In many respects, externally sourced, on-demand CRM systems are the best option for companies with a wealth of customer data to both track and act upon. This is a truth that seems to become more relevant with each passing day, as brands increasingly must not only join the social age, but also establish their originality and expertise online.
But the problem with many off-the-shelf, generalized CRM platforms is that they're one size fits…no one.
By and large, most companies will still need to keep a range of customized tools, core apps, and ERP systems on hand to address their many industry- (or even company-) specific needs. And, as many CRM systems don't work nicely across platforms, vendors, or applications, this can lead to a load of headaches, including:
- A doubled workload as a company straddles two similar but incomplete applications, trying to piece together a whole
- Potential for human error during manual integration efforts
- Problems scaling a CRM solution across department silos
- Unexpected costs, as many businesses find the need to buy additional software either to address extra capabilities or help with integration
What's more, some businesses are so unique there isn't any CRM system out there that will address a majority of their needs, requiring a large investment of IT's money and time to get any basic CRM software where it needs to go.
So, what's the solution? It starts with understanding that a CRM platform, no matter how many bells and whistles it might have, must fit with the people, processes, and technology already dominant in your organization. And it's demanding that your CRM system must change along with these needs.
Get Everyone on Board
One of the biggest problems with implementing a new CRM system is low adoption rates. People hate change, and they tend to get complacent with older systems due to simple familiarity, even when those systems are clunky and time-consuming. This can create huge data and analysis headaches, further separating employees into self-imposed silos as they struggle to see just what other teams and team members are doing.
But are low adoption rates really all that surprising when most off-the-shelf CRM models are so difficult or costly to customize, and when training on new systems requires so much staff time and mental power?
For maximum adoption rates, CIOs will have to think past pep talks, training, and top down commands. Rather, when a CIO knows the company needs a radically new and highly customized CRM system, he should demand customization not of a template CRM system, but rather a CRM system built specifically for the company. With more and more development companies employing the agile methodology, chances are this will actually save the company money and development time in the long run, as the customer becomes an active part of CRM system development.
"We've found that we actually produce the best product when we work hand-in-hand with the customer," says Michel Ozzello of OutSystems, a custom applications software and integration vendor. Ozzello says this is much more productive than "making initial plans with a customer and reappearing six months later with a product that may or may not still address a company's changing needs."
Involving the teams that will be using the new CRM system creates more employee buy-in, as they are able to provide feedback that can be integrated into the product. Feeling invested in the product will make them more likely to adopt it and make the integration process run more smoothly.
Consider Customization for Merging
Of course, the whole point of a solid integration will be to merge systems. There's nothing worse, after all, than having to use one system for ERP and another for customer management. Not only does this lead to a lot of clicking, copying, and pasting, but disparate data also reduces the chances of spotting the kinds of trends in data that can lead to new business opportunities and prevent disasters.
But many CRM systems have proprietary APIs, making it very difficult to do anything more than tweak. And, when APIs are available, an over-eager IT staff can often overdevelop a complex solution that is likely to fall apart as the tasks and manner in which tasks are completed change to keep pace with developments in the market.
This, of course, is not a problem if you build a customized CRM from the ground up, designed to address as many capabilities as your company demands. In fact, this is where many agile companies thrive—in wading through disparate data and processes and determining the best way to streamline them into one easy-to-use system.
Leave Room for Change
Though it's difficult to recall now, there was a time when a company could develop a customized system and that solution would be effective for five to 10 years. But that has all changed, right along with advances in technology.
Too often, companies that fear the added cost of buying and implementing a new CRM system will pile on small tweaks that don't really address the problem and that end up bogging down the processes. Any good CRM system should leave room for change, and should empower IT to make those changes either hand in hand with a development company or on their own. When agility is built into a product's development, it's much easier to change course, even if that means throwing out an old solution entirely.
Last but not least, it's important that management and adoption of integration comes from a company's very highest office. Not only will this help make adoption mandatory for the rest of the company, but it will also help employees engage with the agile process. The active CIO will educate his or her employees about the upcoming changes, encourage them to test out any viable products, and check in regularly to make sure true adoption is occurring.
Integration can be a big problem for CRM systems, but it doesn't have to be. Companies with complex demands, or in dire need of streamlining, require customized systems, developed the agile way.
Adria Saracino is the head of outreach at Distilled, a creative marketing firm. A consultant on content and promotion, she also writes a fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.