Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines recently sat down with Darrel Niemann, CEO of CRMNinjas, as part of our ongoing Partner Interview Series. Zak and Darrel had a far-ranging conversation that focused on growing a managed services consulting firm, technology in the gaming and hospitality industry, and partnering with Formstack’s end-to-end solution. Here’s an abridged transcript of the chat.
Zak: What can you tell me about CRMNinjas?
Darrel: Let’s go back to the beginning—back to 2016. I’ve been in Vegas for 30 years and have worked in various companies and positions. Most recently, I was in charge of IT operations. We had acquired another company, and one of my responsibilities was to take our Salesforce instances from both companies and merge and integrate them into one functioning instance for a large, growing company. That was a great project, and it required a lot of skill and finesse to get all of these different people working together, bringing business processes into one.
As we completed this project, it got me thinking about what I really wanted to do when I grew up! And I decided Salesforce was a great platform, and the cloud industry was starting to grow leaps and bounds at the time. I made the decision to leave my role and start CRMNinjas.
Zak: What is the vision behind CRMNinjas?
Darrel: The vision behind CRMNinjas was that I didn’t want it to be another consultancy or just do implementations. I wanted to offer something a little different than what businesses were accustomed to but be useful and helpful to the SMB market. We achieve that by creating a managed service where we’re offering a service that augments or replaces a traditional Salesforce admin and puts that function into the Cloud. You end up with a cloud-based admin-as-a-service, which we call a CloudAdmin®.
Zak: Admin-as-a-service. Interesting.
Darrel: A lot of companies don’t have the financial resources to hire a full-time administrator, so they either wing it, or they push it off to someone in IT or sales ops and tell them to get it set up with little to no direction. Then the platform oftentimes becomes an afterthought or was set up without skill or best practices in mind. This results in a lack of training, low adoption rates, and missing business processes. So oftentimes, when customers do that, they’ve invested all this money in Salesforce, and it ends up not being used, which is frustrating to company leaders and employees. We’re successful with the managed service approach because we come in, implement best practices, manage the platform in a professional manner, and raise engagement—all for an attractive subscription price.
Zak: It makes a ton of sense because if you’re at a business of that size, hiring one person, what happens when that person leaves? Or how do you deal with the ups and downs and demand of your Salesforce implementation?
Darrel: With the Salesforce market growing so fast, the number of people looking to break into and move up in the Salesforce ecosystem has grown exponentially, so the demand for qualified people has also grown exponentially. And there’s a lot of turnover. A lot of organizations are experiencing exactly what you just said—people getting offered jobs to go elsewhere, people taking advantage of that. So they leave a huge void of knowledge and experience, which leaves company leaders wondering what to do now.
If you have someone like CRMNinjas as a partner, we’re not going anywhere. We’re managing your platform, we know your history, we know your business, and we will continue to serve and support you. There’s no concern that an employee walks away with all the knowledge, and you’re stuck trying to start over again.
CRMNinjas Customers & Verticals
Zak: Have you found any patterns or characteristics around the businesses that become your customers—such as certain verticals, company sizes, or philosophies they have around their business?
Darrel: At the beginning, we weren’t as selective. We’d talk to anyone. But now, we operate well in the SMB market. We found that the SMB market is where we are a great fit. It’s typically organizations that already have Salesforce with between 10-100 licensed users, or they do not have Salesforce and they really want to become a Salesforce customer but don’t know where to start.
In terms of verticals or markets, the majority of our work is in the hospitality and gaming industry because we are in Vegas. Also, we see a lot of interest with companies that do online sales outreach and digital marketing. Digital marketing loves to have a CRM in place for all their marketing efforts and don’t have the resources available to drive proper adoption. Recently, we’ve seen a lot more in the healthcare vertical—healthcare marketing and health senior services.
Zak: You’re based in Vegas, so I have to ask a follow-up for the hospitality and gaming space. This is very interesting. Are there any use cases you can share with us on how businesses in this space leverage Salesforce?
Darrel: Great question. There are two primary businesses in gaming. First, the vendor side, who provide and manufacture all the slot machines and table games. They use Salesforce to sell into casinos and market into casinos. They also use it for their manufacturing and inventory controls. Some of these vendors are quite large, and they use ERP systems and integrate them with Salesforce to bring together a unified system where they can control inventory, manufacturing processing, and marketing.
Second, the property or casino side. A lot of these casinos have an enterprise system in place that’s called a CMS—casino management system—and there are four to five major players in the space that manufacture and build casino management systems. These ERPs or CRMs are tailored towards the gaming market. They have a need to integrate into a loyalty and player marketing system. Whether it’s local players or gamblers who live out of state who they’re looking to attract, they use Salesforce and a marketing platform like Pardot to attract, market, and manage their player gambling user base.
Zak: So the gaming industry has really adapted to and embraced technology as a way to run, manage, and attract customers?
Darrel: Absolutely. Technology has infiltrated the gaming industry. It used to be said that gaming was a very old fashioned industry. A lot of properties today still run on mainframes, but slowly Salesforce is changing the game and leading the charge in helping casinos become more modern.
On the hospitality front, there is interesting development there too. We have customers who are operating their reservation and venue management systems out of Salesforce. They have heavy integrations as well, but it’s very interesting how they’re running their reservations and venues through Salesforce, which enables them to market to patrons who want to attend certain events. A lot of this stuff can happen through Salesforce and its integrations with other hospitality systems—like OpenTable, for example.
CRMNinjas & Formstack
Zak: When along the way did you discover Formstack?
Darrel: One of our customers in the hospitality industry used Formstack, and that was the first time we were directly exposed to your application. From then on, we had some conversations around your product suite and what it is you can offer to our customers. We really liked what we saw and are always looking to find partners and applications that we feel would benefit our customers. The customers we manage platforms for don’t spend a lot of time in the Salesforce ecosystem. They don’t know what’s out there, but they have certain needs. Whether it’s form generation or document generation or eSignature, they naturally look to us and say what they want to do, and then we make recommendations. Formstack is a great product suite that we can leverage when our customers have a need, and we can work with you to implement a solution that makes them successful with your help.
Zak: We’ve brought together forms, document generation, and eSignature around Salesforce. Traditionally, those are three separate vendors, but now we have tied that together as a single source partner.
Darrel: That’s an interesting point because prior to this, in 2016-2018, oftentimes we had to find individual vendors to fulfill individual needs. For example, a customer says they need eSignature, and you go look for an eSignature vendor. But then you have a forms use case or a document generation requirement.
The difficulty there is we have to be competent in all of these different systems, vendors, and applications to then provide service to our customers, both with implementation and maintenance. A vendor like yourself that can offer a suite of services that benefits customers is so well aligned with what we’re trying to do. Everyone wants to be more efficient and to be able to say we can do all this with one vendor, one support team, and there’s no running around trying to get a hold of multiple support teams. I think that’s a great benefit, and I look forward to doing more of that with your team and your products.
Zak: That’s spot on! Let’s end with the Lightning Round, which gets into some fun facts about you. What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?
Darrel: I’m an avid CrossFitter—the older I get, the more I realize I have to do something to make myself live longer! I’d rather not go to a gym by myself. Going to CrossFit where there’s an hour of guided work out works for me, and it’s been beneficial to my health.
Aside from that, I’m originally from Germany. I follow German soccer, and I’m a big Formula 1 racing fan.
Zak: Do you have any productivity tips you can share?
Darrel: Productivity is very important to us, and just like you, we are a remote-first company, so the team is distributed. Productivity becomes very important and so does avoiding distractions. As we have grown, it has become a lot more noisy in terms of emails, customers calling, etc. If you’re not careful, it becomes difficult to maintain productivity.
My recommendations would be to turn off your email or social media and provide yourself with uninterrupted focus time to get through your tasks. Once every hour or so, you can check your email or social and then go back to focus. There are also a lot of meetings, so we try to be very judicious. They should have a goal and an agenda and only those who need to be there should attend. So minimize distractions and have a good amount of self-discipline to enforce your own rules.
Zak: Do you have a favorite TV show?
Darrel: I really enjoyed watching “Game of Thrones.” We are a cord-cutting household, so we don’t have cable. We stream everything, so the Netflix and HBO programs. We don’t spend a whole lot of time watching TV, but when sports are on, I’ll watch racing or soccer. Of course now that Vegas has hockey, we’re big fans of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Zak: What is your go-to lunch during the work week?
Darrel: Because I CrossFit, we try to eat really healthy. We meal prep on Sundays, so we have eggs or turkey meatballs or other healthy foods that are cooked ahead and eaten throughout the week. We don’t spend a lot of time going out and eating, except when the weekend comes around…watch out!
Zak: Last question! Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Darrel: I guess it could be, yes!
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