CRM: Out of the box? Or outside the box?

Everything can change without notice in your relationships with prospects and customers, and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions should be flexible enough to help with this ongoing challenge. Monolithic enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages or suites can take years to implement and cannot easily adapt to change; but CRM solutions can provide functionality that makes change management easy and reduces its disruptive effects to the minimum.

Customer-centric or not, every company generates information about its customers that may be used by any department of the company—e.g., invoicing for accounting, customer feedback for product development, sales performance for incentives and compensation management, etc. Traditionally, CRM solutions did not offer functionality that would allow companies to use CRM data in any department other than sales and marketing. Also, functionality that was not specific to CRM but still related to it, such as business process management (BPM) and project management, was very little supported by CRM systems.

This has changed a lot over the past decade, when vendors started providing add-ons and apps that can easily be plugged into or unplugged from the core CRM system and also offering development platforms that people can use to develop their own tools or to customize their existing CRM solution.

Forget about the box—use what you need

CRM “boxes” (or core packages) are becoming very similar in their base functionality. The main differentiator between CRM solutions is now the ability to offer extra functionality for the specific needs of different types of company. This extra functionality can be separated into two main categories: external, or customer-oriented (which helps companies better interact with customers and prospects), and internal, or process-oriented (used to manage and improve internal workflows and processes related to relationship management).

Some examples of customer-oriented extra functionality are enterprise feedback management, knowledge base management, service experience management, help desk, and information technology (IT) service management. Companies providing software and IT services will benefit from help desk functionality, while utilities companies will focus on tracking the feedback they get from customers on the quality of their field service response teams. Any company could benefit from the functionality mentioned above, but some are more likely than others to view it as essential for their business and invest in it.

Process-oriented functionality is usually provided in stand-alone tools for business process or project management, or as part of ERP packages, but new programming platforms and the cloud delivery option are making them accessible for lower-scale implementations. Thus, small and medium companies can now take advantage of functionality to create and manage workflows and business processes, without being forced to buy full BPM or project management solutions. Through add-ons or flexible modules, project-oriented companies that are also customer-centric can now use CRM and project management functionality together, even though this may not be considered important by other companies.

These two types of functionality do and should overlap—customer-oriented functionality can be used to improve internal processes, and process-oriented functionality can help build better relationships with customers and prospects.

More options means more freedom, but…

…freedom comes with a price: too much diversity can generate confusion (since not every add-on integrates with any CRM solution) and managing multiple solutions, add-ons, and tools can generate headaches (because integration is not always seamless and straightforward).

Also, some vendors decided to focus on the extra functionality that they support very well, thus sacrificing core CRM functionality. Which means that very good help desk or feedback management vendors do not offer sales force automation, for instance. So you may have to buy and use two systems if you need core CRM functionality but also want some extras.

I explore this further in the upcoming CRM buyer’s guide: Innovations in CRM. But in the meantime I would like to know your opinion on this type of functionality for CRM.

comments powered by Disqus