Applying CRM Ingenuity

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  January 01, 2011


This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine.

Applying effective, versatile ingenious customer relationship management (CRM) strategies and solutions that deliver high ROI has never been more critical than today.

A slow economy has made the ability of CRM to focus resources on the most profitable customers extremely vital. At the same time, rapidly growing use by customers and users of mobile and social channels demands that CRM methods and tools embrace them. Yet, budgets are tight, as are the timelines, to demonstrate ROI.

Customer Interaction Solutions interviewed several leading firms and asked them questions on: the key trends are they seeing in CRM demand and applications as well as the solutions they have delivered or will be delivering in response to these trends?

Here are the highlights of their answers. Complete articles on these firms and others can be found on

Consona (

Tim Hines, Vice President, Product Management

Due to the economic conditions, budgets have stayed flat or increased only incrementally in accordance with employees’ cost of living, so investments in CRM are also relatively flat. Where companies are making investments is in replacement technologies or solutions that result in cheaper means, or in investments that are designed to reduce costs. We are seeing a lot of activity in knowledge management, as well as interest in chat, e-mail response management, and in other solutions that facilitate interaction with customers on a cheaper basis.I do see an increased desire to understand the payback and ROI, though not necessarily to get an accelerated view. I’ve found that some companies that made investments in the past didn’t do a good job of understanding the benefit – not just in terms of dollars, but the entire return on their investments. So, now they’re very interested in having a clearer picture of what their return is going to be.

Organizations are [increasingly] looking at modular solutions, and when they are making investments, they’re interested in doing that via a subscription-based or hosted solution. There are challenges, advantages, and disadvantages to using a SaaS (News - Alert) or hosted model, some of a technical nature, some related to security and reliability, and some financial. However, the SaaS phenomenon has evolved from early-adopter phase to mainstream in CRM, and a whole set of companies that would not have even considered a SaaS option 18 months ago is now looking into its merits. That is a big deal. Our bread and butter is saving our customers’ money and this is the approach that guides our product roadmaps. That said, we are focused on emphasizing mobility and wireless clients for all of our products. We’ve based this objective on direct feedback from our customers and it features heavily in all of our near-term plans.

As of yet, we have not heard a lot of call for social features, so it’s not necessarily a big driver in customer desire at this point, but we are integrating it into our products nonetheless. At a recent member consortium, social features and customer communities were the main focus of discussions. Our customers are saying they’re looking to make an investment in them. To me, that says further down the road, perhaps in 2012.

Microsoft Dynamics ( )

Chad Hamblin, Group Product Manager, Microsoft Dynamics CRM

The first trend is a focus on total cost of ownership (TCO). Gone are days where large CRM vendors could justify exorbitant and costly CRM projects. Organizations today want value and they realize it is worth more than software costs. It includes costs associated with hardware, training, consulting, customization, integration and maintenance. As part of that, companies are also looking for ways to leverage existing technology investments in conjunction with CRM.

Another major trend that relates to the focus on productivity and TCO is the emphasis on choice. We often hear from prospects, customers and partners how having flexibility in deployment options and overall choices in how to operate their businesses are a top benefit. The bottom line is they all want choice in delivery models (on-demand, on-premises, partner hosted), in access options (Native Outlook Client, Web-browser, mobile device access) and choice in who they partner with, and they want choice in pricing and licensing terms.

While on-demand CRM solutions currently do not make up the majority of the CRM market, it is certainly the fastest growing area. With the desire to minimize IT costs and quickly implement CRM projects, many organizations are turning to SaaS-based CRM solutions.

We are seeing a premium being placed on analytics and data visualization. People are increasingly asking to visualize data in real time, directly within dashboards, reports and goals or key performance indicators (KPIs). They need the ability to take data and derive actionable insight from it.

The other key trends we are seeing are mobile and social. With the advancement of mobile technology and the need to improve productivity, many organizations are looking for mobile solutions and, specifically, mobile support for CRM solutions. In regards to social media, while many CRM vendors and customers are still trying to figure out how it relates to their CRM projects, one thing that can’t be questioned is its impact in general. Social media has shifted the balance of the power from businesses to consumers and given them a free and ubiquitous platform to voice their opinions.

We have come out with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 that has more than 500 enhancements. This release coincides with our worldwide launch of our on-demand offering, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, which will be released in 40 markets and 41 languages.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 introduces a completely new streamlined user interface (UI) that provides a contextual ribbon, record pinning and most recently used list capabilities, along with other enhancements that help users find information they need, while minimizing clicks and windows. We have also included a wealth of personalization features, like role-based forms, personal views and drag-and-drop customization, which help organizations tailor CRM for their unique business needs and present data to the individual needs of each user.

We have added new analysis capabilities, including allowing organizations to create, view and configure real-time dashboards; there is a new feature called “Inline Visualization” that allows users to instantly create charts and visualizations of their data. We are also supplying new performance management features, like goal management, business auditing and field-level security, to allow organizations to better track performance, identify inefficiencies and improve operations.

We are providing a wealth of new features that allow organizations to better leverage existing technology investments. These include seamless data export/import to/from Excel, the ability for CRM users to apply Outlook conditional formatting rules against CRM data and the ability to create Outlook reminders on records.

We are also including a wide variety of capabilities that allow organizations to better connect with people, systems and sites. One is a new “Connections” feature that allows organizations to more effectively track non-traditional roles and the “Social Connector,” which is also part of Outlook 2010, which allows CRM users to provide social context to their contacts by surfacing data from Facebook, LinkedIn and other key social sites.


Reza Soudagar, Senior Director, CRM Solution Marketing

There is fierce competition amongst companies in order to maintain or increase their share of the wallet. At the same time, budgets have been cut and customers are more and more value conscious. This has put tremendous pressure on companies to differentiate themselves. Some have slashed prices, but smarter companies have doubled their focus on customers and are using customer insight to modify their products and services to be more relevant. These companies are also enhancing their customer service capabilities to differentiate themselves from their competitors and deliver additional value. 

The rapid adoption of social networking technologies is definitely changing the way companies and customers interact; it has also the changed the balance of power in favor of the customers. Some companies have not understood this change and are struggling, while others have embraced this change and are transforming themselves to become part of the social networks of their customers and build the one-to-many relationships. Traditionally, companies relied on the data from one-to-one interactions with their customers to make decisions. Today, many conversations about products or companies are happening outside the four walls of the enterprise. People are discovering defects and finding solutions or workarounds by relying on their social networks and online communities. A bad customer experience could be easily shared and broadcast around the globe instantly via Twitter.

Visionary organizations are taking a strategic approach to their CRM programs while looking for quick value. They have a clear roadmap with KPIs and business objectives, they revisit their roadmaps and objectives regularly and make adjustments, and they also choose technology platforms that not only can deliver value quickly but are flexible and expandable to support their overall visions. 

To support this imperative, we have introduced SAP CRM rapid deployment edition. This is a quick, low risk, economical way for companies to implement essential CRM capabilities in six to eight weeks. We deliver the software and the implementation services at a fixed cost and fixed time frame. Customers can always turn on more modules and capabilities in a later phase if required. This is a clear advantage that we offer over CRM point solutions. Typically, you can deploy a point solution relatively quickly, either in-house or via a SaaS model, but these systems are hard to expand to meet future requirements and make subsequent value delivery longer and harder.

We have also delivered prepackaged Twitter integration with SAP CRM through SAP professional services. We and Sybase (News - Alert) have begun offering the Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM. Through this solution, customers can rapidly deploy our sales solution to their sales forces using iPhones or BlackBerry (News - Alert) devices.

SugarCRM (

Clint Oram, Co-Founder

More companies are discovering the need for CRM. More importantly, they are learning that, thanks to open and cloud-based solutions like SugarCRM (News - Alert), they can actually afford to deploy a robust CRM initiative. This may be an effect of the global economy, as more organizations around the world are seeing the value of enhancing customer relationships, as it has proven that retaining customers yields greater profits than simply attaining new customers.

Social media and mobile are definitely top trends in CRM and, in many ways, are related. Customers want to interact with companies wherever, whenever and mobile devices are a large channel to do that. In a more B2B scenario, sales and support need to have access to critical data at any time and place. In addition, mobile CRM needs to be fully customizable in order to link to social media and location-based tools to optimize the user experience. When organizations research mobile CRM options, they should be careful that the tools are not too rigid and ensure they are truly mobile platforms that can support any number of customizations and data sources to be consumed in a mobile format.

The availability of cloud-based and more open, flexible CRM tools are making deployments more immediate, and we are seeing that in our customer deployments. Also, companies have learned from past mistakes and are deploying CRM in more phased approaches – taking it one step at a time, seeing quick wins and insuring strong adoption before going to the next level. This had led to a higher return on investment versus older “boil the ocean” large-scale CRM deployments.

We have added 13 new supported languages and multiple currency support to the Sugar platform. Secondly, more and more companies are demanding mobile solutions, mainly because their employees are demanding anytime, anywhere access to their critical data. We have unveiled a total mobile strategy, starting with full iPhone and iPad support, and will be making more announcements around Sugar Mobile in 2011. On the social side, we have added a new Twitter Connector that complements the LinkedIn Connector – which gives CRM users easier methods of monitoring and utilizing data and connections in their social networks. We will be adding a lot more social collaboration capabilities both in the product and through partners in 2011.

[sidebar] Non-Profit Versus For-Profit CRM

CRM solutions are attractive to nonprofits for the same customer value-maximizing reasons as for profit-making organizations. But, should they buy off-the-shelf tools?

John Stockton is vice president, product management, Convio (, which provides non-profit-focused solutions, including CRM. He points out that, for most nonprofits, the organization provides services or programs to one group, yet seeks others to fund the mission and volunteer and advocate for it. The CRM needs of nonprofits are greater than those of some corporations because the variety of the relationships and needs are much greater than just a corporation’s relationships with its customers.

“Nonprofits’ constituents have varied reasons for giving, and not understanding those relationships can mean losing their support,” Stockton points out. “Thus, simply adapting a commercial CRM system that’s not designed for nonprofit fundraising, volunteerism, advocacy and programs will not effectively support the needs of a modern nonprofit.” 

[sidebar] A CRM Innovation Sampler

Here is just a sample of some of the other new CRM products and enhancements released in the past 12 months (others can be found on

*          Avidian Technologies’ ( Prophet 5 Ultimate Edition extends Prophet’s existing opportunity tracking capabilities from the sales force to contact center customer service and support and to fulfillment and client services. Prophet Ultimate allows each department to create their own customer record templates. Each template can be further customized with over 100 user-defined fields.

*          LeadMaster ( Lead-Xpress is a lead management solution that provides access to the CRM through email without having to login to the CRM, which saves money on cloud/hosted CRM tools as they charge per user. With Lead-Xpress, managers can send leads and requests for updates to accounts or leads directly from the LeadMaster system to the sales reps via a built-in email function. The emails contain links to simple forms that are linked to the CRM so they can update the status of the accounts or leads.

*          Pegasystems’ (News - Alert) (www.pega.commonitor key social media sites to intercept and proactively respond to customer communications before they become service problems. It has enhanced role-based portals increase the productivity of agents and reps who are utilizing multiple customer contact channels.  Improved content authoring enables creating and presenting critical content to end users in context, regardless of the repository in which the content resides.) CRM offering, Customer Process Manager,can now

*          Jigsaw for Salesforce CRM ( is a new crowd-sourced business data service. With it, users can be alerted to updates in contacts received via Salesforce’s Chatter collaboration, feed and messaging tool. Contact centers, marketers and sales reps can instantly know when business contact data degrades or becomes bad. Integrated Salesforce CRM reports with Jigsaw data to determine if records related to future sales are incorrect or incomplete.

*          Update Software ( has launched the COSMIC (Comprehensive Observation of Social Media integrated with CRM) module. It constantly browses Twitter entries and RSS feeds in search of pre-defined words and terms, and then analyzes the search results. It also enables firms participate in discussions that are important for them. COSMIC can be used for market research and managing relationships with opinion leaders on social networking sites.

[sidebar] Eight Steps to CRM Shopping

Ready to buy a CRM solution but want to make you’re going to acquire the right one? Soffront ( offers these eight steps:

1.         Have a clear understanding of your business needs. This is often the hardest part of finding the right CRM solution. Document the business problems that must be resolved by your CRM, and verify that the system you’ve chosen will actually address these issues.

2.         Your business strategy may change over time. This requires flexibility in CRM, allowing for the system to be fine-tuned easily with built-in tools and without external consultants.

3.         No solution will be able to cater to all of your requirements right out of the box. Figure out the gap and figure out the cost of bridging that gap.

4.         Consider the user friendliness of the CRM solution. It’s easy to confuse colorful, attractive user interfaces with friendliness. Don’t be fooled – true user friendliness is about how convenient and efficient the solution is to use. This can be easily evaluated by counting the number of clicks, steps, or drilldowns are needed to accomplish simple tasks, which could otherwise be performed using spreadsheets or other office automation software. This is critical, since a business solution should never become an operating problem for users.

5.         Understand the scalability and reliability of the CRM software to accommodate your growing business.

6.         Check for availability of services like customer support and professional services, in case you need help in the future.

7.         If you are using “implementation partners” to implement your CRM, make sure your CRM vendor is also responsible for successful implementation.

8.         Understand the pricing and evaluate benefits versus cost. The best solution may not always be the most costly.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi