ICT solutions: CRM (part 2)

14 Mar 2003

If CRM (customer relationship management) software now covers everything from contract management to order processing, it is the sales area where it all began.

It is the salesperson who deals with customers on a daily basis and who collects valuable information about them. Putting this information to good use, as well as supporting the sales relationship in general, in the basic objective of any CRM system.

On one level, CRM software is simply about automating what salespeople have been doing for generations – writing the names of contacts into card index systems, scribbling call-back reminders into desk diaries and collecting business cards. The main benefit to flow out of such systems is that they enable salespeople to work more efficiently but there is a wider pay-off within the company. For the first time there is a single, common view of all the company’s customer accounts. Another benefit that is often overlooked is that, if a salesperson leaves, valuable customer information will remain within the company.

Sales automation is a hugely important aspect of any CRM system and there are plenty of no-frills CRM systems on the market which do just that. For example, ACT! from accounting and payroll specialist Sage a contact management solution that integrates the three most commonly used tools – a customer database, a calendar and a task list. ACT! keeps all contacts in one place and tracks all documents, emails and phone calls. It monitors sales prospects and gives a snapshot of the sales pipeline. It also manages to-do lists. More sophisticated versions of the product enable selected financial information to be accessed directly from the software package.

Moving up a level are CRM systems that, as well as provide all of this essential information captured through ongoing sales relationships, give a detailed insight into the future sales pipeline and likely revenues, supported by relevant graphs and charts.

“I call it the ‘opportunity management’ side,” says Fergus Gloster (pictured), vice-president of marketing at online CRM provider Salesforce.com whose Irish customers include Jury’s Hotel Group and Cape Clear. “I know who my accounts are, I have the contact details; now I’m trying to sell them my products. So what is the business volume looking like for the future? If you have 10 salespeople, you can look into our system and very quickly see what level of business we’re likely to get next month. That’s very critical for managing the whole business.”

Another area that is ripe for cultivation by CRM systems is the interaction between sales and marketing, Gloster maintains. The Salesforce product allows marketing staff who, say, get a sales lead at the conference to enter those details on the system and assign it to a particular salesperson. Similarly, if a visitor to your website requests information about your company, those details can be automatically routed to a relevant salesperson.

Creating a bridge between sales and another important internal function, customer service, is a key feature of SAP’s flagship customer relationship management product, MySap CRM. The full history of customer interaction via fax, email, telephone or paper is captured and displayed within a feature called a customer interaction centre. ‘Negative’ information such as a full complaints history is included along with positive entries such as purchase orders. This is used both by customer service representatives and salespeople to get a summary of each customer relationship.

“The sales and customer service functions can be miles apart within an organisation but from the customer’s perspective they are very closely linked and this is what MySap CRM tries to reflect,” says Fiona Walsh, general manager of SAP Ireland.

As technology evolves so too will the CRM systems that become available. When CRM systems were first launched, short messaging service (SMS) or text messaging was in its infancy and was very much the preserve of teenagers interested in a different type of relationship management. Text messaging is now the backbone of a growing number of low-cost mobile CRM systems. SMS is seen as an ideal business tool as it can enable employees to trade information with customers while being a low-cost and efficient form of communication.

SMS applications that are PC-based and fully integrated into the organisation’s network are turning SMS into a powerful sales tool. Group mailing lists can be established by enabling multiple text messages to be sent at the same time from both PCs and mobiles. Employees can select what type of information they need and set up automated text message notification when changes occur on databases. For example, if a customer has ordered a particular item they automatically receive a text alert when it has been dispatched.

Ireland’s largest mobile networks, Vodafone and 02, now offer mobile CRM solutions, while a growing number of specialist providers have popped up to meet demand.

By Brian Skelly