CRM Technology as a Business Planning Tool

When companies implement CRM technology, they often are so enthusiastic about the "customer" and "relationship" aspects of their new system that they overlook the full potential of the technology's "management" capabilities.

CRM, of course, was developed to help organizations gain insight into their sales pipelines, customer buying preferences, and case management for existing customers, while leveraging contact management to drive nurture marketing to prospective new customers. Today's CRM, however, can do far more. It can become the core technology for business planning of all types, such as configuring consistent sales processes leading to improved outcomes, coordinating marketing executions across multiple channels, and understanding future demand, enabling robust resource management and helping plan for the overall growth of the business.

The expectations of customers—whether individuals or corporate consumers—are higher than ever. Businesses can no longer dictate how their customers will choose to interact and need to provide efficient engagement through a range of online channels. The entire organization must have access to customer details in order to provide the level of service demanded by its customer. A fully integrated CRM system allows companies to break down information silos between departments and develop comprehensive solutions for customers. In short, there is a saying that "everyone is a salesperson" and with today's modern CRM systems, everyone can also work in support.

CRM technology offers a foundation for both operations and planning in the arenas of sales, service, and marketing. With its ability to furnish customer information across the entire enterprise, everyone is able to see what efforts are in progress and what is in the sales pipeline. For example, with better access to the sales pipeline, professional services firms can better plan the number of resources and skill sets they will need to meet demand. Manufacturing firms will be able to source and lock in needed materials at better prices, helping to meet future demand. CRM thus takes the guesswork out of decision-making, pulling the marketing, sales, and operations teams together to plan from a single, up-to-the-minute version of the company's market landscape. Previously disparate groups in the organization can collaborate on business planning in a way that helps ensure they are efficiently pursuing complementary objectives.

The value of CRM as a business planning tool has been illustrated by engineering, procurement, and construction firm Black & Veatch. The company, based in Overland Park, KS, had worked for many years with a homegrown CRM system. "As the company evolved into a large, global enterprise, it understood the need for a system that offered business planning capabilities," says Fredrik Winterlind, its vice president of global marketing and communications. It deployed an advanced CRM technology that furnished anywhere, anytime access to data from worldwide operations. With the new technology, the global marketing and communications team has transformed its business planning capabilities in four areas:

Business processes. Its CRM technology has become the company's single point of entry at which all projects begin, allowing those preparing multimillion-dollar project proposals to capture the opportunity details and immediately initiate a workflow that involves the finance department. Staff can receive budget numbers from the financial system and analyze if the project is worth pursuing. "Developing our CRM technology into a master data repository with integrations to other systems to ensure high-quality data across the enterprise has brought powerful benefits," says Tim Thorpe, the department's director of digital content. With one system across all operations, the company can draw out similarities and best practices to streamline processes.

Sales pipeline management and sales intelligence. Black & Veatch executives use the CRM system to manage their pipeline of opportunities and client accounts. It permits them to gather intelligence on factors contributing to wins and losses for each project, as well as insights on shifts in clients, competitors, and market sentiment. The system allows Black & Veatch to aggregate its sales pipeline and produce a multiyear planning road map, revealing what the pipeline needs to look like to meet future revenue milestones.

Human resources. Black & Veatch has created a CRM queue to route benefits-related questions from personnel to HR staff. These emails and phone inquiries are addressed within the system and subsequently contribute to an FAQ area that enables self-service, helping to address frequent issues proactively and in a timely way and assisting the benefits planning process by highlighting the issues most important for employee retention and satisfaction.

Marketing. The company's marketing team uses the CRM system to maintain client information to plan and track event registration, as well as for market surveys and publication subscriptions. As a single location for storing and managing client marketing activities, the CRM technology saves substantial time when planning events and new marketing initiatives.

CRM technology also can serve as a springboard to the digital economy for companies seeking to boost their interaction with consumers online and through mobile channels.

In increasing proportions, consumers search for and compare products with their smartphones and tablets and seek product recommendations through social networks. Sales staff need to explore social media for leads and market intelligence. Marketing departments must engage in extensive social media contact, potentially across hundreds of social networks. Additionally, the most effective customer service departments today employ Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs as service channels. CRM technology holds all these social initiatives together, providing a shared database and a source for analyzing trends and market shifts.

Connor Marsden is the U.S. Lead for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Visit his blog, CRM Excellence, or follow him on Twitter at @ConnorCMarsden.

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