Font Size: B- B B+

Customer Relationship Management

E-mail Print PDF

crm Customer relationship management is a broadly recognized, widely-implemented strategy for managing and nurturing a company’s interactions with clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes - principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients, nurture and retain those the company already has, entice former clients back into the fold, and reduce the costs of marketing and client service. Once simply a label for a category of software tools, today, it generally denotes a company-wide business strategy embracing all client-facing depart-

ments and even beyond. When an implementation is effective, people, processes, and technology work in synergy to increase profitability, and reduce operational costs. Business Works of Ohio can help your organization sort through the available offerings and choose the tool(s) best suited for your business.

These tools have been shown to help companies attain these objectives:

  • Streamlined sales and marketing processes
  • Higher sales productivity
  • Added cross-selling & up-selling opportunities
  • Improved service, loyalty, and retention
  • Increased call center efficiency
  • Higher close rates
  • Better profiling and targeting
  • Reduced expenses
  • Increased market share
  • Higher overall profitability
  • Marginal costing


Tools and workflows can be complex to implement, especial ly for large enterprises. Previously these tools were generally limited to contact management: monitoring and recording interactions and communications. Software solutions then expanded to embrace deal tracking, territories, opportunities, and at the sales pipeline itself. Next came the advent of tools for other client-facing business functions, as described below. These technologies have been, and still are, offered as on-premises software that companies purchase and run on their own IT infrastructure. Perhaps the most notable trend has been the growth of tools delivered via the Web, also known as cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS). In contrast with traditional on-premises software, cloud-computing applications are sold by subscription, accessed via a secure Internet connection, and displayed on a Web browser. Companies don’t incur the initial capital expense of purchasing software; neither must they buy and maintain IT hardware to run it on.

Despite all this, many companies are still not fully leveraging these tools and services to align marketing, sales, and service to best serve the enterprise. Often, implementations are fragmented; isolated initiatives by individual departments to address their own needs. Systems that start disunited usually stay that way: Siloed thinking and decision processes frequently lead to separate and incompatible systems, and dysfunctional processes.

Types / Variations

  • Sales Force Automation. As its name implies, a sales force automation (SFA) system provides an array of capabilities to streamline all phases of the sales process, minimizing the time that reps need to spend on manual data entry and administration. This allows them to successfully pursue more clients in a shorter amount of time than would otherwise be possible. At the heart of SFA is a contact management system for tracking and recording every stage in the sales process for each prospective client, from initial contact to final disposition. Many SFA applications also include insights into opportunities, territories, sales forecasts and workflow automation, quote generation, and product knowledge. Newly-emerged priorities are modules for Web 2.0 e-commerce and pricing.

  • Marketing. Systems for marketing (also known as marketing automation) help the enterprise identify and target its best clients and generate qualified leads for the sales team. A key marketing capability is tracking and measuring multichannel campaigns, including email, search, social media, and direct mail. Metrics monitored include clicks, responses, leads, deals, and revenue. As marketing departments are increasingly obliged to demonstrate revenue impact, today’s systems typically include features for measuring the Return on Investment (ROI) of campaigns.

  • Customer Service and Support. Recognizing that service is an important differentiator, organizations are increasingly turning to technology platforms to help them improve their clients’ experience while increasing efficiency and keeping a lid on costs. Even so, a 2009 study revealed that only 39% of corporate executives believe their employees have the right tools and authority to solve client problems.“. The core for these applications has been and still is comprehensive call center solutions, including such features as intelligent call routing, computer telephone integration (CTI), and escalation capabilities.

  • Analytics. Relevant analytics capabilities are often interwoven into applications for sales, marketing, and service. These features can be complemented and augmented with links to separate, purpose-built applications for analytics and business intelligence. Sales analytics let companies monitor and understand client actions and preferences, through sales forecasting, data quality, and dashboards that graphically display key performance indicators (KPIs).

    Marketing applications generally come with predictive analytics to improve segmentation and targeting, and features for measuring the effectiveness of online, offline, and search marketing campaign. Web analytics have evolved significantly from their starting point of merely tracking mouse clicks on Web sites. By evaluating “buy signals,” marketers can see which prospects are most likely to transact and also identify those who are bogged down in a sales process and need assistance. Marketing and finance personnel also use analytics to assess the value of multi-faceted programs as a whole.

    These types of analytics are increasing in popularity as companies demand greater visibility into the performance of call centers and other support channels, in order to correct problems before they affect satisfaction levels. Support-focused applications typically include dashboards similar to those for sales, plus capabilities to measure and analyze response times, service quality, agent performance, and the frequency of various issues.

  • Integrated/Collaborative. Departments within enterprises—especially large enterprises—tend to function in their own little worlds. Traditionally, inter-departmental interaction and collaboration have been infrequent and rivalries not uncommon. More recently, the development and adoption of the tools and services has fostered greater fluidity and cooperation among sales, service, and marketing. This finds expression in the concept of collaborative systems which uses technology to build bridges between departments.

    For example, feedback from a technical support center can enlighten marketers about specific services and product features clients are asking for. Reps, in their turn, want to be able to pursue these opportunities without the time-wasting burden of re-entering records and contact data into a separate SFA system. Conversely, lack of integration can have negative consequences: system isn’t adopted and integrated among all departments, several sources might contact the same clients for an identical purpose. Owing to these factors, many of the top-rated and most popular products come as integrated suites.

  • Small Business. Basic client service can be accomplished by a contact manager system, an integrated solution that lets organizations and individuals efficiently track and record interactions, including emails, documents, jobs, faxes, scheduling, and more. This kind of solution is gaining traction with even very small businesses, thanks to the ease and time savings of handling client contact through a centralized application rather than several different pieces of software, each with its own data collection system. In contrast these tools usually focus on accounts rather than individual contacts. They also generally include opportunity insight for tracking sales pipelines plus added functionality for marketing and service. As with larger enterprises, small businesses are finding value in online solutions, especially for mobile and telecommuting workers.

  • Social Media. Social Media sites like Twitter and Facebook are greatly amplifying the voice of people in the marketplace, and are predicted to have profound and far-reaching effects on the ways companies manage their clients. This is because people are using these social media sites to share opinions and experiences on companies, products, and services. As social media isn’t moderated or censored, individuals can say anything they want about a company or brand, whether pro or con. Increasingly, companies are looking to gain access to these conversations and take part in the dialogue. More than a few systems are now integrating to social networking sites. Social media promoters cite a number of business advantages, such as using online communities as a source of high-quality leads and a vehicle for crowd sourcing solutions to client-support problems. Companies can also leverage client stated habits and preferences to personalize and even “hyper-target” their sales and marketing communications. Some analysts take the view that business-to-business marketers should proceed cautiously when weaving social media into their business processes. These observers recommend careful market research to determine if and where the phenomenon can provide measurable benefits for client interactions, sales, and support.

  • Non-profit and Membership-based. Systems for non-profit and membership-based organizations help track constituents and their involvement in the organization. Capabilities typically include tracking the following: fund-raising, demographics, membership levels, membership directories, volunteering and communications with individuals. Many include tools for identifying potential donors based on previous donations and participation. In light of the growth of social networking tools, there may be some overlap between social/community driven tools and non-profit/membership tools.


Choosing and implementing a system is a major undertaking. For enterprises of any appreciable size, a complete and detailed plan is required to obtain the funding, resources, and company-wide support that can make the initiative successful. Benefits must be defined, risks assessed, and cost quantified in three general areas:

  • Processes: Though these systems have many technological components, business processes lie at its core. It can be seen as a more client-centric way of doing business, enabled by technology that consolidates and intelligently distributes pertinent information about clients, sales, marketing effectiveness, responsiveness, and market trends. Therefore, before choosing a technology platform, a company needs to analyze its business workflows and processes; some will likely need re-engineering to better serve the overall goal of winning and satisfying clients. Moreover, planners need to determine the types of client information that are most relevant, and how best to employ them.

  • People: For an initiative to be effective, an organization must convince its staff that change is good and that the new technology and workflows will benefit employees as well as clients. Senior executives need to be strong and visible advocates who can clearly state and support the case for change. Collaboration, teamwork, and two-way communication should be encouraged across hierarchical boundaries, especially with respect to process improvement.

  • Technology: In evaluating technology, key factors include alignment with the company’s business process strategy and goals; the ability to deliver the right data to the right employees; and sufficient ease of use that users won’t balk. Platform selection is best undertaken by a carefully chosen group of executives who understand the business processes to be automated as well as the various software issues. Depending upon the size of the company and the breadth of data, choosing an application can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more.


Dramatic increases in revenue, higher rates of client satisfaction, and significant savings in operating costs are some of the benefits to an enterprise. Proponents emphasize that technology should be implemented only in the context of careful strategic and operational planning. Implementations almost invariably fall short when one or more facets of this prescription are ignored:

  • Poor planning: Initiatives can easily fail when efforts are limited to choosing and deploying software, without an accompanying rationale, context, and support for the workforce. In other instances, enterprises simply automate flawed client-facing processes rather than redesign them according to best practices.

  • Poor integration: For many companies, integrations are piecemeal initiatives that address a glaring need: improving a particular client-facing process or two or automating a favored sales or client support channel. Such “point solutions” offer little or no integration or alignment with a company’s overall strategy. They offer a less than complete client view and often lead to unsatisfactory user experiences.

  • Toward a solution: overcoming Siloed thinking. Experts advise organizations to recognize the immense value of integrating their client-facing operations. In this view, internally-focused, department-centric views should be discarded in favor of reorienting processes toward information-sharing across marketing, sales, and service. For example, sales representatives need to know about current issues and relevant marketing promotions before attempting to cross-sell to a specific clients. Marketing staff should be able to leverage client information from sales and service to better target campaigns and offers. And support agents require quick and complete access to a client’s sales and service history.

Adoption Issues

Historically, the landscape is littered with instances of low adoption rates. In 2003, a Gartner report estimated that more than $1 billion had been spent on software that wasn’t being used. More recent research indicates that the problem,while perhaps less severe, is a long way from being solved. According to a CSO Insights less than 40 percent of 1,275 participating companies had end-user adoption rates above 90 percent.

In a 2007 survey, four-fifths of senior executives reported that their biggest challenge is getting their staff to use the systems they’d installed. Further, 43 percent of respondents said they use less than half the functionality of their existing system; 72 percent indicated they’d trade functionality for ease of use; 51 percent cited data synchronization as a major issue; and 67 percent said that finding time to evaluate systems was a major problem. With expenditures expected to exceed $11 billion in 2010, enterprises need to address and overcome persistent adoption challenges. Specialists offer these recommendations for boosting adoptions rates and coaxing users to blend these tools into their daily workflow:

  • Choose a system that’s easy to use: All solutions are not created equal. Some vendors offer more user-friendly applications than others, and simplicity should be as important a decision factor as functionality.

  • Choose the right capabilities: Employees need to know that time invested in learning and usage will yield personal advantages. If not, they will work around or ignore the system.

  • Provide training: Changing the way people work is no small task, and help is usually a requirement. Even with today’s more usable systems, many staffers still need assistance with learning and adoption. Provide consistent support. Prompt, expert, always-accessible technical support goes a long way to facilitate use and confidence with a new system.

Notes and references

Gartner, Inc. (6 June 2009) What's 'Hot' in CRM Applications in 2009 (2002) What Is CRM?

SAP white paper (2003) CRM Without Compromise

SAP Insider (15 November 2007) Still Struggling to Reduce Call Center Costs Without Losing Customers?

Strativity Group, Inc. (2009) Global Customer Experience Management Benchmark Study

InsideCRM (2007) Get It Together with Collaborative CRM (2009) Who Owns the Social Customer?

Clara Shih, (2009) Sales and Social Media: No One’s social (Yet)

TechTarget (2009) Strategy Checklist: Planning for CRM and Customer Service Success

Lior Arussy (2005). "Understanding the Fatal Mistakes". Passionate and Profitable. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. "Avoid the Four Perils of CRM". Harvard Business Review.

Jim Dickie, CSO Insights (2006) Demystifying CRM Adoption Rates

David Sims, (2007) CRM Adoption ‘Biggest Problem’ in 83 Percent of Cases (2009) CRM Market Grows for Fifth Straight Year

Gartner, Inc (2008-09-12). "Gartner Says Worldwide Customer Relationship Management Market Grew 23 Percent in 2007".

Gartner, Inc (2009-06-15). "Gartner Says Worldwide CRM Market Grew 12.5 Percent in 2008".

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 March 2010 11:29