CRM Capabilities Needed for CRM Success

CIOs, business executives, IT industry experts and countless pundits often talk about the importance of aligning technology with the most strategic goals of the business. Well, the same is true with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software: for CRM software to achieve sustained success, the technology must be able to simplify, streamline and automate customer facing processes. But that's easier said than done.

The starting point is to ensure CRM technology has the underlying constructs to accommodate what's most important to the company. For example, how will the software work with business processes to acquire more customers? Or to increase customer lifetime value? Or improve customer retention? Or maybe at a more basic level, what exactly is the company hoping to achieve with a CRM implementation?

While business goals are unique for each organization, the following CRM system capabilities should be reviewed, adapted and applied for companies aiming to implement CRM software systems in pursuit of customer and company business outcomes.

Ease of Implementation and Ease of Use
Many organizations want CRM applications that are relatively easy to deploy and easy to use. Otherwise, startup costs may exceed budget or detract from the projected ROI or the users may choose not to embrace or adopt the business software systems.

CRM software ‘ease of use’ is a subjective opinion, however, can nonetheless be measured for cost and user impact. For example, from a usage standpoint, does the application require excessive screens, key strokes, mouse clicks and page refreshes to accomplish common tasks and processes? How easy is it for workers to access the screens they find the most useful? Ease of use is an especially important attribute at smaller companies which generally have fewer training programs, fewer support channels and limited IT resources.

How scalable is the CRM system? Business needs will change and the company needs to plan for future growth. The CRM application must be able to accommodate that change and growth, including supporting an increasing number of users and transactions, without any degradation in performance. A CRM system that is not scalable will eventually provide diminishing returns for a growing business. Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud CRM systems offer near limitless scalability. Cloud CRM users can simply dial up or dial down their user count as part of their software subscription.

Business Process Automation
One of the primary benefits of CRM software is automating business processes that were previously manual, leading to increased staff productivity and accelerated cycle times. A key consideration when evaluating CRM products is the level of process automation they provide, and the features they include that will support automation. This is particularly true when companies are looking to trim labor costs or are working with limited resources. Several CRM software products offer graphical workflow designers which permit the setup of triggering events and subsequent automated business processes by the system.

Software Customization
Packaged CRM software seldom accommodates all of an organization’s business needs so the ability to tailor or customize the application can make a big difference in business to software fit and ROI. How customizable each CRM application is will also make a difference in the success or failure of the implementation. Some products enable companies to easily configure, customize and upgrade the system based on their unique requirements or changing business goals. Using graphical tools, they can customize features and capabilities to deliver the kind of automation and information users’ need to do their jobs. Customization adds a level of flexibility and differentiation that many organizations need to compete effectively.

Reduced Maintenance, Support and Energy
An enterprise deployment of a customer relationship management system can lead to large IT maintenance and support requirements. A growing number of businesses are opting for SaaS-based CRM systems rather than traditional licensed software products. SaaS offerings eliminate many of the internal maintenance and support issues because vendors handle them for the customer in a shared services environment. They also contribute to green IT by providing energy savings and reduced carbon emissions achieved from hosting applications centrally in a more efficient delivery infrastructure.

System Integration
How well a CRM application integrates with other enterprise applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or accounting software systems is another key consideration that will contribute to labor efficiency and cross departmental process automation. Some offerings provide standards-based application integration and data transfer, enabling simple data exchange and integration with existing internal and third-party applications. Most vendors offer application programming interfaces (API) while most SaaS CRM products lead with XML-based web services for their integration requirements.

How much functionality is the organization looking for in its CRM application? Some systems deliver sales force automation (SFA), marketing automation, customer support and other functions such as sales order processing or partner relationship management (PRM) as part of the basic offering. Also, what sort of business intelligence and analytics capabilities, including data warehousing, online analytical processing, predictive reporting and artificial intelligence are available? Getting these questions answered during the software selection process will prove invaluable during the implementation and the alignment of business strategy to CRM software.

Mobile and Remote Access
Many of today’s workers are mobile, and the ability to access CRM applications from various locations and types of devices is increasingly important. Another benefit of SaaS-based CRM is that it allows users to access CRM via a Web browser regardless of their location. CRM applications are not tied to a particular desktop computer.

Information Security
Strong information security and confidentiality are essential, especially for systems and applications that house customer data, sales forecasts and other sensitive or competitive information. Ensuring that CRM applications are physically and logically secure should be a high priority for any company using the technology. Security considerations for CRM include access controls (for example, granting access based on granular roles and permissions), encryption (particularly for data on mobile devices) and an array of layered security protocols. CRM buyers considering SaaS solutions should apply extra due diligence to their service providers security infrastructure and team.

While CRM software features and capabilities should not be used to create your CRM strategy, they need to be validated to achieve it. Knowing what to look for and what’s available will ensure the technology you choose today will impact your business outcomes tomorrow and beyond.