All financial crises eventually come to an end but in the meantime, many businesses are travelling a bumpy road to recovery, with hard-pressed senior managers constrained by tightened operational budgets – and everyone expected to do more with but with less resource.
Those businesses most likely to recover quickly and succeed when competitors are falling behind will be noted for their agility – the ability to adapt quickly to changing demands and requirements in a cost-effective and productive way to increase revenue, shorten delivery cycles and lower costs, while becoming more responsive to customer expectations.
This is where effective CRM comes into play, helping agile organisations meet targets for productivity, performance, cost reduction and revenue generation. This is especially so where business leaders suffer acute economic anxiety and their reflex is to tighten their tech wallets, rather than invest in systems that will deliver the added flexibility and efficiency their company needs.
These agile companies will need an equally agile CRM system, with the flexibility of multiple access methods – helping engage with customers anywhere, anytime, anyhow – and on any mobile platform, through any device: laptop; iPhone, Android or BlackBerry smartphone; and increasingly, tablets such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab. This means cost-effective remote working for increased flexibility and rapid customer response, together with 24/7 availability, so people need never be out of touch.
Rapid response is increasingly important where more and more organisations are reaching out to customers and prospects via social media. How they do so is influenced by the markets in which they operate. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Wikipedia are often referenced but some are more relevant to FMCG, others to B2B and need to be approached differently. Alongside these is the social intranet – the in-house communications and gossip community that develops quite informally.
It is all part of the drive towards enterprise mobility, going beyond unified applications for voice, messaging and email to embrace CRM and sales force enablement in a bid to secure positive customer engagement and improve workplace productivity. The norm of nine-to-five working is being overturned as staff and managers spend time away from their desks and on the road, spilling over into their evenings and weekends. And global workers may have the added challenge of doing business across multiple time zones. Whether in the office, at home or at the airport, they need constant access to enterprise systems, anytime and anywhere.
There is more detail below but here are some key considerations to bear in mind when looking to become more agile:
- Make sure your CRM system enables people to quickly and easily retrieve actionable business intelligence so that they can make fast and accurate decisions based on fact rather than assumption.
- Ensure that your CRM system is simple to customise, flexible and intuitive to use – and without the need to rely too much on IT specialists.
- Analyse the true cost of ownership of the system, beyond the cost of the core software package. Will you have to buy additional modules for essential functions? What about training? Adding data storage capacity or more users?
- How much choice of access to the CRM system will you have? Desktop, online, over the web, via smartphones or tablets. The more choice, the better.
- What KPIs can you rely on to help grow business, improve productivity and boost the bottom line, while serving your customers better?
- Make sure your CRM system addresses the critical issues of people, process and technology – users must understand ‘what’s in it for them’. Question whether there are better processes and ways of doing things.
- Ensure the system is bang up to date from a technology perspective, capable of running on any type of device, through any popular browser, on-premise, in the cloud, or a hybrid of them all.
Act instantly on up to date information
It doesn’t matter how large or small your business operation may be – or whether you are a manufacturer, retailer, professional services firm or consultancy – the ability to share up-to-the-minute information and to act on it instantly is essential. At its best, this might mean funnelling data and significant events from accounting and invoicing, inventory, production, logistics and distribution, sales and marketing, and workflow through your CRM system. The objective is to provide consolidated, actionable information about your customers.
For example, sales people can identify customers on credit hold while they are taking orders or giving quotes. The production manager can see potential large orders in the pipeline that may require additional resourcing; or query the validity of authorising a rush job when the customer has insufficient credit for the job to be completed without exceeding terms and conditions. By having all of the relevant information at their fingertips, they can make fast and accurate decisions based on fact rather than assumption or guess work.
This leads into better planning and forecasting. Should you review resources to ensure you can cope with demand? For example, if you are a professional services firm do you need to re-assign personnel to handle an influx of client advisory work? In manufacturing, do you need to book production space through the ERP system to ensure completion of this order or not? With an increase in orders in the sales pipeline, will finance need to consider next quarter’s customer credit limits; or organise more working capital to ease a squeeze on cash flow? Should sales and customer service teams be prepared to deal with customer calls querying lengthening delivery lead times?
This is all part of taking an agile approach at a time when business operations are changing direction and moving so much faster than ever before.
Quick and easy to adapt
Agility of your CRM system should extend to how quickly and easily it can be adapted to changes in processes and the way your company does business. It must be simple to customise, flexible and intuitive to use, and without the need to rely too much on IT specialists. It must also be able to reach out across all those areas that have a bearing on the customer experience which ultimately has an impact on the bottom line. And it has to do all this as cost-effectively as possible.
Whatever type of CRM system you choose, on-premise, as a hosted service or in the cloud, other items need to be included to give a true picture of the total cost of ownership. Does the software come with all the sales, marketing and customer service functionality you need? Or will you have to buy additional modules for functions such as web access, mobile CRM or to run email marketing campaigns?
What about data storage or adding new users, will the costs escalate? Are there any recurring annual fees – if so how much? Don’t forget to factor in training. Bear in mind that a simple, intuitive system will be quicker and easier to learn than larger, more complex systems. Also, check how easily you can migrate from an on-premise solution to a cloud-based service, and back again if you need to.
Agile access boosts efficiency and productivity – and saves costs
Agility of access is equally important. Good CRM systems provide multiple touch- points. This has obvious advantages for anyone working out in the field, like sales people or service technicians or other staff who may be working remotely. The agile CRM approach has ushered in even greater opportunities to improve customer satisfaction as well as increase efficiency and productivity of permanent or occasional field and remote workers by reducing down time and smoothing the two-way flow of updates between them and managers back at HQ.
Overall, agile CRM helps bring immediacy to collaborative management processes. Mobile access to real-time information, for example, from the client services team, production, despatch or sales systems means they will know of any problems and are well-prepared ahead of a meeting, perhaps why a project has been delayed or an order delivered to the wrong location.
You should be able to access the CRM system through most common web browsers – Microsoft Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, for example – as well as smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Currently, there is an interesting cross-over between home or personal access devices, where people are looking to use their own smartphone or tablet for work applications. They are very familiar with their personal device and by bringing it into their work environment, can extend that familiarity to their organisation’s corporate systems.
A good CRM system should be able to replicate a similar user experience but this can set some challenges. Some CRM systems may not look or work exactly the same on every device. There may also be some constraints in terms of onboard memory capacity, speed and network carrier coverage. But agile an CRM should take this in its stride.
Agile attitude to sales and marketing
Alongside agile CRM, sales and marketing professionals are embracing an agile approach to monitoring progress against KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). They can gain actionable insight through their personalised dashboards for a visual health-check of sales leads, opportunities and account status. They can also keep tabs on their biggest deals by staying vigilant to important changes in their status. Automated alerts keep them up to speed on significant changes, as soon as they happen so opportunities can be analysed and strategy adjusted accordingly, Instant reports deliver insight through sales pipeline funnels, lead summaries and forecasts. And other metrics such as how teams are performing against targets; pick-up from sales and marketing campaigns; statistics on which lines or products are selling well – or not so well – all help inform the decision-making process.
Overall, agile CRM can give a big boost to serving the customer better. Managers don’t have to function in isolation whilst out on the road. As long as they have mobile or internet access, they can monitor marketing activity without having to go back to the office, so they can re-focus resources, amend campaigns or change direction completely if the results warrant it. This shortens the communications process and allows users to respond to events quicker – essential in today’s fast-moving social media world where a single unfavourable Tweeted incident can escalate rapidly to a major calamity.
Profiting from people, process and technology
Deploying a successful agile CRM system means addressing three key components: people, process and technology. Lack of user engagement is the number one reason for the failure of CRM systems. Unlike installing back-end IT software, you will need substantial user engagement to drive adoption. So make sure you involve users early and often during the system planning and implementation phases. It is vital that they understand ’What’s in it for them’.
Put your business processes under the microscope. Are the processes you follow efficient and effective? Question whether there is a better way to do things – don’t just carry on with the status quo. Make sure your agile CRM is perceived to be as simple, quick, easy to use and more convenient than other alternatives or frontline users will circumvent it and continue with business as usual.
Make sure that the system you choose is bang up to date from a technology perspective: running on any type of device, through any major browser, on-premise, in the cloud – or a hybrid of them all. Also, bear in mind that any CRM system – no matter how agile – will require some tailoring if it is to fit the unique way you and your colleagues work.
And if you don’t have the experience or confidence to go it alone, don’t be afraid to call on expert assistance. Get it right and you’ll benefit from happier customers, decreased churn and better profitability.
By Mike Richardson, managing director at Maximizer Software EMEAGoogle+