In recent years, customer relationship management (CRM) platforms have become essential to any customer care specialist looking to deliver excellent service or support. However, not everybody realizes that a correctly implemented CRM system can do much more than manage customer service for a business. It allows organizations to harness the power of their customer data to deliver unparalleled service, all while boosting sales and streamlining operations.
Gathering and storing consumer data is a must for any company wanting to meet and exceed customer acquisition and retention targets by facilitating the creation of targeted strategies that reflect customer behavior, needs and wants. Moreover, in the age of social media, customers’ electronic footprints are more pronounced than ever before, and as their expectations rise, the previously sufficient level of intimacy between organizations and their client-base is no longer enough.
Thanks to CRM software, customer service professionals have all the required information at their disposal — a 360-degree view of a customer’s timeline of communications with an organization, including emails sent, phone calls made, service calls logged, etc.
And this is something often ignored: CRM can also offer organizations a connected marketing and sales endeavour, increasing lead generation and sales conversion rates via a closed loop of information, one indispensable to the other and both more effective than ever before. The sales team is provided with an overview of the level of qualification reached before they contact a lead, and prospects are automatically assigned to the right salesperson. From a marketing perspective, the entire sales cycle can be tracked through the CRM system, providing marketers — and management — with a way of measuring the return on investment (ROI) of their campaigns in real time. Compiling reports can also be highly automated, enabling sales, marketing and customer service personnel to devote more time to building genuine relationships with customers.
However, it is not possible to tap into that potential if a CRM doesn’t closely reflect your business’s type and needs. So, how do you choose the right CRM system? Consider the following when choosing a system, or when assessing the performance of a system already in use:
1. Cliché as it may be, the priority is determining your company’s requirements. If you see your CRM primarily as a sales tool, a simple out-of-the-box deployment accessible only by sales, marketing and customer service is likely to be adequate. However, if you might require extensibility to other business units, check with potential vendors for such options.
The possibility of integrating with applications already in place, such as email client or accounts software, is another area to investigate in the early stages of your CRM decision. For example, an investment bank is likely to need a complex, tailor-made solution with customized forms and connectivity among various external systems. However, a small family business doesn’t require such complexity and associated costs.
2. A consideration of how the system is going to be deployed and used will have a direct impact on the next question: whether to plump for a cloud or an on-premise solution. The latter might be a good option for companies concerned with data security (e.g. law firms) or those willing to pay more upfront in order to avoid greater total cost of ownership later. For a start-up without a big budget, a cloud-based solution with much lower initial cost might be a better option.
If your company is likely to evolve and require changing functionalities, making adjustments is easier in the cloud than on-premise, however, the capacity for integration with other systems is reduced. Some vendors facilitate a swift move from the cloud to an on-premise solution,so choosing a CRM system that is flexible to accommodate both might be a wise step if you’re expecting your business to balloon.
3. Estimate the expected number of users. In a mid-size or large company it will be high, but fairly stable. In contrast, a start-up is likely to have a fluctuating employee base. If your team shrinks and grows, according to the market situation or even time of the year, scalability should be one of the most sought-after features in a CRM system. Some cloud CRM providers offer such flexibility with the number of users easily increased or decreased on a monthly basis.
4. Mobility is the buzzword of today and not without a reason, but it doesn’t mean that every business requires the same level of mobile access. To assess what will work best, ask yourself these questions:
- Are your organization’s operatives often on the road?
- Do you encourage working from home?
- Will your CRM system need to be updated in real-time?
- Would the company benefit if managers could access the CRM anytime, anywhere?
5. Last but not least, in order to fully leverage the data in your CRM system, you may need to integrate it with other sources of information. Some of these options may be available out-of-the-box, as is the case with widely used software such as marketing or accounting programs. In other cases, a tailored customization might be inevitable; a chartered surveyor, for example, will need to integrate its CRM platform with a geographic information system (GIS) to visualize location data. With every business having its specific needs, looking into which vendors provide extensive customization support is key.
Additional fields and connectivity through links are required for a CRM to pull information from social media. If tools such as LinkedIn figure high in your business’s operations, integrating your system with them might enable you to gain a competitive edge.
Once you’ve chosen the perfect platform, the last thing before deployment is checking whether your company is ready for it. In other words, all members need to support the choice and be willing to learn new skills — the system will not deliver if the staff is not excited to work with it. The best way to ensure high user adoption is to involve the end-users in the decision-making process from the very beginning.
Facilitating the creation and deployment of meaningful communications, CRM can become a tool that enables organizations to show how much they value their customers’ business and provides the real foundation for ongoing loyalty and future commercial interactions. Yet, in the times of a continuing economic squeeze, any investment is a big and daunting decision and CRM systems are no exception. However, studies show that the desire for CRM software has seen stock continually rise, as more and more companies realize the potential benefits.
Amidst the recent hype surrounding CRM systems, it is crucial to remember that the implementation of any software on its own is not a magic bullet that will revitalize an organization and boost profitability. The right decisions have to be made before and after; even the best systems need the best people to make an organization thrive.
— CRM Software— Mike Richardson is Managing Director of CRM solution firm Maximizer Software for the EMEA region. Richardson joined Maximizer in 2000 when he created and headed the Professional Services Team. Prior to joining Maximizer, he had a diverse career spanning the oil and gas exploration industry, the security sector, and business and IT consultancy for SMEs. Richardson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.