What is CRM?

 What is CRM?
 
By the CRMDirectory Staff

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Today, CRM encompasses most of the earlier customer centric practices such as Sales Force Automation, Contact Management, Marketing Automation, and Customer and Field Service. It is typically a suite of software used to manage a customers' needs and behaviors in order to develop stronger lasting relationships with them. After all, it’s been proven that maintaining good customer relationships are at the heart of today’s business successes. CRM is basically a business process that brings together disparate pieces of information about your customers, sales, marketing efforts, service and market trends. Today we are fortunate enough to have sophisticated software suites that can help us considerably with these processes.

 

What can CRM do for me?
A properly designed and deployed CRM system will help your business leverage technology and people resources to better manage your sales, marketing and service processes. In doing so, you will gain a consistent picture of your customers and their needs. This translates to value, and allows you to strengthen the relationship you have with each customer to retain them as an asset to your business. Some of the more tangible benefits of a good CRM solution are:

  • Improved customer service
  • Increased pipeline of new leads
  • Increase customer loyalty and satisfaction
  • Decrease lengthy sales cycles
  • Gain efficiencies in call center and help desks
  • Streamline marketing and sales processes
  • And more…

What is involved in deploying CRM?
The success of any CRM solution is largely dependant upon the commitment of your organization. Even more so than the software you choose to deploy.  The benefits described above will not be realized by buying software and installing it. For CRM to be truly effective you must review your current business processes around your sales and service departments. Here it is vital to get “buy-in” from the top down within these teams, and you might as well get the marketing folks involved too. Next you need to decide on the types of customer information you want to collect and what you plan to do with it. For example, many grocery stores keep track of customers' purchase history in order to market appropriate items likely to fit into their individual diets. Custom coupon packets can be mailed to customers with products specific to their buying habits. This results in increased sales while at the same time giving the customer what they want.

Next, you will need to identify all possible ways new and existing customer information can flow into your system. Where and how this information gets stored, as well as, how it will be used and by whom. Your company, for instance, may interact with customers in a variety of ways including mail campaigns, seminars, trade shows, electronic marketing, Web sites, call centers, help desks and sales forces. Your CRM solution will connect all of these customer “touch points” giving all of your various employees the same view of the data. Powerful analytical tools allow the data to be manipulated and reports generated that can provide a holistic view of customers and prospects. Armed with this customer knowledge allows you to take the necessary steps to keep that customer happy.

Of course, there are many trained specialists available to help with your deployment. Many of these Value Added Resellers (VARs) can sell you the software, help with your business process analysis and refinement, and finally customize and install the software and train your staff. They are often more valuable then the actual software in terms of your ultimate CRM success. You will want to select a VAR who can become a long term partner as your business grows.

How long does it take to implement an average CRM system?
While each CRM solution is in itself unique, you can always be sure that completing your system will definitely take longer than a software sales person is likely to tell you. Off the shelf solutions and those claiming rapid deployment may not be good long term solutions as they often lack the power and deep customer viewing capabilities for real success. Many are just contact managers with a few bells and whistles, which may be just what you need, but far from a full fledged CRM solution.

Of course, the complexity of your particular solution and needs will dictate the time it takes for your implementation and customization, and don’t forget that the real work often begins once the system is up and running. Training and a commitment to make the new system work is paramount to success. It is very hard to get people to change the way they have been accustomed to working, especially sales people who need and expect it to be fast and simple. Remain committed to the success of the system and it will work.

How much does CRM cost?
Surveys around the country of companies have indicated that they have budgets for CRM projects of less than $500,000. Not a major investment for many mid to large size companies. There are certainly excellent scaleable solutions that can be had for under $100,000 and well over $1 million. Again, much of the costs will depend on your individual situation and company needs.

How do I ensure a successful CRM implementation?

  • First and foremost, get executive level buy-in and commitment to the project. Make certain that they understand the importance of their role in upholding that commitment and communicate it downwards through the organization.
  • Make the project fun and rewarding. Give all key employees who will be using the system incentives for making it work. Involve them in the early planning and implementation stages. Take their feedback seriously. This will give them ownership in the project.
  • Break the entire project down into smaller manageable pieces with small milestones. Work with all departments to maintain a team methodology.
  • Use a robust database platform. CRM systems collect huge amounts of data very rapidly. Make sure your solution can grow and perform accordingly.
  • Keep in mind that your system is designed around the customer and prospect. Make sure that it is used to its potential in serving them well.

What department should be responsible for CRM?
This question comes up a lot. The simple answer is everyone. What we mean is try to spread project responsibilities across all departments that will have a hand in the success of the solution. While it is usually necessary to appoint a project leader or champion, the rest of the team should be comprised of all other departments. This will ensure consistent buy-in across the organization and enforce team attitudes and ownership. Don’t forget that commitment needs to come from and be supported by the top execs!

Can a CRM system be customized for my vertical?
While there are many similarities across businesses when it comes to basic operations, there are fewer when it comes to sales, marketing and service. Industries such as banking and financial institutions, Telecommunication and retailers have been leading the CRM growth with solutions tailored to their particular way of dealing with customers and prospects. Each of these verticals have very unique needs when it comes to servicing customers and finding new ones. For this reason, many of the more powerful solutions are in fact open enough to allow even the most complex customization that can mold that CRM system to practically any vertical. Systems can easily be customized to work exactly the way your industry needs them to work, yet it will save countless hours of manual labor and frustration in dealing with customers and prospects. Many industry pundits see these custom vertical CRM systems as the real future of the application.

Have more questions? Have some wisdom and experience to add?

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