3 Ways to Ensure CRM is More than an Expensive Address Book

March 12, 2013 Tom Saracene

CRM more than address book

After all these years, we’ve managed to convince organizations that Customer Relationship Management, is about more than a better address book. However, even to many who understand this, CRM is still just a sales tool. Furthermore, even as a sales tool, traditional CRM is often not getting the job done. Why is this? It’s often because taking too narrow of a view of CRM leads to implementations that don’t impact the business as much as they could. The task of opening up the minds of managers and users alike to a broader view of CRM is something we at Appirio take on almost every day. Hopefully, this post will get you thinking about not only how you are using your CRM today, but also how you define it now and in the future.

1. Think About the Customer Relationship, Not Just the Sales Process

Where do your customers come from?
What do they look like?
How do you effectively communicate with them?
Once you have their attention, what can you provide them?
What are the tools and steps necessary to get the win?
What happens after you win?
What happens after that…

This line of questioning could continue through the fulfillment process, to the billing process and on into customer service and support. And then for most businesses we want that to start over so that we can sell more. You can see that it is more than just prospect and opportunity data. We have planning, communication, activity, documents, and even internal operational details like time and expense logs, resource requests, reference and referral management, and so on. This entire lifecycle is your relationship with your customer and your CRM tool is almost certainly up the challenge of supporting, automating and tracking each and every step of it.

With their growing product portfolio including the Sales, Service, Marketing Cloud and platforms, and their “customer company” positioning, salesforce.com clearly supports this broad view of CRM. In addition, they’ve recognized from the start that there are a multitude of steps that an individual company goes through between and around these top-level processes, and designed their platform to support unique workflows and processes to the degree that each company requires. In fact, one of the things that makes Salesforce uniquely powerful is their very metadata-based customization approach enabling companies to adapt the application to their needs without affecting the base application. However, far too many companies fail to take advantage of the power of the Salesforce platform for CRM.

In any organization, you’ll find a significant number of ad-hoc tools and data sources used to track and support customer-facing processes outside the core CRM system. I am not talking about large enterprise systems, I’m talking about small databases and the plethora of spreadsheets we’ve all gotten used to dealing with in order to keep track of the information we need to sell and service customers. These tools always seem faster and cheaper when you create them instead of extending your CRM system, but before most of us realize it, these band-aids accumulate, creating significant bottlenecks and crippling inefficiencies.

2. Bring As Much of the Customer Relationship into Your CRM Platform as Possible

The case I am making isn’t just about getting more value from your CRM licenses, although this is certainly one facet. For me, all roads lead back to user adoption. When we consider all of the typical marketing, sales and service metrics we use on a day-to-day basis, we can’t get around the fact that just about every piece of information in those reports is driven by the actions and data surrounding customer-facing interactions. We need customer-facing employees to embrace CRM, to truly manage not only their pipeline, but their Relationships in the system. One of the most effective ways of driving that kind of holistic adoption is to put more and more of the customer relationship into the CRM system. If you ask any rep (sales or service) if they need additional information or tools, most all will tell you that they need more information, but they want fewer tools.

3. Maintain/Integrate Disparate Data Sources Only if Absolutely Necessary

Now that I’ve laid out the argument for what’s near and dear to my heart, adoption, let’s look at this from a completely different perspective. What I’m talking about is something every company I’ve worked with grapples with constantly, data quality. The single biggest obstacle to data quality is duplication, and we combat this with the somewhat complicated and expensive concept of integration. Sometimes, that is necessary. For example, rarely will the Customer account record in CRM also be used as the Accounts Receivable account record in Finance. The solution here is to link CRM to Accounting via integration. However, most other use cases are not this clear cut. Rather than asking if a piece of data should be integrated to the CRM, we should start by asking if it should live in the CRM.

So what can you do to eliminate spreadsheets, small databases and maybe even software packages that serve a single purpose, provide limited access and are a hindrance to your company’s ability to run effectively and efficiently? The first step is to find them. You’ll be surprised just how many of these you have when you go looking for them. You can then categorize them by the function they serve and then one-by-one add that functionality into your CRM platform. You may even find bolt-on tools in the ecosystems such as salesforce.com’s AppExchange that would make this almost effortless. All that is left then is to move over the data and then throw away the old tool.

This should be a no-brainer, right? Better CRM adoption, more effective users, better data quality and reporting, and you get to throw away a tool. Have fun with this. I wouldn’t have to go too far out on a limb to say that once you get started making these kinds of changes, you’ll start finding more and more opportunities. One day, you may even get to the point where spreadsheets no longer house data because they are relegated back to just being tools instead of databases. Imagine that!

Tom Saracene is a CRM Strategy Practice Lead at Appirio and has a 17 year track record of completing successful CRM & ERP implementations on a variety of client/server and hosted platforms across a wide variety of business processes. Most significantly dedicated to Cloud Computing and helping business move their processes and infrastructure into the Cloud with the help of platforms such as salesforce.com, Workday, Google Apps and others.

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