This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions
Due to the cost and the technical prowess required to employ them, customer relationship management solutions used to live solely in the domain of the large enterprise. Today, however, CRM is within reach of a much broader array of organizations as a result of new pricing models afforded by the introduction of software-as-a-service offers, and just the competitive nature of the customer relationship management space at large.
In fact, Microsoft (News - Alert) reportedly has gone as far as offering cash to organizations that switch to its Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution. An August article on The Street website says that Microsoft will pay $150 in cash per user seat (for a minimum of 50 seats per company) for customers that agree to a two-year contract to use its Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online service. The move apparently is aimed at helping Microsoft better compete with Salesforce.com, which started and still rules the cloud-based CRM movement, as well as CRM leaders SAP (News - Alert) and Oracle.
Meanwhile, there are many smaller fish in the CRM pond that are hooking customers with solutions that are targeted to the needs of small and medium businesses.
BatchBlue Software is among the companies that fall into this net. Web designer Pamela O'Hara started BatchBlue about five years ago after a publishing client of hers struggled to find an appropriate CRM/contact management solution. The client opted for Salesforce.com (News - Alert) in the end, she says, but it wasn’t an ideal fit. So O’Hara, now CEO of BatchBlue, established the company to meet this market need. She and two friends built the company from the ground up, catering to very small businesses (more than half of BatchBlue’s customers have users or less, and 10 employees or less).
The company offers a SaaS-based solution for contact management, events and some light sales management. It integrates with social media networks so it can pull information on customers and prospects from Facebook (News - Alert), LinkedIn and Twitter. And it syncs with Gmail Contacts and other programs.
One example of a BatchBlue user is VinTank, which employs BatchBlue to manage the seven-step sales process it recommends to distributing vineyards. But a wide variety of SMBs, including bed and breakfast operations, boutique hotels, financial advisors, insurance brokers, specialty manufacturers and real estate offices use the BatchBlue solution.
BatchBlue’s solution pulls together the data that may have previously resided in multiple spreadsheets. O’Hara explains that helps customers get organized, and ensures they are following up on leads and requests. Often businesses that get to the point of realizing they need a CRM solution are hitting a growth spurt in sales, she adds. That’s a great place to be, of course, she says, but it’s also a sign that these businesses are grappling with managing their customers and prospects, so they need workable solutions.
“For the small businesses and the start-up businesses the most important thing about finding a CRM [solution] is finding something that your team will use,” O’Hara adds, noting that the BatchBlue solution is intuitive to use. “A lot of the CRM choices out there can be overwhelming if you don’t have an MBA.”
Parature is another company focused on delivering customer service applications using a SaaS-based business model. Duke Chung, chairman and co-founder, started this business in 2001 just after graduating college.
The company’s service suite – which enables customers to submit trouble tickets, deliver chat on websites, and includes other CRM functionality – is in use by more than 1,000 subscribers today, many of them SMBs, but also by well-known companies such of Rosetta Stone.
Chung says SMBs tend to prefer solutions that provide all the functionality and support they require through a single interface and point of contact. Parature fits that bill, he indicates, by providing a knowledge base, trouble ticket, direct chat and multi-modal support (including voice, e-mail, web and now social networking hooks) all through one license.
Nagaesh Bhide, principal of update CRM Inc., says his company’s offering in the CRM space is unique because it doesn’t require any up-front fees or term commitments. Update CRM works with customers to identify their needs and builds SaaS-based solutions – which can include CRM, social monitoring capabilities, and an upcoming crowd-sourcing product input tool – for them based on that.
“Our business model is totally risk free,” says Bhide. “We don’t have a fixed contract in place, so you can cancel at any time that you want to cancel.”
Bhide adds that people are realizing the importance of leveraging CRM on a day-to-day basis, and that new solutions like the ones his company creates make CRM more accessible to a large cross-section of organizations.
“In the past small businesses were interested in retaining their customers, but they didn’t do a lot of reach out opportunities,” he says, adding that today if he has a dentist appointment, he gets a reminder call ahead of time and the office knows his background when he arrives for the appointment. “Small businesses are definitely adopting CRM.”
Whether CRM and related tools are in use at a small, medium or large organization, however, Colin Shearer, worldwide industry solutions leader for the SPSS Predictive Analytics Brand at IBM (News - Alert), says that such solutions have moved beyond the environs of the white-coated lab technician to become usable tools for “mere mortals.”
Shearer’s business unit at IBM is not focused on CRM, but rather delivers business analytics solutions to analyze customer-related data such as their behaviors, likely behaviors and preferences. An organization might use such a solution to decide which special offers to deliver to a particular customer or customer set, Shearer explains, or to analyze customer behavior to see if it mirrors the behaviors of past customers that have dropped service (so the business can act before it’s too late).
IBM uses a combination of structured and unstructured data as well as attitudinal data to draw such conclusions. Shearer says the inclusion of attitudinal data, which can be drawn from a text or other interaction with the customer, or a survey, for example, opens up exciting new possibilities that allow for far more targeted strategies.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi