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January 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 8
CRM, BPO & Teleservices

Needs-Meeting CRM

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

If you own or are with a small/midsized business (SMB) you are acutely feel the need with the current economic malaise to even more closely manage your sales and marketing efforts and your customer relationships than in the past to obtain maximum revenue at least cost. You then may feel the need to buy technology: customer relationship management (CRM) software to ward off the financial chills.

In theory this approach makes sense. CRM applications can help SMBs as they offer an increasing array of features such as customer and marketing management, sales force automation, and the ability to tap business sites and social networks. Many CRM solutions integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP), such for accounting, enable seamless data and functionality links with and for wireless devices, and they can provide essential tools like e-mail and calendar management within the applications for ease of access.

The CRM solutions are available as software licenses and as hosted software-as-service (SaaS). Prices range from $125 per month per user for SaaS to thousands of dollars per licenses, plus IT integration costs for both delivery methods. Implementation timeframes vary from hours or a few days to months depending on the complexity of the solution and your IT system.

Before you rush out and purchase a CRM solution you need to figure out your specific needs, including budget and timeframe. Those requirements are based on figuring out and deciding your customer strategy: how to attract and retain buyers in varying conditions from downturns to upswings, recommends Paul Greenberg, Chief Customer Officer of BPT Partners and author of CRM at the Speed of Light. The strategy should cover the types of transaction and pricing you want to have, the level of engagement you want with customers, and the media that you will use to communicate with customers based on their communications preferences with your firm.

“Customer strategy is all what CRM really is, and then you apply systems and tools to make that strategy succeed,” explains Greenberg. “Your requirements rather than the technology should be the driving factor in buying CRM tools. For that’s all what these solutions are, tools that when picked to perform the right tasks can make your business processes more effective, and interactions with customers more successful and beneficial to both parties.”

David van Toor, senior vice president and general manager, Sage CRM Solutions North America says SMBs are often tempted to skip the needs and technology discovery and scoping stages, which costs them if they implement the wrong tool, or one they soon outgrow.

Sage has two CRM solutions for SMBs, Sage CRM and Sage SalesLogix. Sage CRM is a Web-architected system that can be implemented on-premises or can be hosted. It features turnkey integration with Sage ERP applications, such as the Sage Accpac accounting line. Sage SalesLogix, available only on-premises, Web 2.0 list building capabilities, works well with mobile CRM applications, and handles heavier-duty ERP applications such as Sage MAS ERP.

“Take the time to research your organization's business requirements, define what CRM can do to help automate and augment them, and then scope out an ideal CRM system,” van Toor recommends. ”That way, you will get one that will work in a way that your business and your employees want them to work.”

More and versatile solutions
There is a wide and growing range of CRM solutions aimed at enabling SMB customer strategies. For example Vantage Communications new vPlatform™ CRM provides customer retention and revenue and sales force automation enhancement tools, marketing campaign ROI analysis, analytics and reporting, and business intelligence functionality.

Many CRM solutions continue to evolve with new features. Microsoft has enhanced its hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online with the ability to create, monitor and optimize Internet marketing campaigns. Users can capture sales leads from the Web, launch and manage search engine campaigns, and perform keyword research and bidding. They can also analyze marketing ROI via click-through and conversion rate, and unify search engine intelligence with CRM analytics to optimize campaign performance. There is increased availability of SMB-targeted CRM solutions via well-known and ultrareliable resellers. HP’s extensive network of value-added resellers now offer NetSuite’s comprehensive integrated business management suite that includes not only CRM but ERP and e-commerce applications.

There are new and enhanced mobile CRM applications rightsized for SMBs that enables you and your team to respond immediately and effectively to customers and prospects wherever you are. That avoids time-consuming, money (and fuel) wasting, and sales-losing trips back to the office.

Maximizer Software’s Maximizer CRM 10.5 provides realtime customer service case management through wireless web access. Users have real-time online access to the corporate CRM system to dig deeper into specific accounts or expand searches via the web browser integrated with the mobile application on the device. They can quickly obtain offline subsets of customer information stored on their smartphones, synchronized back to the main CRM system.

SMB-aimed business and social networking solutions
The keys to CRM is knowing your customers well; the more you find out about them the higher your chances of acquiring and keeping them at a profit by offering and delivering right-sized service that meets their needs. That means tapping online business information sources and social networks to obtain that knowledge.

Sugar’s new Sugar CRM 5.2, appends additional information about customers and prospects by drawing from business web presences such as Hoovers and InsideView and by hovering over social networking sites such as LinkedIn and other networks. Firms can use this data to get introductions and structure conversations around this kind of relationships so that you’re not calling cold. These make even the smallest sales organizations as information-rich and powerful as the largest ones.

“We realized that even small businesses sell the same way as large businesses do, “explains Martin Schneider, Director, Product Marketing, Sugar CRM. “It is about discovering relationships and about having as much information about customers as possible before you make the first sales call.”

This knowledge gathering includes enabling sales team members to beehive: sharing information within your company’s work social networks that together will help find and generate more, and more profitable customers.

Oracle’s Oracle On Demand Release 15 features collaboration or ‘internal social networking’ driven by the combination of Sticky Notes and a Message Center. They allow back-and-forth commentary that is up-to-date, consolidated, centralized, and easily accessible and viewable through a home page, without having to navigate to specific records. For example, pertinent team members can subscribe to sticky notes, creating a social network that is associated with an opportunity where all members of the network are kept up to date simultaneously.

Keeping It Simple, and Familiar
Many of these solutions have been fine-tuned to meet specific SMB needs, including ease of use and low costs. Peter Marston, an analyst with Forrester Research points as one example to Zoho, which provides drastically simplified functionality for business to consumer interactions and pricing to match. Paul Greenberg points to Really Simple Solutions as one such CRM solution he likes for the small business. It offers a comprehensive set of sales, customer service, and marketing support tools that are simple to use and affordably and easily priced, based per user and per module. You can turn on and turn off whatever functionality you need. Pricing is uniform regardless of users: you get more modules for the same money the more users you have.

“A lot of these CRM vendors are small companies themselves so they tend to know what they need, so in that regard they learn from themselves,” says Greenberg.

Ease of use can also include appearance and manipulation that are similar to other and more familiar applications. Pivotal CRM 6.0, from CDC Software, provides users with out-of-the box, task-based navigation, forms and portals that have the look and feel of Microsoft applications and can model complex workflow thanks to being built on Microsoft’s .NET platform. Pivotal 6.0 is integrated with Microsoft Outlook including calendaring, task and e-mail within the platform, enabling you to handle these tasks while without having to exit the CRM system.

Similarly, Salesforce.com has integrated productivity and collaboration tools such as Google apps, which gives companies e-mail, calendar, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, website development, instant messaging, and even video production right from salesforce.com. With this, SMBs have a hosted one-stop shop for these key and integrated applications they need to run their business.

“SMBs have a lot to do and their staff typically wears many hats on a given day,” explains Sean Whiteley, co-founder of startup Kieden, acquired by Salesforce.com in 2006 and who is Salesforce.com’s Senior Director of Applications. "They don't necessarily have a person they can put on every project. It's great when you can go to one place for all of your needs, giving you more time to focus on running your business, and less time dealing with infrastructure and software.”

CRM Solutions Delivery Options
There are two key CRM software delivery choices: premises or SaaS. Premise-based solutions are more expensive up front yet they allow for more features, and customizations. Also the software licenses are yours. SaaS provides hosted, integrated, and readily connected applications at a lower initial price and IT costs than the alternative of buying and installing premise-based software. It is also easier, though still not easy, to cancel a SaaS solution and switch to other vendors as compared with removing old and installing and integrating with new software.

BPT Partners’ Greenberg says on balance and for most applications SaaS is usually a better option for SMBs. The exceptions tend to be for where firms are handling sensitive personal, business, and government data. With SaaS the data is being handled in the cloud, and that may cause concern by these customers that the information could be intercepted.

“Every case is individual so businesses have to evaluate their choices carefully but typically a small business is better off with SaaS,” says Greenberg.

Natalie Petouhoff, senior analyst, Forrester Research points out that even with flexibility of SaaS you still need to do your homework on your suppliers before deciding on them, and not take the decisions to drop your vendor lightly. Even with SaaS applications there is plenty of client-side work entailed in moving from one to another including data handling and staff training.

“The reality is that once you go down the path of SaaS-enabled CRM, are you really going to cancel?” she asks.

Regardless of delivery method, be prepared to spend time and resources on integrating especially the more complex CRM solutions with your existing system, especially your database software. While CRM software has improved over the years in ease of installation and use, it is still one of the most complex solutions an organization can invest in.

New methods, such as open-source software (see article this issue) and SaaS can make integration easier, says Forrester’s Marston. Yet organizations usually need for their existing tools to be service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based to benefit. SOA allows different applications to exchange information with each other.

If integration is a serious concern, look for CRM applications that can easily mesh with your applications. Similar technology stacks integrate easier than disparate ones, Marston points out. For example CDC's Pivotal is built on .Net, so it integrates well with Microsoft SQL databases and applications. Integrating it to SAP can be done, but that will require more work.

“To wring maximum value out of your CRM solution: from implementation to ongoing use you need to be fully committed to it and to make it happen, including organizational alignment with it, along with planning, leadership, staff training, and communication, “ recommends Marston.

Connecting the CRM and Voice When you log into your CRM system you will typically get information at your fingertips on the e-mails, IMs, texts, web responses, even chat sessions conducted and received by your staff. You can also determine how quickly your agents and salespeople are responding to leads and inquiries, read the content of these interactions, and track their close rates.

Yet without spending tens of thousands of dollars or more you can’t find this information out from voice, even though it is still the most important interaction channel. While there have long been links to phones i.e. CTI, they do not permit the intelligence from calls to be transmitted to CRM applications.

Fonality’s new PBXtra Unified Agent Edition provides offers an affordable plug-and-play solution to obtaining voice information by combining phone system, contact center, and CRM capabilities to provide a complete view of contact center operations. Unified Agent Edition is integrated with Salesforce.com’s App Exchange. That permits call detail records and other telephony intelligence handled via Fonality’s cloud-based routing solution piped into businesses’ Salesforce.com system. Integrations with other similar CRM solutions may be offered in the future.

The voice/CRM connectivity is enabled by Fonality’s telephony and Salesforce.com’s CRM databases being live in the cloud. This integration is difficult to accomplish with premise-based telephony solutions, explains Fonality CEO and founder Chris Lyman, because the telephony data is locked behind a firewall and therefore cannot be elegantly made to co-operate with a remote CRM system. That is, without costly and custom integration work.

“CRM, as we know it today, is a broken promise.” says Lyman. “It promises to give you a 360 degree view of your customer, but most people spend half their day talking on the phone to their customers and these interactions simply do not display in today’s CRM systems. This makes it impossible to do analytics and watch your bottom line. That is a line that everybody needs to have a keen eye on it today’s economy.”

The following companies participated in this article:

CDC Software (Pivotal)

Fonality (News - Alert)

Maximizer Software

Microsoft (News - Alert)


Oracle (News - Alert)

Really Simple Systems

Sage Software

Salesforce.com (News - Alert)

Vantage Communications

Zoho (News - Alert) CRM

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