Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in the Cloud (Published in Western Sydney Business Access)
By Dexter Duncan
Microsoft recently released their on-line “cloud” based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) at an introductory price of $42/month per user. As a user and seller of Microsoft CRM solutions, this is a welcome entry for businesses, especially small to medium businesses. This financial benefit to businesses is that you can centralize all your client contacts in one area for a low operational cost per user. The alternative of paying for an on-premise solution is still available, but the cloud based solution is more cost and time effective.
CRM is one of the original “killer applications” for cloud computing where you pay as you go and only pay for what you use. In fact, the cloud based CRM leader, SalesForce.com, has been pushing the on-line model for many years. The big difference with Microsoft announcement:
1) Price. Salesforce charges between $65 to $250 per user per month, depending on which option you choose.
2) Efficiency with Microsoft look and feel. Microsoft has designed their products to work together and have a common look. This makes it easier for CRM to be adopted by users already familiar with Microsoft.
Whenever Microsoft enters a new area, they tend to “commoditize” the market by introducing a high level of functionality at a low price using their market dominance to quickly steam roll the market. Microsoft recently reached their 1 millionth CRM customer, and you can bet they’ll grow faster with their new on-line based service.
Before you get all excited and jump onto the CRM bandwagon, you should be aware that the cost of adding a simple “out of the box CRM” system is still different than one that is modified to suit your business processes. We had a recent friendly client that wanted to tie their distributors and sales calendars together, using CRM as a sort of enterprise sales tracking device. Although Microsoft makes it look easy in their on-line videos, the amount of back-end database steps turned a simple $10,000 project into one that could cost $50,000. Even though $50,000 may sound like a bomb, it is a bargain when compared with the typical costs of yesteryear.
In the early days of CRM (10 or more years ago) it was common to hear about CRM failures. In most cases, the failure had to do with trying to force technology down user’s throats rather than looking at your natural business processes and bending the technology around your processes. Nowadays, there is a heap of functionality in an out of the box CRM system to help you with your sales, marketing and customer service, but it is still possible to have a failure if you try to do too much.
Sales and Account Management
The sales department is usually the best place to begin using CRM.
For most businesses, basic CRM usage is the same and is implemented inside the business quickly. Common across many is to use CRM to manage all information related in sales funnel or account management:
– Capturing leads and qualifying them
– Tracking opportunity status and actions required
– Keeping track of activities per client/customer
See screenshot for what the Microsoft CRM looks like.
You can see from the screenshot that the CRM uses Microsoft Outlook client which helps you seamlessly track calendar events and e-mails against each lead, opportunity or account.
In order for CRM to really act as a central database for all client/customer activity, you’ll need to expand beyond the sales team to use CRM to track marketing campaigns and service activity.
Once you determine the tasks for the campaign, for example, sending mail out to a list with phone call follow-ups, you can track the status and success of the campaign and assign leads to the sales department once they are qualified.
Customer Service/Project Tracking
After the sale is made, you can design a number of follow-ups to ensure you provide customer service. For on-going service activity, this can be scheduled and tracked each month, with a report at the end of each month to show you how many hours your team is spending on each client. Similarly, in delivery of a project, you can track your hours from each of the project team members so that you are able to inform clients when they have gone over the allotted time in a project.
Although you can usually operate the basics of CRM with an out of the box system, you’ll find that you may need to make some customizations that reflect different lines of businesses, product or service areas that your company delivers. As I referenced above, you could also choose to set-up common calendars for your distributors and sales people, which would require a more detailed design, but now possible for a fraction of the price that it would cost a few years ago.
The best approach is to start with the basic functionality with the sales team with some minor customisations. Once the team is familiar using it, you can start to involve the team in making some work-flow changes to improve your service or operation.
Call your local technology partner for more advice.
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About the author: Dexter Duncan provides marketing advice and heads business development at Empower IT Solutions. Contact Dexter at dd@EmpowerIT.com.au