What Is CRM NOW?

Updated: November 23, 2009

The continuing evolution of the IT-empowered solutions that support CRM, ERP, SFA and numerous other functions has produced both significant business benefits and significant confusion among some business and technology decision-makers. Sales director and Focus community member Charlie Ellis perhaps said it best in a question he posted in the Focus Sales Group on Oct. 26. "What is the difference between CRM vs. SFA? It seems like CRM is so broadly used that I don't truly understand if SFA is a component of CRM or if it's a standalone solution," Mr. Ellis wrote.

Other Focus community contributors offered equally cogent responses to Mr. Ellis' question. "CRM, broadly speaking, covers all front office functions - sales, service and marketing - across business strategy, architecture, and technology," wrote contributor Sean Leo Ryan. "Many people specialize in one aspect or another, strategy or technology [for example], and others generalize across the spectrum with [a] focus [on specific] industries or other specializations. CRM specializations are differently applied for each industry sector as each client has different customer management processes, technical complexities, and business issues to solve."

Mr. Ryan added that "CRM as a discipline requires a deep understanding of the client's customer business processes, business needs, and internal/external market drivers. Hence the necessary, required cross-over between business and technology.

Unlike traditional back-office systems, to be successful, CRM practitioners require this understanding and skills to be effective for their clients. Looking at it solely as a technology is the historical recipe for failure. In these cases, sales teams often went back to a ‘Rolodex' and corporate HQ were always held to the fire on lack of field usage."

So, as sales director and Focus community contributor Tim Weaver asked the Focus Sales Group on Oct. 20, "Is a CRM solution more than just the software?" And as Focus Expert and consultant Simon Gantley sagaciously replied, "The answer is all the above and more. CRM is such a loose term that it can mean many things and some deployments have almost nothing in common. The key to success is to figure out the most critical things that you [and your business] want [and need] in advance, write up a detailed spec and make sure you choose a system that can not only meets [those wants and needs], but can easily be tailored based on experience and future needs."

In fact, this expanded view of CRM is increasingly overlapping with views, strategies and solutions historically focused on another critical business area, ERP. This prompted Mr. Ellis to ask yet another relevant question of the Focus Sales Group. "CRM, ERP - what's the difference? If I buy an ERP system, do I have to purchase a separate CRM system? [Or is CRM] a module that can be included in an ERP system?"

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is, "It depends." Or as Focus Expert Mr. Gantley replied, "These terms are becoming blurred so the answer depends upon which ERP or CRM system you buy. There are a lot of CRM systems that include a lot of ERP functionality," Mr. Gantley said. He cited as examples offerings from NetSuite, EnterpriseWizard and Siebel, now part of Oracle. There are also ERP systems with CRM modules, such as those offered by SAP, Mr. Gantley added.

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