CRM – 10 Critical Factors

Choosing the Right System

There’s no shortage of CRM systems on the market, from cheap & cheerful to large scale systems that are part of ERP suites.

Contact Managers

Contact Managers are primarily contact (people) focussed. They record the name, company and contact details for each person, together with (usually) some free text notes and a reminder flag for call backs. You can normally export the records for mail- merging. They don’t include opportunity management or sales forecasting and have a simple flat file structure. Some are single user desktop applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, some can be multi-user, such as ACT.

Opportunity Management

As the name implies, these focus on recording sales opportunities (leads and deals), normally with sales forecasting as a reporting option. They have a more sophisticated/complex data structure, with Accounts (companies and organisations) who have multiple Contacts (people) in them, against which you can record multiple Tasks (things to do), Activities (things that have taken place, such as meetings and calls) and Opportunities (possible sales). They tend to come with more sophisticated reporting tools, import and export facilities and a security system. Examples are Pivotal, Goldmine and of course Really Simple Systems.

Sales Force Automation

This is a name for a suite of software that is given to sales people, normally field (out of office) sales people, to help them sell. It includes either contact management or opportunity management, together sometimes with email and calendaring (diary sharing). They can run on laptops or handheld PDAs, and can be of quite specialist design, such as systems for pharmaceutical sales representatives or for the collection of electricity or gas meter readings. One challenge faced by these systems is synchronisation ”“ updating the laptop/PDA with data from head office and vice versa. Traditionally this has been done using dial-up modems at the end of the day, but with the widespread availability of high speed Internet connectivity, whether from broadband at home, wi-fi in a coffee shop or through the cellular telephone network, synchronisation has been replaced with systems that are permanently connected to the head office system, removing many of the support headaches that always accompany replicating remote databases.

Enterprise CRM

These are large systems, normally from an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) vendor, and they tie CRM into ERP (closed deals flow through to sales, accounts payable ties into the customer records). Capable of huge sophistication, and also of huge license and implementation cost, these systems are the most functional available. Examples are SAP, Oracle Applications, and Siebel (although the latter doesn’t really form part of an ERP suite).

Hosted v Local Applications

In the past all software was loaded onto the company’s servers, desktops and laptops, as either desktop systems or client/server systems. The past few years has also seen the growth in popularity of hosted applications.

Desktop applications run and have all their data on an individual’s workstation (their laptop, PC, Mac, telephone or PDA). They don’t share that data will other users in the organisation, and they don’t have access to other users’ data. Examples are Microsoft Outlook, or a spreadsheet sitting on the workstation.

Desktop applications are loved by sales people as they are easy to use and highly personal, but the company has no sight or ownership of the data.

Client/Server applications have a client application running on the workstation and a server application running on a shared fileserver that hosts the data. The server is a computer owned, managed by and located at the user’s office. The client talks to the server over a network. Some processing takes place on the client, some on the server, and both client and server applications need to be installed and maintained. If you have multiple offices then those offices either need to be connected with a high speed WAN (Wide Area Network), or multiple systems are installed which then have to be synchronised. Most traditional CRM systems function this way.

Client/Server applications allow everybody in the organisation to share the data, but can be complicated and time consuming to install and maintain, especially if you want multiple offices to share the data or remote access.

Hosted applications are accessed from any workstation or device that has an Internet browser installed, including your workstation at work, your PC at home or a terminal in an Internet café. The processing and the data are held on the supplier’s servers which are located in a data centre with fast Internet connectivity.

Hosted applications are quick to install and use, solve the remote access problem, need no IT support, but are normally less flexible than client/server systems. The rental payment model can appear to be more expensive at first sight, but if you add up the true cost of installing and running an in-house system, including license cost, server and associated operating system and database license cost, annual maintenance of software and hardware, internal IT resources applying maintenance fixes, updates and unscrambling out-of-sync laptops, they can be cheaper even in the long term.

There is also the question of ownership of the data, and the ability to get it back either for analysis or to move to another system. Most hosted CRM systems hold the data for all their customers in one database, so legally the data is theirs, not yours. It can be hosted outside of your country, raising data protection and privacy issues. And it can be surprisingly difficult to get “your” data back in a useful format when you want to move to another system. Check with the supplier how these issues are addressed.

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