Guest Column: Implementing the right CRM system

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Building and maintaining strong, solid relationships with customers is essential to the success of any business. According to Adam Sarner, an analyst with Gartner who focuses on the customer relationship management (CRM) industry, obtaining a new customer is 10 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.

It’s no secret that automating and integrating processes and procedures previously confined to paper and incompatible, disparate applications is proving to be a cornerstone for effectively managing customer relationships.

Until recently, affordable technology designed specifically to meet the customer CRM needs of midmarket businesses was not available to these organisations, which are frequently defined as having between 25 and 1,000 employees. That’s all changed – and for the better.

Sales and service

When it comes to customers, sales and service are fundamental to an organisation’s success. If salespeople can’t manage leads and opportunities, sales will doubtlessly be lost. And the service they do deliver is likely to be inconsistent.

Customer service is equally important. When the service is poor, contracts aren’t renewed at an optimal rate, and employees and customers become frustrated. In addition to losing customers, the frustration associated with poor customer service can lead to high employee turnover, which is costly in terms of retraining. It can also cost a business even more customers due to inconsistent service while new employees get up to speed.

Identifying areas to improve processes by automating sales and customer service procedures is a key part of implementing a CRM strategy, which can improve employee productivity while increasing profitability for a business.

One huge challenge businesses face is the coordination of sales-oriented information that comes in from a wide variety of sources and locations in several different formats. The right CRM solution gives a sales force the ability to track and manage leads efficiently from any source and then draw on reporting capabilities to evaluate which methods of looking for customers – trade shows, for example – offer the strongest return in closed sales.

Using integrated CRM technology, the data entered when a sales force is on the road can be automatically assigned to the correct representative based on territory or product by the time they return to the office. And the data doesn’t stop working there -- the marketing manager can access the data to run reports that demonstrate, for example, the effectiveness of various sales activities.

And what about attracting and retaining customers via the Internet? Due to the lack of face-to-face interaction, some customers may be hesitant to shop online. Customers, like all of us, don’t want to get lost in a “black hole.”

The right CRM solution can help your business drive profits with better service to your Internet customers. When they visit, a CRM solution can automatically assign the right sales lead to them, cutting back on lag time. The technology can also manage e-mail or direct mail campaigns, including special promotions, based on data already gathered. And leads that turn into customers and sales opportunities can be tracked through the system.

There is perhaps nothing that annoys customers more than being given different information by different employees. Automating the exchange and availability of customer-specific information puts everyone that an organisation’s customers talk to on the same page, with the same background information and same customer history.

By improving customer service processes, including access to critical service-related information, both customer and employee satisfaction are increased. The right solution will ensure that service representatives work productively and efficiently to deliver consistent service to customers who are touched by multiple employees.

The right CRM solution can also help a company build repeat business by increasing responsiveness of post-sales issues. By selecting a CRM solution that enables routing, automated escalation, and the sharing of knowledge bases, an organisation can deliver on the goal of responding more quickly with more consistent and correct answers.

The benefits of a solid CRM strategy and the accompanying technology don’t end with customer-facing features. The data gathered during customer interactions across a business will prove themselves invaluable tools when it comes to planning, budgeting and forecasting. This means opportunities to plan and manage growth more strategically.

Case in point

For Imaxeon, a midmarket company which manufactures designs and distributes niche medical products in Australia, there were many benefits of implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM technology. The creation of a central database for all customers replacing several smaller databases has been one of the most important changes. Having just one central data source has improved internal communications, reduced duplicated information and makes keeping up to date records easier to manage.

Derby Chang, Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs Manager for Imaxeon says that implementing the correct CRM solution is a worthwhile investment.

“We've had our new CRM system in place for nearly two years now, but its effect on business really started to show after six months.

“We had our vision of how Microsoft Dynamics CRM would transform our business but the full benefits did not become apparent until we implemented the system.

“For example, the depth of opportunity analytics has drastically increased the confidence level of our revenue forecasting and the productivity of our service department has improved significantly. We’re shortly planning to upgrade to CRM 4.0 which has new features giving more configuration versatility and even greater ease of access to information.”

Derby continues “We were able to phase the installation, allowing users with low level computer literacy to familiarise themselves with far greater confidence. Now it’s great to be able to check our catalogues in CRM rather than flick from database to database in search of the right information”

Some key considerations before choosing a CRM solution

Choosing the right CRM solution can go a long way towards improving the way a business manages relationships with its customers.

But before making that leap, it’s important for an organisation to take a step back and identify its sales and customer service needs, expectations and the business strategy behind selecting a CRM system.

The software a business chooses will obviously play a critical role in implementing that strategy but software itself is not the silver bullet solution. Here are some things to take into consideration. While they may seem simple, the amount of frustration, time and money they can save you in the long run can be substantial.

Make sure the CRM vendor you’re working with is committed to helping customers – you – clearly and succinctly define their requirements of the system.

Take the time to thoroughly explain the advantages of using an automated, integrated CRM solution to the people on whom the success of the system depends the most – the users. Put plainly, if the users don’t use the system properly, it’s a waste of your company’s money.

To get the most out of a CRM solution, be sure to select one that’s easy and affordable to deploy. Nothing can bog down productivity and morale as a new system that can’t quite make it off the ground. And, more importantly, demand that the CRM solution you select is easily customisable to meet your company’s specific needs.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to get full value out of your CRM solution, it should integrate with back-end solutions throughout your business. Without integration, you’ll find you haven’t evolved nearly as far from paper-based systems as you’d hoped.

James Simpson is the business group director, Microsoft Business Solutions, at Microsoft Australia.

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