Creating a Portal for a Modern Client Experience

Apex Leaders is a human capital firm based in Boise, ID, that connects private equity firms with skilled and knowledgeable advisors from across the country, allowing its clients to assemble a credible advisory team from a vast network of reliable sources. They have been operating since 2009.

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The Challenge

As a company that appeals primarily to high end private equity firms, Apex Leaders has an innate understanding of the value that comes from providing responsive white glove service tailored to the needs of their clients. The company had gained a positive reputation for their personalized approach and attention to detail, but they felt that in this day and age, their clientele expected some sort of automated technological processes. At the time, clients would call or email Apex Leaders to launch new projects, review information, and schedule meetings. This led to a lot of back-and-forth between clients, advisors, and the Apex Leaders team, most of which could be automated to save time, improve communication, and reduce mistakes.

When they began to explore building a Web portal to expand their service offerings and address internal inefficiencies, the Apex Leaders team was acutely aware that they needed a system that provided an exemplary user experience that reinforced their brand identity and demonstrated their differentiation in the industry. It was also crucial that the product they ended up with would be adaptable and scalable to seamlessly accommodate anticipated future growth.

Starting from Square One

From the jump, the team at Apex Leaders had a strong idea of what they would need to make this project a success, but as a team with a non-technical background, translating the request to a successful deliverable proved more difficult than they anticipated. Over the course of two years, Apex Leaders tried to build this portal twice with two different Web Development shops, but both attempts were unable to provide the results they needed.

Having failed at developing this portal twice, Apex Leaders continued their search with the benefit of experience and was careful to seek out a development shop that could deliver on-time, on-budget, and with a high degree of quality. That eventually brought them to LaunchPad Lab.

Apex Leaders approached our partnership with cautious optimism, opting for small phases of development so that we could build trust incrementally over time. This allowed us to iterate thoughtfully and build out the key technology in close collaboration with Apex Leaders, and once we’d established that foundation, we were able to transition into a more results-driven approach that makes our ongoing development quicker and more agile.

Apex Leaders - Responsive UI Screenshots

The Architecture

Apex Leaders has been using the Salesforce CRM platform since their inception in 2009. With their first development partner, they attempted to build upon Salesforce Communities templates, but eventually realized that this software could not provide the level of customization that they required, and their dev partners were only offering declarative editing, rather than building something flexible, scalable, and unique to their premium brand.

Heroku Connect was a platform that could sync directly with the data that Apex Leaders had accumulated in Salesforce, while also providing ample room for customization and growth. This made LaunchPad Lab a perfect fit, having successfully developed over 200 Heroku applications in just under seven years.

We approached this project understanding that we needed to create a product that was unique to Apex Leaders and could translate their tailored “white glove” client experience into a digital format. To do this, we would have to create exactly what Apex Leaders needed with no caveats or workarounds. This meant accepting total ownership over the code and architecture.

Staying Open

In order to stay adaptable and truly own the product, it was obvious we had to use open source software that would allow us to write in code as opposed to just offering declarative edits. We used Ruby On Rails, which effortlessly integrates with Heroku.

The Big Sync

Our approach started by leveraging Heroku Connect to sync Apex Leaders’ considerable amount of data in Salesforce to a PostgreSQL database on Heroku, allowing us to expose any objects in Salesforce to the portal we were building on Heroku. We have used this architecture many times with other clients, so we were confident it would work in this situation.

Slick and Responsive

One of the key functions of this new software would be a scheduling feature that allowed clients to set up appointments with advisors entirely through the portal, cutting down on inefficiencies and saving time. We wanted to develop a client-side experience that felt slick and responsive. This was accomplished by writing the front end in the React JavaScript library.

A Premium User Experience

The resulting product is one that empowers Apex Leaders’ clients to own their experience on the platform without losing the personal touch that they’ve come to expect from the Apex Leaders team.

Set Appointments

Clients are now able to connect with potential advisors and set up meetings directly through the platform in a matter of seconds. Once a meeting has been scheduled by the client, a series of emails will be automatically triggered informing all necessary parties, including the Apex Leaders team.

Create a Network

Clients now have immediate access to a conveniently organized list of all the advisors they’ve made contact with. They can even assign personalized ratings and write notes about the advisors to help them keep track of past conversations. Most importantly, this new portal provides every client with a broad and comprehensive (and easily searchable) view of the network of advisors they’ve accrued, making it significantly easier for them to reference as they refine their advisory team.

The Advisor Side

The distinctly different, but equally as powerful, advisor side of the platform provides the same depth of experience and functionality, including allowing advisors to set their own availability and accept appointments in a matter of seconds.

Apex Leaders
“I think everybody here has been really impressed and really happy with where the app is going. We trust that any crazy idea we cook up, you guys can really digest and say how it can be feasible, which is great.”
—Patrick West, Vice President

Exceeding Expectations

The new portal launched in March 2019, and by August, it had greatly exceeded Apex Leaders’ initial expectations.

Within 6 months, over 85% of all new client engagements were being booked through the portal, and an amazing 95% of all client/advisor calls were run through the platform. Further analysis revealed that the time spent coordinating schedules and appointments was reduced from 20-25 minutes per person scheduled (using phone calls or traditional email) to just 2-3 minutes per person scheduled.

Obviously, this reduction in hands-on client service has allowed Apex Leaders’ Project Leads to handle a higher volume of clients and focus more on high value work, improving overall efficiency and giving the company room to grow in terms of client acquisition, while also reinforcing their brand identity as a premium service provider.

Into the Future

Thanks to the phased execution strategy initially employed by Apex Leaders, our team has been able to remain agile and adaptive since the launch of the portal, including building a custom backend admin panel that empowers Apex Leaders team members to access the portal and initiate corrections within their own workflow without having to rely on the LaunchPad Lab team to make minor changes to the platform or data.

Apex Leaders uses this flexible approach to maintenance and management to their advantage by integrating client feedback into their service offering. They regularly capture user feedback in Salesforce and are constantly evaluating it to update the running backlog of updates to the platform, so that clients can see their suggestions absorbed and executed quickly, usually within just 3-4 weeks. Again, this level of commitment underscores Apex Leaders’ promise of quality client service.

We continue to iterate and alter the platform as needed, while also working on some more forward-looking projects, including an algorithm that will suggest advisor recommendations to clients based on their previous experiences and preferences. For a company that started with very little technological presence, Apex Leaders has come a long way in a short amount of time, and the overwhelmingly positive adoption of this platform speaks volumes about the quality of their vision, as well as our team’s ability to listen, adapt, and create based on the ever-changing needs of our partners.

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