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You’ve probably heard of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software before, but you may not know what it is or what it really does for your business.
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How CRM Software Can Help Optimize Business Processes

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Implementing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system into your business process organizes everyone in your company onto a centralized platform.

You’ve probably heard of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software before, but you may not know what it is or what it really does for your business. Many people consider CRM to be a sales-related tool, but effective use of a CRM platform can provide efficiency throughout a company’s operations by improving communications and workflow.

The primary use of your CRM system may be focused around the customer–business is all about the customer after all–but it is also effective at keeping track of companywide communications with other important contacts such as vendors, architects, builders, interior designers, etc. My company has been using CRM internally for years, and I am a firm believer in its power to transform a company’s operations. There are some common elements of most CRM systems, some major benefits that an integrator has to gain by using a CRM system, as well as some considerations that you should take in selecting and implementing a CRM system for your business.

Typical Elements of a CRM System

The specific features and workflows of a CRM system may vary from product to product, but most systems will have the following important core features:

■„„ Lead/Prospect Management: Track and manage incoming leads as they make their way through a sales cycle. Qualified leads become sales opportunities and make it into pipeline analysis.

„„■ Contact Management: Keep track of all contacts (leads, customers, vendors, architects, builders, and designers).

„„■ Opportunity Management (Pipeline Management): Track your sales opportunities as you work toward closing a sale. Managing a sales pipeline helps recognize what opportunities are coming up, but can also help reduce the overall sales cycle and provide forecasting data.

■ Activity Management: Most systems enable scheduling tasks and events (appointments), as well as logging notes and sending emails.

■ Marketing Campaign/Lead Source Analysis: Tracking leads to their lead sources and marketing campaigns helps determine which lead sources and campaigns are most effective (and also which are not).

■ Customer Service Tracking: Track incoming service calls, delegate responsibility for follow up, and track the status of service responsibilities.

■ Workflow Automation: Most systems provide an interface to automate various elements of CRM using workflows. When a specific scenario is triggered, you can automate the creation of tasks, appointments, and even send emails to relevant stakeholders.

■ Integration/Synchronization: We live in a fast-paced, mobile world where one of the biggest challenges can be communication. Most systems provide synchronization to Outlook, some have mobile applications, and some integrate to QuickBooks and Google Apps.

Major Benefits of Using CRM

Implementing a CRM system into your business process organizes everyone in your company onto a centralized platform. Many companies suffer from “Information Silo Syndrome,” where organizational data is spread out among various employees, and there is no sharing of information in one centralized location. Sharing information between departments will create improvements in your company’s customer service capabilities.

Data retrieved from CRM systems will also aid in marketing efforts. Having the ability to analyze which marketing campaigns and lead sources are generating the best business, allow you to make informed, effective decisions based on real business intelligence. Many integrators using CRM also find it very helpful to understand which types of leads result in poor closing ratios, place less emphasis on these, and more emphasis on those with high closing ratios. Additional marketing benefits include the ability to calculate marketing return on investment (ROI), profile customers, perform more targeted marketing efforts, and schedule regular follow ups with clients to help create new opportunities.

Service departments can also reap rewards from using a CRM platform. The service department’s ability to respond quickly to existing customer base is a crucial element in the ability to keep these customers happy. Using CRM to track and manage incoming service calls provides case history for all clients, as well as a dashboard for viewing all open service items, assuring a customer doesn’t slip through the cracks. Using workflow automation can be especially helpful in this area.

Selecting a CRM Platform

Before selecting a specific tool, it is best to identify your business objectives for implementing a CRM system. It is essential to know why you are choosing to implement CRM before starting to look for a tool to meet your needs. During this search, your objectives may change slightly based on capabilities of the platforms you’re investigating, but you should have a pretty good idea of what you want first.

There are two main types of CRM platforms out there: hosted (online) and software-based (installed) platforms. There are pros and cons to each.

Once you know your objectives and which type of CRM you wish to pursue, you can begin your search online. Most CRM platforms will have a feature list on their website and usually some videos you can watch to get an idea of how things work. I also recommend looking into the level of documentation and support provided on their website–is there an online user guide, is there a user forum or community? You can use this information to get an idea for the various platforms, their pricing structures, and to what degree they meet your objectives at face value. Narrow your search down to two or three platforms and schedule a live online demo–this will allow you to see the platform in action and ask relevant questions to help you make your decision. It’s important to have key staff involved in this process to allow for a well-rounded perspective.

Implementation Considerations

When implementing a CRM solution, try not to implement every feature you want to use right away. Sometimes priorities may need to be adjusted due to the workflow patterns designed into the platform. Other times, various features just won’t provide the business intelligence you’re looking for until enough historical data has been logged into the system. Here is an example:

1 Companywide Account and Contact Management
2 Implement Outlook Integration
3 Opportunity/Pipeline Management
4 Activity Tracking (Tasks, Notes, Appointments)
5 Customer Service Case Tracking
6 Customize reports to analyze company data
7 Implement workflows for service calls and sales follow ups
8 Begin analyzing marketing and lead source data

A phased approach allows your company’s operations to continue while strategically implementing a new and better process (and not overwhelming everyone). When presenting a new business process to your team, it’s important to highlight the benefits the company will reap as a result of the new solution. People often resist change, but when shown how a new tool will make their lives easier, help the company become more profitable, and thus give everyone more job security and opportunities for advancement, most will jump on board.

Web Based Platforms

Pros
■ Easy to deploy and use; typically navigates like a website
■ Remote Accessibility (internet connected laptop, mobile phone, iPad, etc.)
■ Low upfront cost, paid monthly per user
■ Upgrades happen automatically, no IT requirement
■ Upgrades and bug fixes happen quickly
■ Backups typically performed automatically

Cons
■ Data is stored on third-party servers
■ Web connectivity is required to access information
■ Pay to play–you never “own” the platform

Software Platforms (Installed)

Pros
■ Data stored locally on company servers
■ Web Connectivity is not required
■ No monthly fees

Cons
■ Installation on a centralized server and each workstation managed by your staff or IT
■ Remote access can be problematic or require additional IT infrastructure (Remote Desktop, VPN)
■ Higher upfront cost, typically purchased like traditional software
■ Upgrades installed and managed by your staff or IT
■ Upgrades and bug fixes typically released less often
■ Backups managed by your staff or IT

Ryan Brown (ryanbrown@medesign.tv) works for Media Environment Design in Carlsbad, CA.

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