Managing Relationships, Managing Business

What should you know about CRM? Two experts give their opinion on what CRM can provide, what trends are worthy of emulating and what the future of CRM holds.


[From iSource Business, June 2001] The area of CRM (customer relationship management) continues to evolve, and this has been especially true over the past year or so. Customer relationships are being improved through powerful CRM technology. Improving customer retention, targeting the most profitable markets with the highest potential, and focusing on the most profitable customers and prospects are the overall goals.

The following are trends that have appeared in CRM over the past year.

  • Databases are becoming more customer-centric, which enables information sharing among all employees who "touch" customers. A year ago, customer service, sales and marketing functions had disparate systems for tracking information about the customer. By centralizing this data across all enterprise "touch points," each function can more effectively leverage and analyze shared information. Companies can now analyze, segment and target the market to improve how they up-sell and cross-sell to customers in all channels via direct marketing programs, Internet and advertising campaigns.


  • Businesses have more integrated solutions for greater connectivity to their back offices. A critical need for companies in search of a competitive edge is to integrate data across buy-side, inside and sell-side functions to achieve higher levels of customer service. The major enterprise resource planning (ERP) companies are moving in the front-office direction and building CRM into their applications, by either partnering with or acquiring CRM suppliers. But the CRM companies are also merging among themselves, which means decision-makers will need to compare closely the functionality available in an ERP offering versus a best-of-breed supplier. Ease of use, back-office integration capabilities and functionality fit are the top three CRM selection criteria.


  • Businesses have more integrated solutions for greater connectivity to their back offices. A critical need for companies in search of a competitive edge is to integrate data across buy-side, inside and sell-side functions to achieve higher levels of customer service. The major enterprise resource planning (ERP) companies are moving in the front-office direction and building CRM into their applications, by either partnering with or acquiring CRM suppliers. But the CRM companies are also merging among themselves, which means decision-makers will need to compare closely the functionality available in an ERP offering versus a best-of-breed supplier. Ease of use, back-office integration capabilities and functionality fit are the top three CRM selection criteria.


  • The move toward Web solutions from client-server technology offers new geographical opportunities. Rather than accessing CRM applications through a hard drive, companies want to use a Web browser and wireless technology from anywhere at any time. In the past, the mobile salesperson was required to download information onto a laptop about a customer or prospect and then synchronize to the company's database at night. Now this information is available in real time via any Web browser or wireless device. Contact and calendar information can be accessed faster to gain higher productivity for the sales or serviceperson in the field. These and other CRM applications hold more tangible benefits for business executives who are ready and anxious to fund technology for building greater customer loyalty.


  • Web self-service is escalating due to the heightened awareness of CRM and its business value. CRM applications (considered to be front-office systems) are creating HTML-thin client capabilities for tying Internet product-ordering services into the company's CRM application via a built-in Web interface. The ability to sell products or services and generate revenues with little to no human interaction, while resources focus on other, "more profitable" activities, is very appealing. More and more companies want to capitalize on CRM's promise of reduced operating costs; increased customer satisfaction with immediate, automated responses to inquiries; and expanded revenues by capturing cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.
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