Though CRM solutions pile on the bells and whistles in an effort to attract customers, the reality is that there are a few core features that have most of the impact on your business. While examining your options for CRM, focusing on these features can prevent you from being distracted by features that, while interesting or even promising, will not do the CRM heavy lifting your business needs now.
The challenges posed by current economic conditions are forcing companies to evaluate CRM products in a more critical light. Enterprises want more from CRM but they want it in fewer, simplified features. They're also focused on a new goal: relationship optimizing.
"The key to achieving the goal is being highly proactive," said Kelly Owens St. Julian, chief service officer of Boost Mobile, a division of Sprint. "You must anticipate and then act on customers' wants and not just reactively respond to their basic needs."
Collecting data on past customer behavior is no longer sufficient. Now CRM must also reach past corporate walls to seek out new customers and resolve public criticisms.
"New social media tools, sites and related content are increasingly being valued by companies looking to assess consumer preferences and market products effectively to different buying groups," said Justin Honaman, author of "Make It Happen! Live Out Your Personal Brand."
Thus, the critical features most sought after today look far different than those heralded just a few months ago. "Critical ‘must-haves' for any CRM product in our industry is the ability to see ‘who knows who,'" said Jean Frohman, marketing manager of Citrin Cooperman & Co., an accounting and consulting firm. "Another critical feature is having strong behind-the-scenes data cleaning tools to help keep the database clean. This is where most systems fail." In this article, we explained what are the must-have features your business should not avoid. But if you're ready to choose, we found a great resource that lets you compare CRM solution providers based on your features and pricing goals.
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Current business conditions are dictating the following list of CRM must-haves:
1. Simplicity and ease of integration: There's no sense in investing in CRM technology if you can't get your workers to use it. Nothing hurts adoption more than a difficult to use and difficult to implement application."Simplicity and integration into daily routines are very important features," said Nathan Stewart, CEO of Alkemi International. His company initially used a CRM system that was too complicated, and it killed his team's motivation to use it. As is often the case, "the more complicated the software and the more functionality it had — which usually did not relate to what we required — the more people refrained from using it. What we needed was a simple CRM system which integrated with software that we used on a day-to-day basis."
Daniel B. Scherer, CEO of Secure Health, agreed. "After some trial and error with off-the-shelf CRM solutions, we discovered that the truly critical features to look for in a CRM solution are tracking capabilities and simplicity.".
2. Remote access: ACRM solution that can only be used in the office is really no solution at all. Data must be entered into it from all manner of locations — at trade shows, at customer sites, from partners' premises — and remote workers can't be handicapped by a dumbed-down version of the solution.
Another need for remote access is just now emerging. "Increasing the quality of the contact center's talent by utilizing at-home agents is becoming an essential CRM function," explained Chris Tranquill, managing director of ACS' communications and consumer goods line of business. With more than 34,000 agents in 142 customer care centers around the world, ACS employees handle in excess of one million customer interactions every day in 20 different languages. "Some estimates say there could be as many as 300,000 work-at-home agents by 2012."
3. Mobile access: Remote access refers to the ability to see CRM data on a computer screen; mobile access refers to the ability to see CRM on a handheld device. This is especially important for field sales personnel, who not only need contact information and other basics but who may need access to sales collateral, data from back-office systems and organizational schedules in order to complete deals. "Companies can no longer afford to take a tactical approach to enterprise mobility," said Tranquill. "Businesses need to look strategically at how mobility can support the enterprise and how it can be integrated to optimize processes."
4. Stronger multichannel support: Primarily because of the need to support mobile access, but for other reasons as well, support must be stronger and available through more than one channel. "A service phone number is essential and not just online help; instant chat lines are good, too," said Jennifer A. Goldman, CFP, principal at My Virtual COO.
5. Integrated analytics: It is not enough to collect data; you must also understand it and what it signifies before you can use it as a basis for action. CRM solutions must provide business users with access to decision-making analytics, both for sales and for marketing. "The best CRM solutions enable the user to select campaigns, target consumer groups, define and apply treatment strategies, measure results across multiple channels (online and off-line) and build results back into the planning process for future campaigns," said Honaman.
6. Campaign management: A CRM solution should provide powerful campaign management functionality, enabling workflow from initial campaign concept through build, test, deployment and measurement. "Mobile is becoming an even more important part of CRM solutions as results delivery to handhelds and PDAs is critical," Honaman said. "Also, cross-sell/up-sell functionality is important to consumer-direct businesses operating an online marketplace."
7. List management/master data management: The CRM solution should enable management of multiple lists. "This allows business users to establish lists and also allows for real-time list segmentation and data management," explained Honaman.
8. Flexibility and customization: One CRM aphorism is that every successful CRM solution is customized in some way. Because of that, it's important that the solution you choose is customizable and flexible. "It has to support an organization's processes or you won't get the full value out of your purchase," said Paul Mabray, chief strategy officer for VinTank, a digital think tank for the wine industry. However, that ability to customize has to come in a simple, straightforward form and apply throughout. "An easy to customize dashboard is critical," said Goldman.
9. Lead generation and follow-up tracking: Relying solely on a sales force to do all the rights things can be a suicidal approach. A CRM strong in lead generation and follow-through, both in automated customer communiqués and reminders to sales people, can quite literally save the day. "I encountered several resistive sales representatives who ‘knew how to sell' and didn't want to make any changes in the methods they were using," says Chris Spears, general manager of Prestige Auto. "I realized these were the same guys who would allow me to be understaffed and miss calls and walk-ins if it meant they would get one more a day. Most of them were surviving off of the daily fresh-ups, and did little or no follow-up. The ones that did would only keep at it for a week or two at best. At the same time, our statistics showed that a large number of people were taking 45-60 or more days to purchase. We were losing a lot of opportunities."
Don't be dazzled by the latest and greatest features in a CRM system. They may be attractive, and you may even be able to imagine how they will benefit your business, but your buying decision should be based on what have been proven to be the core features over time. These features provide you with a foundation upon which to build your unique approach to CRM; without this foundation, all your plans are likely to crumble.
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