knowing where you are going with your business
- Little to no industry experience
- Non-owner involvement
- In other words, just buying it for the sales guys. This is a dangerous business strategy. Who leads your company? Is it you or your staff?
- These systems are meant, or should be meant, for owners to have all the data they need to make sound business decisions. If an owner is not involved, a lot of opportunities for improvement are missed.
- Staff do not have a clear idea of what their roles and duties are.
- It is challenging for us to train company users when they don’t even know what their responsibilities are within their organization.
- You’d be surprised how much industry and business training we provide for each of our users.
How to be Successful with Software
- Establish goals in order to measure success.
- Continue to educate your staff on the industry (Storm Ventures Group University is a great resource)
- Use the software.
- Like any tool or piece of equipment, it does not make you money if you’re not using it. And if you’re committed to using it, then input good data because, in the long run, it will save you time and make you more money.
- Enter good data – “Garbage in equals garbage out.”
- Notes – All of these softwares should have a note or record system. If they don’t …run. Out of all the cool things these softwares can do, inputting notes is probably the simplest and most important feature. Here’s why:
- You can teach anyone, on the very first day to enter a note. And if they don’t know how to do something, at least by adding a detailed note they are letting everyone know what is happening and what needs to happen.
- The least fun thing of what you do is managing customer conflicts and complaints. Am I right? And what makes it so unpleasant for roofing company owners is not knowing what happened, when it happened (or didn’t happen), and who was responsible. A great note and journal system drastically eliminates that feeling since you have detailed data that gives you the confidence in letting you know where you stand with that customer.
- Our sales managers always told our reps, if it is not in the notes, it didn’t happen. Your sales reps need to know that when they are out in the field, there is a team supporting them, and if the team has no clue what needs to happen, then issues arise. And if there was a simple note, that headache possibly could have been avoided.
- Dedicated software master, administrator.
- By having executives on the account, you are able to keep a better look on the overall status of your companies operations.
Conclusion and Recap
Here’s a summary of this article.
- Create a prioritized list of needs and identify areas that need improvement within your organization. Conduct key manager round table discussions often in order to create a unified path of moving your company forward. Then use the results of these discussions as your list of requirements a software will have to address.
- Be prepared for change especially if you are new to software.
- Dedicate the time to research your options. Make sure the features offered align with what you actually need and want to be able to do. Hasty decision making may require you to repeat the software buying process within a year or two.
- In addition to finding your desired software functionality, find the software that has the staff that provides knowledge and support beyond the software itself. Make sure you are confident they are truly a partner in your overall success.
- Create a plan and dedicate time to learn the software.
- And most importantly use the software!
We hope this article helps you be more confident in making the right decision in your software search. We’ll be expanding on certain topics in future blog articles so stay tuned.