I was invited by Focus.com and Sage SalesLogix to present as part of panel and discussion: CRM in the Cloud: The Top 8 Considerations for Building Brighter Prospects for Your Business. For those of you who know me, I often write on topics somehow aligned with Social CRM or Social Business, spending time looking forward. Recently, I find myself taking a step back, and taking a closer look at the fundamentals a bit. It is too easy to gloss over the basics. It is well worth your time to make sure that the core platform is in place, your data is secure and your business processes are sound. Then, if you still have the energy, feel free to jump into Social… ( Sorry for the length, this one is a bit long )
1. The system meets standard CRM operational and business requirements.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the central component of a company wide initiative, which has the single focus of maintaining a careful watch over the relationship that exists between you and your customers. What it needs to do, in order to meet that simple objective is a business discussion, which needs to take into consideration People, Process and Technology. The technology component (about 20% as measured by time, money and or effort) is an enabler, a means to an end and is not a substitute for sound strategic planning and rallying the troops for all departments, which is required to fuel any successful business model.
Any CRM solution needs to contain all of the core objects you need to run your business. Where the objects do not contain all of the elements you need, a business person (not technical person) should be able to easily add elements, through a simple user interface, without having to hire a software developer, ie dive into code. Looking at usability, any knowledge worker, from a call center agent, up to the CEO, need to be able to quickly and easily find the information they need. Tasks, activities and collaboration are not just features or functions rather, each must do its part to help people get work done. The system needs to run through a simple, intuitive user interface, which everyone enjoys using.
2. Your CRM vendor offers and provides you deployment flexibility.
Cloud in reference to technology and computing is an overused buzzword which describes every computing environment that operates outside of one’s own data center. SaaS is a description of a delivery model for software applications, which drew out of On-demand and ASP. Together, Cloud Computing and SaaS are taking things to a new level altogether by the introduction of both development platform and infrastructure licenses sold as a service. This shift, fueled by inexpensive computing power as well as advances and extensions to open source technology helps businesses of all sizes to move capital expenditure (CapEx) to operational expenditure (OpEx), leading to lower initial investment and higher productivity.
The advances just described are not limited to only Cloud or SaaS, but many can be fully leveraged on premise. For example, advances, which were created to manage systems, help with deployment have made things easier for companies who choose to keep their core applications onsite. Cloud computing, nor SaaS are for everyone, it is beyond this quick discussion to help you make that choice, but the most important aspect is that you DO have a choice. Any application you choose must be able to switch from one model to the other, and back again, without disruption to business operations.
3. Storage and security requirements are in-line with your needs.
No one likes to be ‘Nickeled and Dimed’ for features, functions or storage. For example, if you do business with architectural firms and they are constantly uploading new plans, which need to be attached to the account record in CRM, you do not want to be concerned with how many files are attached. Data availability and security are constantly at the top of mind for all business owners and executive staff at larger companies. Your customer data is a critical company asset and should be considered YOUR asset no matter where the system resides.
SaaS was – and is still – enabled by both vendors and companies wanting to simply provide a service, and, in essence amortizing the infrastructure costs, leasing if you will, to their customers. Cloud platforms separate the maintenance of the infrastructure from the end users of the applications. Basically, Cloud is making it easier for companies with great applications and services to deliver an experience reliably and securely and at a cost that has significant customer benefits. These needs, should also include data, and the transport of that data.
Very often, companies would like a back up of customer data to be made available offline, or to another system altogether. Business Intelligence solutions (BI) are also available as SaaS, as well as on premise solutions. The decision of where your data is located, when and how it gets there needs not only to be your decision, but you need to be able to sleep well at night as your think through the security of that data.
4. You can meet the needs of a dynamic workforce.
Knowledge workers are closely related to the Social Customer. Your teams work where they want, when they want, and it is in your best interests to support this as best you can! Anarchy! Well, I do not want to divert my message here, as where and how your employees work is not the focus here. Your teams will spend time at the office, at your customer’s office, but they will spend a lot of time working at virtual locations. Whether this is at home, the coffee shop, 9-5, or Sunday afternoon, your teams need more flexibility, a happy employee is a productive one. Beyond the user interface, a typical area of complaint is the overall user experience.
What I typically hear are things like “the sales team needs a new CRM system yesterday, but we prefer to keep support operations behind the firewall.” A possible scenario here might be phase one deployed quickly and securely in the cloud and then move the system behind the firewall when the company will spend the time and energy working to integrate support and operations. By the way, I also ask the question: “Why exactly does sales need a new application?” The answer is often about management needs, not the sales people.
5. You are confident you can promote high user adoption rates.
Most employees are frequent users of Facebook, YouTube and the fancy travel sites. Knowledge workers are asking about iPad, iPhone and Android based access to all corporate systems. In order to get them to use the application and enjoy the experience, using the system needs to be positive and valuable to them. Sales people are always complaining that they are “feeding the beast” and the value is all for management. They want to make sure that the system helps them, notifies them when something important is happening.
Often the question is asked, ‘how long will it take to train people on the new application?’ My answer, typical for me, is that ‘it depends’. But, one anecdote I try to convey to my clients, and people willing to listen is the following: How many people took the Facebook training, or LinkedIn? The point is that there is an expectation by knowledge workers that modern applications are straightforward, easy to use and the value is self evident.
6. Your CRM vendor treats you as a valued partner.
Just as your customers expect you to be listening to them, is you CRM vendor listening to you? When you are asking for a specific technology integration, or User Interface on a specific device, how are they responding to you? Ask for some references of recently won and 2-3 year old accounts who you can talk to and ask these questions. In the age of Service based offerings, you have a choice, and vendors need to earn your business every year. A vendor should be willing to work with you not only one month prior to renewal time, but all year long.
7. The system is capable of viewing data from the social web.
Having ready access to a global community of developers and the ability to harness Web 2.0 technologies to create flexible networks of business partners, employees and clients is critical in the age of the social web. Integration of data from the social web is important now and critical to your success in the future. Technology integration is only one part of the puzzle. Consuming unstructured date and turning this data into information and insights will take careful planning.
Data from social monitoring solutions like Radian6, Attensity and others needs to be the first step in the process, listening only does not solve any business problem. Whether you are using a monitoring solution, or simply spending time in front of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networking sites, each has a cost. Your CRM system needs to be extensible, such that you are able to view specific pieces of information, about an individual, who has, or would like to create a relationship between you and your company.
8. The solution adds value to all members of your organization.
Reading all of the above should be enough. If your CRM application does not add value to everyone, towards understand the value of a relationship between your company and a specific customer, or a group/segment of customers, then you need to carefully consider what that is the case.