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Around the time that Encyclopaedia Britannica was shutting down its print production, back in 2012, the company was also looking to make a change that would grab less headlines: Shutting down its home-grown customer relationship management (CRM) system in favour of a cloud-based solution from Salesforce.com.

“The CRM didn’t communicate with my other system,” explains Michael Ross, senior vice president of Britannica digital learning for US and EMEA. “The CRM didn’t communicate with the order entry system, we couldn’t get them to talk to different software and code bases, so we had to manually do things. When someone took an order they would print it out and manually move it over.”

Ross decided that he needed a tool that was fit for purpose and started to look into the options in the market instead of trying to fix up the existing system. As he puts it: “You really want a system where you can do orders, emails, content marketing,” and trying to build this yourself is like “instead of buying a car, you decide to build a car yourself.”

Encyclopaedia in the Wikipedia age

As Encyclopaedia Britannica president Jorge Cauz explained to The Guardian back in 2012, the encyclopaedia was already a diminishing part of the company’s overall business when they stopped printing. Cauz told The Guardian: “The company has changed from a reference provider to an instructional solutions provider,” with 85 percent of the company’s revenues coming through its educational products and services, he said.

In shifting to a digital distribution model Ross and his team needed a modern CRM to try and reach its nice customer base of educational institutions.

“We offer all kinds of products, around a dozen educational products that fit a range of needs, from K-12 [shorthand for primary and secondary education in the USA] to university, all across the curriculum. Salesforce allows us to identify those niches and the people behind those disciples a little better," says Ross.

"So a narrow casting instead of a broadcasting model. Salesforce and the internet allows us to be much more global in our reach now. It allows us to get intimate with our customers and address their specific needs more.”

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In short: What the company has lost in terms of a captive audience for the print product they have gained in scale as information has been democratised on the internet. Much like quality journalism, Ross hopes that people will be willing to pay for quality, curated content, even if it is less than the $1500 people used to pay for a set of encyclopaedia.

“The good news in all of that, apart from getting a fraction of the print sales, is we are getting millions of people coming to our sites,” says Ross.

Salesforce.com benefits

In terms of the Salesforce suite of products Ross is specifically a fan of Pardot, the content marketing software Salesforce acquired as part of its purchase of ExactTarget in 2013.

This allows the marketing team at Encyclopaedia Britannica to do “intelligent email prediction instead of blasting people. It allows you to customise your emails. You don’t want a university professor opening an email about a kindergarten product.”

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Ross believes that Salesforce has allowed for a more linked up approach to business, and that the new efficiencies and transparency the platform provides has had a direct effect on the company’s top line earnings, with Ross saying that profit margins have increased by 8% since Salesforce adoption.

“The big benefit is probably transparency,” says Ross, “because all the data and information on our product representatives and customers are visible and in one place we are able to manage our business in a way we couldn’t before. Now that reps are more efficient and spending less time on admin, they can spend more time selling.”

“The benefit is right there, in that our profit margins have gone up with the increase in efficiency, and that’s the biggest benefit at the end of the day.”

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