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Right system for a growing company

First Mile offers businesses the opportunity to recycle at low cost and is using cloud technology to expand its services rapidly. MRW reports

City centre businesses often have complex and numerous requirements when it comes to waste services, needing more regular collections than those typically provided by local councils and a more personalised service to fit in with their business operations. 

First Mile set out to meet these requirements, providing low cost recycling and waste collection services to city centre businesses in London and Birmingham. It relies on cloud technology to streamline its sales pipeline and provide excellent service to more than 10,000 customers.

Created 10 years ago, First Mile offers city centre businesses waste collection services at times to suit them, while helping them reduce their impact on the planet by making it easier to recycle waste. The company is growing at a pace, with ambitious plans to almost double annual sales to £10 million, and its customer base to 20,000, in the next three to five years – followed by a UK-wide roll-out. Key to achieving these goals, says First Mile chief executive Bruce Bratley, is the company’s cloud platform to drive sales and customer services.

“City centre businesses were being ignored by the waste industry. We wanted to offer an alternative that enabled them to recycle effectively at a reasonable price,” says Bratley. The service has so far proved very popular, with new customers signing up at an ever-increasing rate. Bratleybelieves Sales Cloud from salesforce.com has been crucial to managing the rate of acquisition: “We’ve gone from acquiring three customers a day to 10. Our sales pipeline is very busy and we need to be able to juggle a lot of balls at once.” 

In the early days of the business, Bratley knew he was going to need a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system to manage all of his customers’ accounts and transactions. His small sales team started off using Excel, but after about the hundredth customer they realised they needed a system that offered more flexibility and would allow them to scale up as the business grew. Now, the sales team uses cloud-based CRM technology to manage its full sales pipeline, from lead development through to customer onboarding (cementing customer loyalty) and account management.

“Sales Cloud was very quick to pick up and run with,” says Bratley. “Our knowledge of the platform has grown as our sales team has developed, both in size and requirements. We carefully considered what features we’d need and started off with a very basic interface, with a small number of fields; then, as we got comfortable with it, we built in greater functionality to suit our needs.”

The company is expanding rapidly. As it becomes more visible, incoming enquires have also grown and the cloud allows the successful management of these via web, phone, and tablet to ensure a minimum conversion rate of at least 70%. The cloud generates calling lists for the customer services team and the team now logs over 45,000 calls a year.

As a start-up entrepreneur, it was important to Bratley that the solution he chose would be “easy to pick up without an IT team working behind the scenes,” and he says he found the “perfect match” in salesforce.com. 

“I wanted a web-based service that would enable me to add new users as and when I needed to, and that I could access when I was out of the office,” he says. “The best thing about it is that my sales team and I have been able to easily customise the interface without needing specialist IT skills.” 

Bratley’s team also regularly refers to the online tutorials, which proved especially helpful in the early days. More recently, First Mile rolled out Chatter, a social networking tool for businesses, to ensure the sales team can keep in touch easily, wherever they are, through their mobile phones. So far the team has found the photo function extremely useful for issues reporting – and it even helps to bring in new sales leads. 

Bratley recalls walking home from a restaurant with his wife one evening, spotting a new shop that had recently opened, “I took a photo and uploaded it to Chatter, and by 11.30 the next morning the sales team had got in touch and signed the shop as a new customer,” he says.

Cloud technology allows First Mile to operate in a streamlined way and incorporates all areas of the business. A cost and time saving example is that the company processes 200 invoices a day, posted to its accounts system and then emailed to its customers within five minutes. This alone has reduced costs significantly. 

As well as saving the company money with its relatively low entry-level cost, Bratley says, Sales Cloud has enabled it to streamline processes like lead generation and customer onboarding, and ensuring the whole team has visibility of specific tasks.

Cloud adoption has also helped to increase productivity and ease of management, which has been a crucial factor in First Mile’s rapid growth. The company collects recycling bags from over 11,000 locations, for which the Cloud holds the address and collection information for every location; scheduling and allocating jobs to 40 GPS tracked collection rounds automatically. This year the firm will make four million scheduled collections and 50,000 deliveries. Drivers record information of every job on tablet computers which upload directly to the Cloud. This information is then used in automatically generated recycling reports, invoices, waste transfer notes, and compliance documentation – emailed as PDFs.

Salesforce.com fits our culture perfectly – it’s low cost, social and completely mobile,” says Bratley. “These criteria are always important for growing companies, especially those that rely upon excellent customer relationships and a social approach in all of their marketing and customer services.”

Bratley says he is keen to keep evolving First Mile’s use of Sales Cloud and Chatter, ensuring it continues to support the growing team in the most effective ways. He plans to integrate Sales Cloud with a Sage-based in-house operational platform that runs the company’s invoicing, which will enable greater collaboration between the sales and customer services teams.

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