Many Canadian businesses fail to realize the full potential of their customer relationship management (CRM) software because of poor integration with existing applications and business processes.
Facilitating the smooth flow of information across applications that support streamlined business process is vital to any CRM system, but many applications operate within silos that inhibit collaboration and coordination, according to technology experts.
CRM tools gather and analyze data to help organizations gain better knowledge of issues such as lead generation, client buying patterns, transaction needs and supply demands. In most deployments, CRM functionalities support marketing, sales and customer service, but other organizations use the tools for performance management, human resource development and compensation.
“Historically, sales-focused companies adopted CRM to manage pipeline and forecasting tasks. However, most tools lay dormant because they don’t work well with applications that users need,” said Vinay Nair, research manager for enterprise application at IDC Canada.
“Very often the CRM interface proved to be too counter-intuitive that sales people just ended up not using the application,” Nair, a former sales person himself, said.
Recalling his own experience as a salesman, the IDC analyst said he was often bogged down by the need to log in and out of different applications to obtain the customer or supply information he needed. “The downtime meant I had less opportunity to concentrate on my customer.”
Ease of use is vital in getting the most out of a CRM implementation, according to Frank Falcone, CRM product manager with Microsoft Canada. “Make it easy to use, so that people don’t have to re-learn another program”.
For example, an ideal system would allow co-workers to collaborate on easily access documents by sharing a repository of e-mails and reports, said Falcone.
E-mail is actually one of the four areas that large enterprise and small business users in an IDC survey cited as vital CRM integration points. In a 2007 poll, IDC asked more than 300 employees which business processes or applications needed to be integrated with CRM. Their response in order of importance, were: Office production applications such as Word and Excel; back-end operations such as supplies and logistics; e-mail and; business analytics.
Nair believes the problem can be traced to companies initially deploying CRM systems with the perception that its main function is to handle so-called pipeline and forecasting task. Very often, little thought is placed on how the system can be integrated with business process and communication.
“The result of such a strategy is a disjointed user experience, increased administrative burden on sales representatives, and ultimately reduced sales effectiveness,” according to white paper produced by Oracle entitled: Taking On-Demand CRM Integration to the Next Level.
For example introducing a new on demand CRM product to support the roll out of a new sales force while relying on an existing enterprise resource planning system (ERP) for order fulfillment and accounting, could have disastrous consequences with customer orders and invoices.
In this set up, data stored in one system is likely not to be synchronized and shared with another. Organizations risk having outdated or even inaccurate information relayed to sales personnel, according to the report.
To remedy this, the report said, a standards-based integration approach has to be applied across all areas that the CRM implementation will touch. The CRM system has to touch three fundamental tiers of integration:
The most basic form of integration involves the data layer via Web services, batch integration and data import and export. Critical information such as customer and product data needs to be synchronized in real-time or accessed regardless of where the data resides to ensure users obtain the latest information.
Advance integration extensions typically enable usability features such as mashups and Web links to embedded custom HTML and third party content within the CRM interface.
This enables users to vie information from other applications using a single user interface and improves productivity by eliminating the need to toggle between applications.
Business process and business logic such as data validation rules need to be coordinated to ensure consistency throughout the entire process.
This enables a complete business flow such as lead conversion can reconcile account information from a lead in a CRM application with similar information in an ERP system. This process will eliminate data duplication and automatically convert the lead to an opportunity.