New CRM Systems – Software Buying Guide

CRM-Customer-relationship-management

Gartner predicts that the CMO’s technology spend will outstrip the CIO’s by 2017. In fact, IT research analysts around the world are predicting that CMOs will control larger technology budgets than CIOs, within the next few years. This change will require good budget control and put greater demands on CMOs to deliver better marketing results. Better marketing starts with good customer relationship management (CRM).

At its simplest, a CRM system allows a company to manage business relationships and the data associated with them, but a good CRM provides other important automated features that can make a big difference to employees and to management; saving time, effort and money, and allowing for more efficient interaction and collaboration between staff and partners, and with prospects and customers.

A CRM system helps keep track of contact information, customer accounts, opportunities, leads and data that relates to the product or service, all from one central location. Typically, nowadays the software will be in the cloud, making the CRM accessible to authorized departments, reducing the time and effort needed to access and use the information, and making organizations more efficient and productive.

Overview of the CRM Market

CRM system features, functionality and prices vary widely. Some systems only offer basic contact management capabilities while others take a more targeted or holistic approach. For example, some CRMs offer specific functionality and interfaces to meet the requirements of sales, marketing, service, and customer facing departments.

Also, some CRM vendors offer industry-specific CRM solutions. For example, there are CRMs with special features and functionality specifically for fields such as medical, real estate, construction or financial services.

This guide will help you understand the most common features and functionality that you should expect to find in a CRM system, and make it easier to find the right system for your business and user needs.

CRM Defined

According to the Sweeney Group, CRM consists of “all the tools, technologies and procedures to manage, improve, or facilitate sales, support and related interactions with customers, prospects, and business partners throughout the enterprise”.

In its basic form, a practical CRM system keeps all customer data in one central location, whilst making the data available to authorized users (for example, employees or partners), across multiple departments and geographies, via multiple access and usage devices (for example, desktop or mobile).

CRM software is used to manage relationships with customers, business departments, associated companies and potential customers. CRM software offers opportunities for better interaction and collaboration between employees, co-companies, customers and sales prospects.

Cloud vs. Server

Most CRM systems are cloud based, with the software hosted remotely, on secure third party servers. On-premise or server based options are also still available – very large companies, especially those with data storage or protection concerns, may prefer server based solutions. However the trend is clearly in the direction of Cloud based CRM systems.

Cloud and Server based solutions present different challenges, opportunities and pricing structures.  For example:

  • Cloud-based software works on a subscription pricing model, normally with no initial installation cost.   Typically, server based software does not although some vendors do offer this option.
  • Cloud based CRM data is stored on the hosting company servers, not yours. As the name implies, Server based CRM solutions are hosted on your servers.
  • Server based CRM Software normally requires an initial installation fee plus the upfront purchase of a license, normally for one or several years.
  • Server based CRM Software, normally requires additional costs for upgrades, maintenance and customization.
  • Both Cloud based and Server based CRMs will typically require some initial and ongoing fees for training
  • Good Cloud based CRM systems will offer APIs for easy and fast integration of third party applications

In both cases, there may be initial and ongoing fees to integrate your legacy existing applications with the CRM system

Whether Cloud based or Server based, CRM systems create efficiencies and boost productivity as valuable customer data, such as customer details, interaction notes and preferences, are immediately accessible by multiple authorized parties.  Most CRM systems offer important and core basic functionality outlined below.

Customer Data Management

As this is the essence of CRM software, all programs will offer a customer database which can be searched and used to store customer information such as sales proposals, past sales and contracts.

When considering different CRM options, purchasers should consider ease-of-use and access to the information by other departments or areas, as different CRM systems offer their own interfaces, data access and security options.

Conversations and Interaction Tracking

An effective CRM tracks customer-employee interaction by documenting phone conversations, social media platform interaction, email tracking and even conversations held in person. These can be logged automatically or manually depending on the needs of the service provider.

Automation
CRM should automate many of the standard business processes, especially those dealing with employees, departments, customers and sales prospects.  This is done by using a combination of calendars, templates, alerts, data reports and task lists.

For example, if a task is checked as completed on a certain date the system should update automatically, adding the next step to complete.  When reviewing CRM options, analyze these templates, calendars and reports, and study the ease with which the information is available across all devices and in different areas.

Reporting
One of the most useful features of a well-rounded CRM system is the ability to track and report on performance and productivity by using captured and generated information such as emails sent, leads converted, new prospects and new customers won.

A good CRM will also include standard reports showing the number of new contracts over defined time frames such as per day, week or month; the value of sales achieved over a defined time frame, the most popular products or services or the most common complaints or issues.

These reports provide management with valuable insights into the health of the organisation and its relationships with customers, prospects and suppliers.  More importantly, these reports provide management with real-time business intelligence enabling faster and more accurate decisions to be made. Decisions and changes that once took months can now be justified and actioned immediately after new reports become available.

Also, the some CRMs will will automatically generate forecasts, based on  the report data highlighted, again helping management with decision making such as the setting of future sales, revenue and other financial goals.

The Right CRM Can Make a World of Difference

Let’s imagine the following work scenario:
A customer calls and the sales agent needs to access shipping information.  Your current system keeps the customer contacts in Excel, appointments in Google Calendar and files or documents in Google Drive. To get the information the sales agent must switch back and forth between programs, and this takes time.  The agent has no idea whether the customer has called before and talked to someone else. In that case the other employee may have an email record of the interaction and the current agent will need to go find it. All of this takes a lot of time and often requires the agent to hang up with the customer and search for the data; later calling back, but frequently forgetting to do so, causing the customer to get annoyed, angry and in some cases, stop buying from the company.

On the other hand, if this information were available via a CRM system, an employee could pull up the information and help the customer within seconds.  The CRM database would contain a record of every phone conversation and email interchanged with the company.

After each call, the sales rep could be prompted to add a follow up task and/or document or pick a next step for the prospect or customer contact.  The system would then automatically alert the person who needs to take action on the operation, at the right time.
This approach would increase productivity and improve efficiency. It prevents employees from “dropping the ball” or forgetting important activities that pertain to this contact.

What Other Functionality Does CRM Offer?

The above demonstrates the essence of what CRM does, but software companies may offer additional more specific applications or features in their product.

Some of the Additional Features Include:

Marketing Automation – This automates and improves sales and marketing management with tools for lead generation, email tracking and event marketing, tracking across websites and landing pages, and web and/or social media marketing analytics tools.

  • Sales Automation – This automates certain aspects of sales management and of prospect opportunity management. Expect to find features that help define and control territory management, sales forecasting and reporting.
  • Customer Service – This Allows agents to easily route calls record and monitor. Automates call balances, autodialing, scripts and computer telephony.
  • Field Management – Helps with invoicing, inventory management and scheduling.
  • Department Management – Organizes associate relationships, department management, lead and customer contacts, market development.

Market Trends

Before purchasing CRM software, the purchaser should also consider marketing software trends and needs for future growth. Any CRM system choice should specifically consider social media channels and mobile devices.

Social Media
With social media now an integral part of the marketing mix, Social Media is one of the biggest trends, and fast becoming a central offer of many good CRM systems.
Offers range from the ability to easily exchange contact data with social media applications through to fully integrated Social CRM systems.

For example, some systems offer the ability to track customer and prospect interactions on social networks. Given the variety of social networks available and their different uses and target audiences, this market is clearly still evolving as some “Social CRMs” only offer the ability to manage or monitor interactions across a single network such as Facebook. Others provide more complete functionality and Social network coverage, covering most major networks, and including the production of complex analytics, management of interactions, customer sentiment, traffic and sales leads.

Mobile Devices
As a large percentage of the sales force is field based and on the road, this group has a projected need for CRM solutions that work on mobile devices such as smart phones or tablets. A trending feature is for CRM software to offer tools specific to mobile devices such as GPS and voice integration, thus allowing a sales team member to view all of the customers in a current location and interact with them via their mobile device.

CRM Offers Opportunities

Marketing CRM software sales are on the rise, This growth is due to more sophisticated business needs in a rapidly developing, technology driven market. CRM software automates many standard business processes; it’s more than a contact management system. It is a much needed and increasingly essential tool.

CRM is customer facing, affecting every interaction between a business and its audiences – prospects, customers, suppliers, partners, employees and others that interact with the business.  A good CRM will store all customer related data, leads and sales information in one place, and give authorized users unfettered access to appropriate information, via the device of their choice, at an authorized location of their choice.

Furthermore, CRM software can significantly shorten sales cycles whilst improving productivity and efficiency. This is a tool that helps to nurture and strengthen the relationships between employees, partners, suppliers, customers, prospects and leads; one that many businesses just can’t do without.

 

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January 19-2015, Written by Segun Osu 3 Comments

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