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Karen Schwartz Five Ways to Increase CRM Software ROI
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 By Karen D. Schwartz

For too many companies, their Customer Relationship Management system has become a necessary evil—a little-understood, complicated business system that delivers on its promise to allow for data sharing and improve customer service, but not much more.

Clearly, there is a lot of value in CRM software systems, both in terms of productivity and cost reduction. And by following the following recommendations, companies can significantly ratchet up their top line revenues and bottom line savings, vastly improving their return on this very big investment.

  1. Upgrade your CRM application. If you're not using the latest CRM software version available, you're probably missing out on some ROI-enhancing features. Newer versions tend to have better application functionality, more integration hooks for mobile and social networking technologies, and better analytic capabilities, all of which can easily translate into higher productivity. Other improved functionality, such as guided selling and better marketing and cross-selling capabilities, clearly contribute to top line revenues. Most likely, an upgrade will lead to CRM business process improvements in areas like lead management, campaign and cross-sell management and access to a greater variety of customer data. "If you're on a legacy CRM application in 2011, you're going to experience some cost inefficiencies and ROI misses," says Art Hall, director at Alvarez & Marsal, an Atlanta-based professional services firm.

  2. Integrate new applications that provide value. There are new business and social applications being developed all the time, and some of them can make a real difference. Take Jigsaw, a continuously updated online directory of business contacts that operates in the cloud. Some companies are finding that new offerings like Jigsaw can be cheaper and better than traditional business databases, allowing companies to decrease lead generation costs while increasing marketing response rates and sales effectiveness, says Rebecca Wetteman, vice president at Boston-based Nucleus Research. Marketing automation software tools like Eloqua, Marketo and Silverpop also can up the ante, allowing companies to track the effectiveness of social media campaigns.

  3. Social media integration. Remember a few years ago when Dell made a killing by using Twitter to discount their products? That's just one example of increasing revenues through new channels and finding ways to monetize social media, and it's just the tip of the iceberg. A social media site like LinkedIn also could yield great benefits; by watching what's going on on LinkedIn, a salesperson could gain valuable insight about his customers and use that information to increase sales.

    But it can go way beyond just capitalizing on one type of social media. Newer technology like's Chatter, Microsoft's Vibe and SAP's Sales On Demand take social CRM to a new level. These tools allow companies to follow people, information and groups as well as collaborate privately. What's more, they can choose which people and documents to follow and can receive real-time updates on them. Basically, these tools make better use of the difficult-to-capture unstructured data that exists in the social web and changes information-gathering from "pull" to "push", Hall explains.

    For example, if Joe updates his Facebook status to say how much he likes a new song, these systems could capture that data such that when the artist comes out with a new album, they could target him to buy the album. Alternatively, when Joe is buying a product on a company's website, the company could target him with other artists he previously mentioned on Facebook.

  4. Mobile integration. If salespeople and other mobile workers can access what they need, quickly, via mobile devices, it stands to reason that they will be able to close sales, decrease sales cycles, solve problems and provide information for customers more quickly. Ideally, this integration should deliver more than just the ability to review correspondence, manage contacts and review accounts, but be able to integrate with back-office systems, social networks, web conferencing, and everything else a mobile worker needs to be responsive to customers while traveling.

  5. Consider moving to a cloud-based CRM solution. All major CRM vendors have versions of their applications available in the cloud, and moving to a cloud-based CRM system has become a very viable option for companies looking to lower costs, accelerate time to value and focus on core competencies. With the software as a service (SaaS) model, companies no longer have to deal with servers, performance software issues, troubleshooting problems and the continuous point releases and new version upgrades. And although integration used to be a difficult issue with cloud-based CRM systems, it's no longer a problem, Wetteman says. Even companies that prefer to keep an on-premise CRM system can benefit from the cloud when adding additional applications such as contact management or lead management via the cloud.

    "Not only is it a smaller investment on the front end, but down the road, it's also a much more iterative environment where you can continue to make enhancements to add value," Wetteman adds. "You can identify areas for automation and find ways to make users more productive without worrying about speed or performance issues, or about running out of space."

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New technology like's Chatter and SAP's Sales On Demand take social CRM to a new level. These tools allow companies to follow people, records, information and groups as well as collaborate privately. These tools make better use of the difficult-to-capture unstructured data that exists in the social web and changes information-gathering from "pull" to "push".


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