Building better relationships

11 Oct 2005

Back in 2003 a Sage survey of Irish businesses revealed that more than half of Ireland’s small firms considered customer relationship management (CRM) of extreme importance but only 6pc had done anything about it in terms of deploying a solution. All that is about to change, according to Sage managing director Liam Mullaney who predicts that the next 12-18 months will see its adoption start to take off.

“The interesting thing about SMEs is that you’ll find a high uptake from some very small firms of one to nine employees who understand what it’s about, but hardly any around the 50 employee mark,” says Mullaney. “There are really very few enlightened small companies.”

Last week at the official launch of Sage’s new CRM division, CRM Solutions, the firm best known for its accountancy software staked its claim on a slice of the blossoming market. It argued that it was the only software player in Ireland with the skill and pedigree to see an implementation through.

The pedigree was reinforced with the acquisition of CRM specialist Delta Systems back in August. Company founder David Larkin, now general manager of the new Sage division CRM Solutions, says that 11 years of experience at Delta, working in a market that started life with contact management and sales automation products, made the new business unique in its ability to understand and advise customers.

“Our range of products and channel partners allows us to meet the needs of every type of business in Ireland,” says Mullaney. Made up of Act!, Sage CRM MME (formerly ACCPAC), Saleslogix, GoldMine and HEAT, as well as a hosted solution, Mullaney says the portfolio was about offering customers a freedom of choice and he criticises competitors for lacking comparable expertise. “A lot of people who don’t really know what they’re talking about are blagging their way into CRM,” he says.

He also acknowledges that there is still a lot of confusion from the customer perspective: “It’s a blur to many people who just don’t understand what it’s about.” Larkin picks up on the point saying that in the early days “a lot of time was spent selling the religion before we could sell the bibles”, a situation that still remains true for many customers today.

While Larkin stresses that every customer implementation of a CRM solution is different he says a typical mid-range deployment would require an initial investment of between €1,200-€1,500 per user and around six weeks to get it up and running. CRM Solutions provides consultancy and advice to ensure that the customer’s needs are met with a best-fit solution.

The secret for a successful implementation, according to Sage, is to think of CRM as a concept rather than a technology. The company says it comes down to tackling problem points within an organisation before technology is even on the agenda. Then it’s down to Sage and its honed-down methodology for implementation.

Larkin accepts that there may well be additional expenditure for solving problems that are beyond Sage’s remit. He identifies issues with data management that are fundamental for CRM to function. “Data cleansing is a big issue,” he says. And at the end of it all there is still a culture change required. “There’s still the challenge of getting people to use it. I’ve been with companies that were thinking of buying and I’ve not sold it to them because I know that they’re just not ready for it.”

Pictured: Liam Mullaney, managing director of Sage Ireland, and David Larkin, general manager, CRM Solutions

By Ian Campbell