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Integration: The Recipe For Success

By Jonathan Tang, Salesnet


 

Many companies are striving for a 360-degree view of their customers, a critical capability if an organization is going to effectively manage these relationships and achieve its goals. The problem is that this view is not easily achieved, because in most cases it is fragmented across multiple applications and databases from different departments within the organization (i.e., sales, marketing, customer service, etc.). In a perfect world there would be a single interface that would provide the user with this holistic customer view. In fact, some vendors claim to possess such capabilities in a suite product offering but in reality fall short on this promise, finding themselves with massive amounts of siloed customer information that ultimately impairs both their performance and that of their customers.

Now more than ever, companies are looking to have complete customer information at the tips of their fingers, in real time. This information can be anything from business challenges to order history and support incidences. Why is this information so important? Each piece presents an organization with an opportunity to better service its customers, ensure retention, upsell or cross-sell its solutions and services and, most important, the ability to ensure that each side achieves its business goals.

So where does this leave an organization looking to take control? What does it need to do in order to get this full view of its customers? The key to success is integration and finding a solution that can easily integrate with its entire IT/IS infrastructure to bring together all vital and fragmented information.

Integration: Becoming A Common Requirement
In the CRM world of the past several years, integration was not the number one priority. In many cases it was phase two or phase three of a rollout plan, with other areas taking precedence simply because the cost, complexity and time required to deploy an integrated solution was historically a major barrier. Companies also wanted to focus on more basic needs such as data collection and reporting. However, this has all changed in recent times, as the issue of integration has become more of an up-front implementation requirement.

The primary reason for this change is that the cost and time frames to implementation have dramatically decreased. With newer technologies available, companies can literally write several lines of code to have one application talking to another. On the business front, companies are finding it increasingly more difficult to retain satisfied customers. Many factors play into this struggle, chief among which is increased industry competition, as this competition gives customers an unprecedented number of solutions from which to choose. In today's world, if a customer is unhappy with the solution and the needs are not being addressed promptly because the vendor is either unaware of or unable to pinpoint the problem, a change can ' and in most cases will ' be made.

Customer retention is only part one of the equation. Now companies are also looking more to their current roster of customers for new revenue opportunities, aiming to upsell and cross-sell; to successfully do so, companies must have all necessary customer information on hand. Integration is the only way to make this happen. With a fully integrated system, the company in question can identify and fully understand key information about that customer, including what and when the customer has made purchases (order entry), as well as when that customer had spoken with someone else within organization. For many organizations, this process is not an easy undertaking for the simple reason that different departments are using different applications that do not communicate or collaborate with one another.

Define Your Business Process
The first step a company needs to take when looking to achieve its holistic customer view is to define this business process. This means knowing the steps from suspect to prospect to, ultimately, customer, and also being aware of what happens at each point in the customer relationship. This information will dictate how the organization manages its prospects and customers. What are your customers' buying patterns? What products have they purchased from you? How often should you be in touch with your customer? Once these questions have been answered, the company then needs to look and see if its current technologies support and enable that process. Is your technology triggering follow-up reminders? Does your technology help you identify order history? To more fully align these processes with the needs of the customers, executives must do the following: review their business process, defining what the metrics that drive behavior are; then determine whether their technology can track the metrics; and eventual ly establish best practices from what they have learned. The combination of technology and best-practice business processes is something of which all companies should be mindful.

Best Of Breed: The Path To Successful Whole Product Solutions
With a clear understanding of the business processes, the organization then needs to identify the technology available to enable or automate the processes. The emergence in recent years of the new on-demand, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), model has answered the call by opening up a new world of opportunities for companies by making integration of their key databases and applications a snap. XML and open standards have also begun allowing companies to integrate disparate applications quickly and easily.

With this array of new options, each with its own unique benefit, more and more companies are implementing best-of-breed solutions into an existing infrastructure. Best-of-breed applications are those that address more specific needs such as sales force automation or customer support automation. This approach enables an organization to leverage both the latest solutions (from on-demand or SaaS vendors) on the market and the infrastructure already in place, thus maximizing its investments. In other words, with the best-of-breed approach there is no need to wipe out what the organization already has in place, whether it is an existing call center application or a contact management solution. This model also eliminates the need for a suite solution that not only adds costs to the bottom line, but delivers numerous features that ultimately sit on a shelf where they are of little or no use.

On-demand solutions such as for CRM present companies with an opportunity to ensure future successes. These solutions should not be looked at solely as an investment in technology, but rather a marriage between technology and a new way of doing business; a way and process that should increase efficiencies and effectiveness across the entire organization. The bottom line? Find a best-of-breed solution and integrate that to your current infrastructure!

The Final Step
When an organization has decided that it is time to get the full 360-degree view of its customer base, it has made its first step. However, what comes next is critical. First, do not take on too much at once. An organization that moves too fast may find itself with an unusable solution. An organization needs to be mindful of what it is looking to accomplish versus what the ultimate end users will experience. Is it making their lives easier or more complex? From your sales and marketing staff to your IT staff to your management, end-user adoption is the only true measurement for success. Further, each organization is different, so what worked for one might not be an exact fit for another. In many instances, each company uncovers its own unique method for leveraging a solid integration strategy.

Define your vision first. Technology is only as good as the vision one can create around it. When your vision has been identified and implemented, the organization will then have a complete view of a customer's touch points, from the initial close to ongoing support, from order management'to account management. This view allows the company to correct areas of weakness and do so in a hurry, as well as leverage areas of success. CIS

As co-founder and president of Salesnet, Jonathan Tang is highly involved in many aspects of the company's daily business, as well as managing relationships with Salesnet's board of advisors, board of directors, and investors.

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