Wednesday, September 3, 2008

CRM

Guess what, it's another 3 letter acronym: CRM. Customer Relationship Managment. It's nothing new but has been a consuming item in my career for the past 12 or so months. At its core CRM is a centralized repository for information - typically contacts, freeform notes, that allows many people to see, review, and update this information. CRM solutions exist that are tailered for as few as 1 persons and up to thousands of users.

As a systems / network administrator, I appreciate and acknowledge the value of 'centralized'. Having anything in a highly organized and shareable, consistent format makes those 'anythings' much more valuable and efficient.

In organizations where a 'team' of different people interact with customers, CRM offers many positives. When contacting / being contacted by a customer CRM can be referenced to see what the last communication was, when it was, and who it was with. This type of background is invaluable to providing efficient customer service be it sales support, technical support, or billing/account support.

From a HR standpoint, CRM helps solve turnover issues. Instead of users keeping unstructred notes, who knows where, CRM keeps data in one place - consistently structured. This also applies in situations where customers are handed off between sales account managers, or even internally between departments/divisions.

I was tasked with finding a solution to many of the above 'challenges' and putting together a project through implementation. I started this off with a few small meetings gathering a list of desired features and then prioritizing those into 1: Must Have Now, 2: Must Have Later, 3: Would be Nice. This was invaluable when speaking with vendors on what their CRM product was capable of and developing a staged implementation. Many vendors quickly had to decline due to not being able to fullfil #1 items. At one point I was left with only a single vendor, not a good negotiating standpoint. I was able to find another offering that eventally ended up winning the project and that'll be kicking off just several weeks from now. More on that as it unfolds.

I'd like to stress a things that stick out during my reflections on the project thus far. The first is having a list / knowing what you want to get out of a CRM solution. There are too numerous solutions out there to list out but knowing weather or not ACT! will work for your needs or if a solution as elaborate as saleslogix.com or salesforce.com can really be simplified by knowing your end goals. From technical standpoint there are lots of architechtual differences that play into the decision making process. Some solutions are completely web based(connect from anywhere), for some web connectivity is an ($)add-on, some only offer local network access.

Is your workplace using CRM, what's your impression?

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2 comments:

Matt said...

We're a relatively small shop (~15 people through 3 offices). We don't have anything like this yet, but there has been some noises made towards wanting something centralized. Right now, we're looking through project management software, and depending on the solution we go with, it might integrate into this. At the same time, we've been looking at groupware, which also might have some of these features.

I'll no doubt post about what we decide. What packages have you been looking at, and are you going to host your own, or go with a managed solution?

JeffHengesbach said...

@Matt

The funny thing about project mgmt is everyone has their own concept of what it is. I've been struggling to find something to standardize on that is reasonable cost wise and won't require hours of user training to get up and running. For people who are full time PM's, MS project is fine, but it's way to much for most folks - and it is very MS centric.

I had 2 major requirements in my selections that ruled out a lot of options: International character support, and ability to 'integrate' with SAP. I started out looking at: MS CRM, Goldmine, ACT, Business Contact Manager for Outlook, Netsuite CRM, SAP CRM, and Sage CRM.

Between my 2 major requirements, my expected user base of 50-60, and costs, the best fit was Sage CRM. Because I have the resources to support it, the solution will be in-house(& virtualized). In general I'm not a fan of hosted services. What happens to your data if you decide to change solutions?