How a fast-growing education social enterprise elevated to Salesforce CRM user
While many companies today have readily adopted elements of social responsibility, few are solely dedicated to it — and fewer still operate with the efficiency and technical savvy of a for-profit enterprise.
So when Equal Education, a London-based organization that helps bridge learning disparities experienced by disadvantaged populations, approached Vention seeking a CRM solution to match their ramping growth, our team was happy to oblige.
Working hand in hand with the EE team, we implemented Salesforce CRM software, making a few customizations here and there to tailor the solution to their needs. Along the way, we were inspired by their mission — not to mention their impressive growth! — which addresses a critical inequity found not only in their community, but worldwide.
Wanting to learn more about the company's origin and well-chartered path to success, we sat down with CEO and co-founder Paul Singh for a quick Q&A.
Can you share a bit more about Equal Education? Who are your students and how do your programs improve their lives?
We set up Equal Education in 2012 as both my co-founder and I had experience in the education and local government sectors and had seen there was a gap in provision for "looked-after children," which are students in the care of social services. We've since expanded our services to also provide specialist programs for students with special needs and disabilities. We've had a busy few years, and now we've scaled up our impact to the point where we’re delivering around 20,000 hours of tuition to a cohort of over 350 students per year.
We work with local authorities to create custom programs tailored to the student that help boost them in key subjects to improve their grades and hopefully their post-school outcomes. One-to-one tutoring has proven to be a cost-effective and directly impactful way of helping these students, and gives them academic resources previously only accessible to children from privileged families.
Our ultimate goal is to reduce the inequalities in outcomes that we see for students who are considered "vulnerable." There is currently a significant attainment gap for looked-after children, who on average achieve the expected grades 28% less than their peers. Sadly this year was also a record for the most students entering care in the UK, with 80,080 children becoming looked after, up 2% over last year.
Can you speak to some of the operational peculiarities of running a social enterprise?
We are obviously a bit biased, but we're big fans of the social enterprise format.
We're officially labeled a "Community Interest Company"; what that really means is that we're a socially-beneficial, mission-based company. This has some benefits when compared to charities; most importantly, we're not dependent on donations or volunteers, and it means we have a more sustainable engine to pay for the best qualified tutors and scale our impact.
It is striving to find the balance between agility and accountability. Our strategy doesn't focus on maximizing shareholder value for owners/investors, as traditional companies are structured to do.
What are your plans for 2020 and 2021?
We have a few big projects this year that are continuing on to next year:
- We're running a pilot project with five councils in the West Midlands to roll out a whole new way of delivering tutoring, where we provide the tools and training for teachers from the students’ school rather than external tutors.
- We're hoping to find out if this improves the relationship with the student, the grades achieved, and if so how we can scale this to get cost savings for the local government;
- We're launching our first full impact assessment, and doing a really deep dive into the effectiveness of our programs;
- We're aiming to expand the team by quite a bit, hopefully adding a few people to our sales & account team and our operations team;
- We're also trying to grow our program delivering iPads to children left out of online learning;
- Obviously, last but not least, we're very excited to launch the CRM we've built together with Vention.
When did you realize that you need a CRM system?
We've grown a lot in the last few years, approximately 100% each year for three years, and our operating systems have grown "organically" with us. Our system is currently a mix of spreadsheets and Trello boards stapled together with Zapier automations, and our comms go out via Zendesk.
We've reached the point where we really need a unified system that lets us manage the process from start to finish within one solution. Our current setup is impractical in several ways; for example, our team has to use so many different windows to just do our essential tasks, and all of these separate tools and their connecting elements need regular maintenance.
What needs and processes are you trying to address and automate with the CRM system? What are the critical requirements for the future CRM system?
We really are making a true "end-to-end" solution with Vention. Essentially we can reduce our business down to four processes if we slightly oversimplify:
- Recruiting tutors
- Acquiring new clients
- Allocating tutors to students
- Supporting ongoing tuition by addressing tutor, guardian, and client issues
Through this Salesforce configuration, we're looking to bring all of these processes into one solution, and importantly — have all of these interrelated activities linked and recorded within the various different record types. We're still exploring all of the potential automations that are possible, but one of the important ones for us is having a really tailored and appropriate series of automated emails which our different stakeholders receive to keep them informed as they move through the various different process flows, all triggered by status changes on our end.
The key challenge that we're having with our current setup is the scale of our records and the lack of connections between them. For example, we've been active for eight years now and have delivered tuition for thousands of sessions to thousands of students, and have had hundreds of clients and their respective teams. We currently managed this data through scripts on Google Sheets, and whilst this has worked for a time, it's now very cumbersome and manual for our operations and sales team.
Why Salesforce? What other options were you considering?
We went through a quite a long procurement process in order to arrive at Salesforce. We explored a range of different CRMs and we were at one point quite interested in freelance management systems as well. But the key combination that we struggled to find outside of Salesforce was the degree of configurability, and being able to house all of the different record types and functionalities required within one system. A simpler reason is that several of our industry colleague companies have also started to use Salesforce with some success.
Every Salesforce implementation starts with a discovery session. Can you tell us a bit about yours?
Our Phase 0 was probably one of the most efficient ones we could have done; we had done quite a significant amount of preparation work with a consultant and the operations team before even launching the procurement process.
You came to us with an extremely in-depth project specification. How long did it take for you to streamline the needs and gather all the requirements?
We started the process of finding a new CRM completely solution-agnostic. We had no pre-existing preferences, so we really wanted to explore to the fullest what our team needed and then went about finding options rather than prescribing a solution. Together with a consultant, we ran a series of workshops mapping out our current processes, all of the benefits of the way we currently do it, and all of the challenges that we currently face. We used these results to compile a fairly thorough idea of what our requirement was, and then used this throughout the procurement process to fairly and accurately evaluate potential solutions.
It was quite a long process. We might have started our workshopping phase in January 2019, finishing in early March. We had an original list of 13 or so potential providers which we reduced through matching their functionality and price against our requirements. This gave us a shortlist of 5 providers to request a proposal from. Unfortunately in this first phase of procurement, we didn't find any providers that ticked all of the boxes enough, even with MoSCoW prioritised tolerances. So we found ourselves, months later in July, with no provider we were 100% confident in despite all of the work in specification creation and procurement. Thankfully, we were introduced to Vention by Sunil Jindal who was helping us with other consultancy work, and here we are today!
We found ourselves with no provider we were 100% confident in despite all of the work in specification creation and procurement. Thankfully, we were introduced to Vention...
What are the main criteria you will judge successful Salesforce implementation by?
Thanks to all the internal work that we put in prior to the project, we have a very clear list of features and functionalities that are prioritized in what must and could be included in the "final" solution. Naturally, the total specification has evolved as we've worked together, but that will still be our "source of truth" for evaluating how much has been completed, and what will need to be rolled into BAU improvements or even a second project.
How did you come to partner with Vention? What factors tipped the scales in favor of working with us?
As mentioned above, Sunil introduced us after he’d become aware of Vention through some of your promotional workshops and webinars. After our intro call, you then delivered a really robust response to our RFP. It ticked all of the boxes in our specification, was reasonably priced, and we felt confident with the team. It was as simple as that!
Any advice for other nonprofits choosing a CRM solution?
Absolutely. First, create a really clear and robust business case of why you need to make the change, not only to justify this investment to investors/funders but to also keep the overall objective in sight throughout the project. Then, it's essential to include the beneficiaries of the project at every stage of the process. By keeping our operations team informed throughout the procurement, evaluation, and development phases, we increased buy-in and had a constant resource of knowledge to draw upon to make the end product as accurate to current needs as possible.
Thank you, Paul, for such excellent insights. And thank you to the entire Equal Education team for your partnership! We're excited to see how you bring this solution to life.
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