According to Gartner, the world’s leading provider of research and analysis about the technology industry, “CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is not a technology or a software package — it is a strategy. To implement the strategy, organizations use tools and technologies, usually offered by vendors in the form of CRM software packages … using the tools and technologies offered by the vendors to solve specific business problems related to interactions with customers.”
Too often, CRM deployments help businesses manage the sales cycle more effectively, but the software isn’t utilized throughout the organization, so you’re only getting a partial value from the software and you’re not maximizing the customer’s experience with your organization. For instance, when a customer calls a service center, an agent may only have the customer’s sales history and information on shipping issues but not have access to customer questions submitted via e-mail. This means your customer must explain her problem or question — again — to the live agent. True customer relationship management goes far beyond sales, marketing, and support management. But many small and medium businesses tend to view CRM solutions as technology for technology’s sake, even though CRM experts caution small and medium businesses, as well as the enterprise organizations, against this attitude.
In fact, according to the December 2005 DestinationCRM article, “11 Ways to Ensure CRM Success,” “If executives learned anything from the Y2K tech wreck, it should be that technology is not a good driver of a CRM strategy, but reorganizing business process efficiencies and bolstering revenue are. Find out how your company’s customer touch points can maximize those ideas, then give customers applications that work with them.”
In other words, set your strategy first — yours might be something such as “How can my company improve customer commitment and loyalty (leading to greater profitability)?” Then use your technology as a means to an end.
With the right technology — both hardware and software — you can consolidate, access, and store customer data, and even segment it into categories that make sense for your company. For example, say a certain group of customers purchases the same or similar products and services. You can utilize your CRM system to make this information available to the marketing department, which in turn can create a marketing strategy or sales promotion geared to that specific group of customers. Segmenting your customers this way can enhance your company’s revenue in the long run.
By putting customer-centric capabilities and technologies in place, you gain a significant competitive advantage because you can provide both customers and business partners a better relationship experience, including better service and more timely information. In addition, Gartner also reports that CRM software for small and medium businesses drives better bottom-line and top-line financial results through reduced sales and service costs, greater sales productivity, and improved levels of customer satisfaction and increased customer retention.
After you’ve developed your strategy for a customer-centric environment, consider the following points as you look for a CRM system to meet your unique business needs:
- Do you want an in-house or outsourced CRM system? Deploying a CRM solution onsite at your company gives you the ability to fully customize the application for the specific needs of your company and customers. You also store all the customer information on your own servers, so you are ensured of data safety and access. However, hosted CRM packages are gaining in popularity and may make sense to meet simple CRM needs for those small businesses that have had little CRM experience.
- What is the expected time frame for measurable ROI? In the early ’90s, when CRM was first gaining popularity, publications were rife with CRM horror stories — multi-year deployments that almost never worked correctly, or installations that were supposed to take only weeks and wound up taking months or years. Luckily, the industry has come a long way since then, but you should still talk to several of your software vendor’s customers and ask them to describe the benefits they’ve received since implementing the CRM system — and ask how quickly those benefits came.
- Will your new CRM system integrate easily with existing customer information? Any new technology should allow data from existing CRM systems and business applications to be easily accessed or transferred into a new environment. If your CRM system isn’t integrated with your operations applications — including inventory and finance applications — it doesn’t matter that your sales force can take orders while in the field, because they won’t have accurate inventory information.
But most importantly, remember that CRM is a strategy, not a technology. Figure out where you can get greatest return by improving customer-facing processes, then find the CRM solution that best supports your goals and best fits your organization and budget. Then when you look back at your CRM solution in a year, you’ll be thinking not about the technology but of the rewards in terms of new business, more revenue, and greater customer loyalty.