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CRM Selection Best Practices Best Practices in CRM Software Selection


III. Establishing Best Practices: What Mid-Market Companies Need to Know

A best-practice approach to choosing the best CRM software therefore hinges on three fundamental principles:

  1. Organizational Readiness for CRM: Recognize that successful CRM deployments require more than simply choosing software. Perhaps more than any other business application, customer relationship management requires the ongoing interaction of people, process and technology. Adoption drives CRM success, which requires stakeholder involvement and buy-in during all phases of the process.

  2. Well-defined Goals: CRM solutions can be critical enablers in helping companies to achieve business goals. But to do so, the goals must be clear – such as "Improve our pipeline management process to convert 10 percent more leads into sales," or "Achieve better follow-through and 5 percent higher customer satisfaction on service issues." The goals must be linked to processes, which can in turn be incorporated into the CRM system. At many mid-size companies, CRM selection and implementation drives much internal examination, since the business processes the application will automate are often developing in parallel. As noted prior, the CRM software must be able to be modified as the business evolves.

  3. Clear Reporting Needs: Any business application delivers its true value by the information that can be extracted from the system, not the data that’s put into it. To be a true success, the CRM system must allow users to gain actionable insight based on real-time, enterprise-wide information. This is not possible with just standard, pre-formatted reports.

    Real business intelligence can be gained with online analytical processing (OLAP) technology, which enables users to create pivot tables directly in the CRM application, automatically drawing in data from other sources, and thus requiring users to manually move less data to gain insights. Long a fixture of enterprise-class business applications, integrated OLAP technology is now available in CRM applications designed for mid-market companies.

Products and architecture: Key strategic considerations

Against a backdrop of these core principles, a best-practice evaluation of any CRM application should begin with an assessment of its:

  • Application and data integration: Many CRM systems are aggressively marketed as offering robust functionality as stand-alone applications. While that may be true, the real value of CRM is in the integration of its information with that contained in other business applications.

    Lack of easy integration with other applications translates into significant inefficiency at all phases – implementation, production environment, and maintenance and upgrades – and results in lack of holistic information. Furthermore, poor integration requires manual data movement that makes it nearly impossible for users to extract actionable information in real-time.
  • Ease of business process enablement: Nearly every CRM system offers comparable high-level functions. In evaluating CRM applications, mid-size companies should move quickly beyond “checklist” capabilities such as tracking addresses, phone numbers and industry sectors. Instead, they should carefully scrutinize the CRM solution’s ability to easily enable and automate business processes.

    This pertains not just to immediate needs, but to more advanced requirements that will arise over time, such as the "order capture vs. order processing" example discussed previously. IT organizations at mid-market companies needn’t gain deep knowledge on each application’s thousands of function points – they should prioritize investigating the capabilities that are most critical to the CRM system’s ultimate success.

IV. Putting Best Practices into Action: Solution Requirements

Clearly, assessing business needs and processes sets the groundwork for a best-practice selection of CRM software. In searching for a customer relationship management solution that fulfills mid-market requirements, most companies can ensure that their short- and long-term needs will be met by a CRM application that:

  • Provides robust integration to external applications: This capability cannot be emphasized enough. The CRM application should provide a broad range of links to packaged applications and, equally important, tools that allow an IT organization to connect to legacy and custom applications. The impact of poor application connectivity is long-term and severe: It forces the company to buy bolt-on applications that carry their own contracts and costs, in perpetuity. And with these bolt-on applications, it’s difficult to pinpoint performance problems in the total system, and attributing issues to the CRM provider versus the add-on provider.

    Also, vital data for the bolt-on system is often not native in the CRM application, thus limiting access to of the data. For example, the company cannot create a marketing campaign based on prior purchase behaviors if the purchases were not entered and tracked through the CRM system.

  • The CRM application must be flexible: This is a second key best-practice decision criterion worth emphasizing. A detailed investigation of what’s under the hood is necessary to ensure that the CRM system can adapt to the company’s processes – not the other way around. This entails not just current processes and modification, but new business goals such as increased customer retention, building sales revenue, building service revenue, etc.

    The reality is that most CRM systems can capture data – some better than others – when there is unique data to track. But true flexibility comes from architecting processes in the CRM system such that completion of one action triggers another while also rendering flexibility for the many exception conditions. This is the definition of workflow, the availability of which elevates the CRM system from being a data repository to a true process enablement tool.

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When evaluating CRM applications, companies should move quickly beyond "checklist" capabilities and carefully scrutinize the CRM solution’s ability to easily enable and automate business processes.


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