Del Webb is an American icon and a corporation. Del Webb the man has a list of accomplishments attached to his name that would take any normal man 100 lifetimes to match. His 20-year reign as part owner of the New York Yankees that included 10 World Series titles would, by itself, be enough to warrant an episode of A&E's Biography. However, history will probably best remember him as the man who changed the way Americans think about retirement living. His lifestyle communities dot the landscape of the United States, particularly in the Southwest. It is for this achievement that Webb was named Time
magazine's Man Of The Year in 1964. And, continuing this legacy is what defines Del Webb the corporation.
Del Webb's lifestyle communities rise like island oases in some of this country's hot spots. But, these are no mirages. The $1.4 billion company delivers homes, pools, golf courses, and recreation wrapped snugly within a community designed for active adults over the age of 55. Webb's concept of community is attractive to this particular demographic. The company closed escrow on more than 6,800 homes in seven states in 1999.
While these utopian island communities are appealing to Del Webb's customers, maintaining islands of data within the company left the IT staff feeling marooned. The 18 Del Webb communities were supported by 18 separate databases all residing at the company's headquarters in Phoenix. To maximize the potential of its 4,000 employees, Del Webb needed to eliminate these islands of data. The company set about collecting the data that inhabited each database and then uniting it all in one repository a rescue mission of sorts.
Whether you're referring to Del Webb the man or Del Webb the corporation, both undertook some immense projects. The man built the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas for Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. The corporation gambled that a new e-business and CRM (customer relationship management) strategy would improve the way Del Webb conducts business and handles its tens of thousands of customers.
Eliminating Islands Of Data
Barring a case of typhoid in 1927 that cut short an aspiring baseball career, it's possible that Del Webb would have become a major league pitcher and not a developer of communities. It was during his recuperation in Arizona that the seeds of a new business venture were sown. His career-ending illness led to the creation of what would become a billion-dollar company. In the movie Field Of Dreams, Ray Kinsella followed the advice of a voice that promised, "If you build it, they will come." That worked in the movie. In real life, however, this was not the case.
To attract customers to Del Webb's lifestyle communities, the company had to manage 18 databases that contained demographic data on its prospects and current customers. "We don't buy the data. We acquire it through marketing campaigns and from customers who contact our company," states Byron Augustine, project manager at Del Webb. "If customers were interested in a particular community, their data would be stored in a particular database. As a result, we had 18 different databases that were managed autonomously. And, the data elements within those databases were different."
Del Webb's sales associates were able to drive home sales, but there were some inherent errors with the system. For example, the company routinely analyzed data across all its databases. After receiving information from each community, the data was rolled up into one report. "This offered a lot of challenges," recalls Augustine. "There may be prospects in many of the different lead banks. This can really skew the statistics."
Ultimately, the company needed an enterprise-wide solution to unite the data that powers CRM and SFA (sales force automation) initiatives in one global database. In order to touch all these bases, Del Webb turned to Interact Commerce Corp. (formerly SalesLogix) and implemented the company's eCRM suite, SalesLogix2000
solved the "islands of data" problems by using one global database (Microsoft SQL 7.0
). The suite would also drive business processes in Del Webb's research, sales, management, and customer contact departments.
Web Interface Connects Distributed Workforce
As a businessman, Del Webb was charismatic enough to befriend recluse Howard Hughes. In all, the two conducted more than $1 billion worth of business. Webb would often meet the tycoon in the middle of the night in a Nevada desert to discuss business. Most relationships do not require this much effort. However, all relationships require a certain degree of hand-holding. Building better relationships with partners and customers is at the heart of Del Webb's new enterprise system.
To offer customers better service, Del Webb uses business intelligence tools that are built-in to SalesLogix2000
. There may be 50 prospects in the database that prefer to purchase a home adjacent to a golf course. When a lot matching this specification becomes available, sales associates can mine the Del Webb database for potential customers. "Our sales associates use query screens to mine the database. They fill in customer requests like lot size, purchase price, and geographic location. The system then provides them with a list of leads from the database that meets these requirements," explains Augustine. "As a result, the sales associates are contacting highly qualified leads. It's a much more efficient process."
Currently, 650 Del Webb employees are connected to the new system. Of that total number, the company averages 600 concurrent users during peak time. Employees can access the data through a traditional client/server connection or via a Web interface. "The 400 sales associates come in through the Web interface. The remaining 250 employees are in research, management, and marketing. Those employees are classified as power users. They use a client/server connection," says Augustine.
Managing Mortgage Documents
The notion of lifestyle communities was a revolutionary concept at its inception. There were retirement homes, but Del Webb envisioned an entire community for active adults. Today, these communities include golf courses, health spas, and clubs. Whether it's a community dance or a round of golf, these lifestyle communities satisfy the needs of their residents. The company strives to provide this same level of end-to-end satisfaction throughout the sales cycle.
The company has a team of sales associates that prospect leads. Once a lead becomes a customer, Del Webb's mortgage company (Fairmont Mortgage) and title companies are used to close sales. "We have the ability to complete the entire transaction underneath the Del Webb umbrella," adds Augustine.
As any bank can confirm, a mortgage is a paper-intensive process and file cabinets are hardly state-of-the-art. Instead, Del Webb uses an integrated document management system from FileNet to automatically manage mortgage and title information. Using a proprietary integration tool, the data from the FileNet system can be shared with SalesLogix2000
. "We have extensive back office tools that manage the entire process of purchasing a new home such as, mortgage, construction, and warranty. Prospects inquiring about Del Webb's offerings are entered into SalesLogix2000
. Once they become customers, their data remains in SalesLogix
, but it is also placed in our back office systems," states Augustine.
A Virtual Buying Experience
Del Webb will be best remembered as a visionary. While others looked at the Southwest as a desert, he saw opportunity. It was this same thinking that led to his success in developing real estate in Las Vegas. Like its founder, the company continues to capitalize on opportunities. In this case, however, Del Webb is capitalizing on IT opportunities.
The Internet, for example, is changing the way most companies conduct business. This is deeply felt at Del Webb, as well. The company is currently evaluating its Web site and how customers interact with it. In the future, a customer will be able to complete the entire home buying process via the Internet if, indeed, that is what the customer prefers. Of course, personal interaction with a sales associate will not be far away.
Customer information collected from the Del Webb Web site (www.delwebb.com) will allow the company to analyze site visitors and tailor its marketing message. Also, customers will be able to request literature about particular Del Webb offerings. Not only will this provide a level of self-service to
customers, it will also better qualify leads for Del Webb sales associates. This will all be accomplished by integrating Internet applications with SalesLogix2000
"Ultimately, the entire home buying process will be a virtual experience for those customers who prefer it. It may take some time for many customers to get used to this, so we will always be able to offer human interaction. However, we are positioning our company to handle what we think will be the business process of the future," says Augustine. "I don't think this technology will ever replace sales associates. But, it may change their roles somewhat."
Combining Technology And Customer Service
Few men can match Del Webb in terms of accomplishments. When he passed away in 1974, he left a string of achievements that may take any normal man 100 lifetimes to match. But, people have only one lifetime. Del Webb knew this. He also knew that life does not end at retirement. Instead, retirement merely signals the beginning of a new phase of life.
Many of the residents of Del Webb communities can remember a time before television. So, technology may not be of much interest to them. Customer service, however, is a paramount issue. What these customers may not fully grasp is that technology is now enabling the best customer service practices. "The mission of our IT department is to build upon customer service," relays Augustine. "The infrastructure we have in place allows us to do just that."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at EdH@corrypub.com.