Case Study: Altvia Saves IMC From Costly Legacy Data Management

IMC logoAbout IMC

IMC is a hybrid investment partnership with an open mandate to invest in both publicly traded and privately held businesses. Their flexible investment directive and evergreen structure provide for a truly differentiated approach to investing. IMC works with management teams and business owners to structure and finance growth equity injections, recapitalizations, succession/estate planning transactions, and take-private transactions.

The Challenge

Based on years of experience investing, IMC has built out an extensive network of service providers, industry contacts and potential business partners that they can call upon. IMC Analyst Dan Nifong says this network is a key differentiator for their firm. “Relationships are everything in our business,” he says, “our contacts introduce us to acquisition candidates, they help us close transactions and they enable us to be valuable partners to our businesses post-close.”

Historically, database management had been a headache for the team at IMC. They were using a CRM system that allowed for significant customization, but over time, customizing the software proved expensive and time-consuming. The underlying platform was simply not specialized enough to handle their specific needs related to the restaurant and retail industries.

“We ended up launching a custom project for almost every additional functionality,” says Nifong. “We needed something that was flexible enough for us to build in our own customization, but at the same time scalable enough that we didn’t spend 20 or 30 hours each time we wanted to make an enhancement.” In addition to their own time spent managing the legacy system, IMC was performing code-level work. Maintaining the database turned out to be a big distraction and a significant expense.

IMC also wanted a reliable way to track the relationships that exist between various contacts in their database. Says Nifong, “You frequently find a lot of these people know each other and the high-value contacts are involved in multiple businesses in different ways. So understanding who is a board member at one company and the former CEO at another is
very valuable.”

Ultimately, IMC needed a restaurant- and retail-specific solution that mapped well to their business processes, that made their deal and relationship data useful, and that would subsequently provide a competitive advantage in addition to being a general contact database.

The Solution

IMC learned about Altvia and AIM from an affiliate who was already using the product. They initially narrowed the field to a small handful of Salesforce- based private equity tailored products and ultimately decided on AIM. “The fact that the team at Altvia understood our business, understood our industry, and also took the time to understand our specific goals made all the difference,” says Nifong.

Much of the deal tracking and relationship tracking functionality that IMC was looking for already existed in AIM. The industry-specific functionality, however, needed to be built into their version of AIM. The process, says Nifong, was relatively seamless. “We discussed our goals with Altvia and they came back to us with potential solutions,” he says. The result includes custom-built functionality that provides simplicity while facilitating getting good data in and out of the system and adding structure and discipline to IMC’s processes.

The benefits were apparent to the IMC team almost immediately. Says Nifong, “Altvia understood the investment management business as well as the specifics of restaurants and retail, and they were able to efficiently create a tool that would’ve taken us thousands of dollars to build.”

The Results

After only a couple weeks of use, AIM was already helping the team at IMC bring their expertise to new deals and portfolio companies.

The CRM functionality in AIM has made the IMC team more effective at managing important relationships. “Now it is easy for our team when they’re on the road to pull up a list of nearby concepts of interest to go check out or call upon,” says Nifong. “AIM helps us provide a value to not only our current partners, but also allows us to prioritize and establish relationships with the most interesting businesses,” he adds. “We definitely have been able to build stronger and more meaningful relationships because of our CRM.”

Though AIM is now providing the team at IMC deep functionality, Nifong says AIM’s simplicity is a key benefit. “It is easy for end users to look at the data, make sense of it and effectively use that information when they’re trying to source deals and build relationships.”

At this point, AIM has become mission-critical software to the Morehead team. Nifong says that most every employee at the firm is now a user and all new employees have their rolodex of contacts added to AIM. “We clearly see it as a high value thing for everyone to have access to” he says.

Finally, Nifong cites the team at Altvia as a key reason for AIM’s success at IMC. “We are very happy with our instance of AIM and the support we receive,” he says. “It has been nice to focus on our core business. With Altvia, we simply ask a question and a few hours later we have the solution.”

A traditional crm was built for general ‘customer’ scenarios

Software platforms have made the world a better place by making work a better place. Indeed the world is better off when people enjoy their jobs even marginally more, and workplace applications on big CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have done that and much more.

But the potential that platforms like these offer presents diminishing returns: once the platform provider has engineered too many industry specific components into its platform, its usefulness for other industries begins to be threatened, and with that so do the usefulness of the component tools built into the platform.

So it is with the CRM category that Salesforce.com has defined: it is generic enough to work for many industries, and yet still offers the potential for others to round off the edges and nail more vertically-oriented and extremely tailored software solutions.

Private capital markets are actually a great demonstration of this dynamic. Where generic CRM platforms simplify — appropriately so — to assume there’s a business, a customer, a sale, and service of that customer, there are a few industry-specific pieces that are missing.

Take for example, that investors become customers by investing through legal entities the GP raises. It’s a subtle but important nuance that just doesn’t make sense at a platform-as-a-service level (because it’s overly complicated for a simple one-time sale that many industries require), but which can easily be added without 10 years or software engineering. Once provided, the rest of the platform’s components become tremendously powerful again and you’re set to take over the world.

As a traditional CRM in our pillars methodology, these nuances must be present to properly account for investors in these legal entities, potential target companies and which are owned by these entities, the context of all interactions with these parties (as well as the appropriate overlap, ie co-investments), and how you’re arriving at finding these opportunities on both sides of the equation, such that you’re able to piece together what’s effective and what’s not. Not just because we say so, but because these are the very relationships and data that are key to the motivation behind a CRM in any industry.

It’s critical, too, that the valuable publicly-available information that helps to enrich CRM systems and save users painful steps of entering it themselves is fully-integrated at the platform level.

Again, look no further than the 3,000+ pre-built integrations that Salesforce.com — the creator of the CRM platform concept — has at a platform level to do so, and which only exists by way of holding just short of overly-specifying certain industry workflows that would present challenges to properly integrate.

Stakeholder reporting and communication (investor relations) draws on a range of datasets

The traditional “customer service” model of CRM systems once again makes overly-simplified assumptions about the customer relationship when applied to private capital markets.

In fifteen years I personally have yet to hear the terms “warranty” or “service call” in this market because it’s just not the same. But make no mistake, as uncomfortable as it may be to say aloud, customer service is more important now than ever and it’s constantly happening; the industry is, after all, considered to be a financial “service”.

As it turns out, that service is primarily information-based — it’s driven by data and takes the form of reports and analysis that drive decisions, and then end up again in investor-facing reports and analysis.

The foundational elements of a private capital markets CRM must be built such that they accommodate this data (like we discussed above), but so too that it can accommodate additional supporting data that investors (customers!) need in the context of service.

Oftentimes this supporting data — financial metrics and time-based values, for example — is believed not to meet the traditional definition of CRM and the natural thought is “well, better do this in Excel!”.

While I happen to believe Excel is still the greatest software application ever built, its introduction to this value chain we’ve discussed herein actually creates the problem many firms suffer from: key data needed to provide customer service (again: effectively the entirety of a firm’s reports and analysis) is now in disparate systems and detached.

Both of those dynamics are important and distinct: not only is this supplemental data disparate, but when brought together there is no logical association that can be made between the two data sets.

Allow me, then, to make the point very simply: not only can this financial and time-based value data (you may be thinking about is as “portfolio monitoring” or “accounting”) be a part of a CRM, it is arguably the most important part of a CRM because it’s at the core of what providing service to the customer entails — information that comes out of data!

Firms need a digital method to engage stakeholders (ie investor portals)

Investor portals are not new; in fact, for many of us — including myself — they conjure up horrifying nightmares in which we’re aimlessly guessing at folders to find the newest document we need.

So in lies the opportunity: not only have the portals we’ve come to hate not simplified the process of acquiring information, they’ve failed to create an entirely new experience that is “customer service” driven.

To be fair, this is not a B2C market where you’d be long out of business for not having focused on customer service and thus the customer’s technology-driven experience. But don’t expect to be around too much longer if you aren’t thinking about this shift.

Today’s institutional investors increasingly expect this same consumer-like experience, and a massive opportunity is being missed by not providing it. It’s not about providing them the experience they desire; it’s more about the ability to measure engagement that is had in return.

Put simply: what’s keeping the market from providing this experience is the availability of the information that’s required to create the service that provides the experience.

If you’ve hung in this long, you know that by focusing on your CRM, you have the data that’s required to manage the customer relationship and the technology-driven experience through which that information is shared to create a differentiated and opportunistic customer experience.

investor relations tool