CRM: not just for the big end of town

The software itself is not a silver bullet

For the mid-market, an integrated CRM solution improves business productivity at a low total cost of ownership.

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 though, affordable technology designed specifically to meet the CRM needs of mid-market businesses was not available to these organizations. That's all changed - and for the better.

Sales and Service

When it comes to customers, sales and service are fundamental to an organization'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.

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. 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. Furthermore, the marketing manager can access the data to run reports that demonstrate, for example, the effectiveness of various sales activities.

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 organization's customers talk to on the same page, with the same background information and same customer history leading to an increase in satisfaction and a decrease in frustration for both customer and employee.

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 enabling business to strategically manage their growth.

For Imaxeon, a company which manufactures designs and distributes niche medical products, the creation of a central database for all customers replacing several smaller databases has been one of the most important changes. Internal communications were improved, duplicated information has been reduced and keeping records up to date has been easier to manage.

Derby Chang, quality assurance and regulatory affairs manager for Imaxeon says that implementing the correct CRM solution is a worthwhile investment.

According to Chang, the CRM system has been in place for over a year now, but its effect on business really started to show after six months.

Imaxeon was able to phase the installation, allowing users with low-level computer literacy to familiarize themselves with greater confidence.

Some key considerations before choosing a CRM solution

The software itself is not a silver bullet solution. Here are some things that should be taken 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 its customers and be sure to clearly and succinctly define your 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.

Be sure to select a CRM system 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 customizable 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 director of Business Solutions at Microsoft Australia.

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