Getting customer relationship right

Tags: Knowledge
Getting customer relationship right
Most executives today believe that in order to have a good relationship with customers, one must have good software. The CRM software industry has grown tremendously over the last couple of years. For every industry this has become fashionable.

Today, when there are several software solutions are available for every type of business, the questions are numerous: When to jump into CRM? How to choose the right application? Which one will give us the best ROI? Businesses can improve the sales process efficiency by asking a few critical questions before buying any CRM package.

* When should we consider a CRM system? More than 50 per cent of CRM software bought, were a failure when launched several years ago. The ROI was disastrous. Companies made the biggest mistake of thinking that by buying software solution worth crores of rupees would result in better customer relationship management. They had not considered the issue of changing the mindset and processes within the company to bring forth this change. Today acquiring a CRM package is not too expensive with software as a service models are abound. So the question really is about when a company should start using CRM.

When the quantum of customers and customer data become too cumbersome to manage manually, one should look at automation. Managers will wonder if the time and effort to choose a CRM solution is justified, especially if existing sales people complain about being forced to use a new system. CRM adds structure, control and management oversight to the sales process and the sales staff. So they will see the benefits pretty quickly.

* Where should we host the software – on the sales person’s laptop, our in own server or in a third party server? Given the number and complexity of regions and salesforce, it is best to have a networked CRM. Sales people are the most likely to have a remote office when working in the field, often in their homes. Accessing the CRM from remote locations securely is easiest with software hosted on a web server accessed through a browser. Open source software applications run on any web host. It is not a good idea to put sales software on individual computers. Host your CRM software on your own web server, or have a third-party service. Effective management and oversight require a networked sales system.

* Which one should we buy? When there are hundreds of CRM software available, which one will you choose for your needs and how? Starting point could be talking to other businesses. Finding a hosted CRM application takes almost no effort, but choosing among multiple candidates does require some testing. It will be a good idea to involve everyone in the evaluation phase, beginning with sales person and ending with the CEO. They will all be using the system. They all should test out various options vis-à-vis the features. For instance you should evaluate how to make copies of your data to download for safekeeping. Your hosted provider will not lose your data, but having backups will make it easy to transfer to another system if necessary. Decide if you need to integrate your CRM solution with other applications before you decide on a product. Does the software interact with your ERP system and inventory management system? There are many such questions one can ask as buying criteria.

* How do we overcome the resistance? No matter how user-friendly and effective the software is, some users and managers will hate changing their habits, and will be eager to avoid the new application. A successful CRM implementation must be used by everyone involved in the sales process. This is the only way to provide customer contact consistency and full management oversight. Only by complete compliance will the organisation reap the benefits of such an automation. By merely sending a strict warning and order from the top will only create resentment among the sales force and will be self defeating. To encourage application use, start sending all sales department information through the CRM solution’s internal communication channels rather than via email. All systems offer ways to comment on accounts, assign tasks, and send messages to other users. When sales team members find themselves out of the loop, they will be strongly encouraged to get back in the loop via the new CRM system.

Just as the SAP or any ERP system software refuses to pay for vendors without proper registration via the system, the sales department should refuse to pay commissions and travel expense not entered into the CRM application. The idea is to present this requirement as a paperwork necessity rather than as punishment. Any level of participation short of complete adoption and compliance is a failure. All the members of the sales team must live within the CRM system to make it effective, and all managers must be consistent yet patient in moving salespeople into compliance.

The sales department under a CRM regime and that has a large distributed sales team members, will make more sales in less time than a department without CRM. Customer service will improve, since any member of the sales team will have the total customer history available if needed to fill in for another sales team member. Management will know exactly which members of the sales team are doing the preparation necessary to keep their personal sales pipeline full and, therefore, supporting the company sales goals.

The benefits are endless if done right. If used as a mere software tool as a gimmick to customer service, it will backfire and the company will lose its investment in no time.

(The writer is CEO and MD of CustomerLab Solutions)

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