3 (Easy) Keys to a Successful CRM Application

[Editors' Note: At CRM magazine's recent CRM Evolution 2010 conference in New York, Milletti participated in a panel discussion on the topic of application development for CRM. CRM Evolution attendees can access the presentations here. A collection of coverage from the full conference can be found here.]

Few would argue that CRM has been one of the most significant business trends and application categories to emerge over the past few decades. Wikipedia, reference of the masses, defines CRM as a "broadly recognized, widely implemented strategy for managing and nurturing a company's interactions with customers, clients, and sales prospects, using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes."

Unfortunately, and much to the disappointment of the many companies who have invested in CRM, it often hasn't lived up to the massive productivity gains expected across the customer-facing organization, especially for sales. Nor has CRM delivered on its ultimate promise of "synchronizing" the business processes between two key stakeholders: the sales professional and the target buyer.

Thankfully, this is where the CRM application economy can help transform CRM into the true business-productivity platform it should be. But if you're looking to get involved in the growing CRM app ecosystem, there are three key things to keep in mind.

1.    Easy Intelligence

Applying Maslov's hierarchy of needs to business, organizing and automating processes are essential first steps for successful CRM. But while workflow automation can bring in much-needed efficiencies, it will not make customer-facing teams more effective in engaging with those customers. To complicate matters further, buyer expectations are changing dramatically.

Customer 2.0 is a savvy, socially engaged buyer who is much more informed about the companies, people, and products he is considering doing business with. And not surprisingly, this new breed of buyer expects salespeople to be more educated about his business, too. He wants to be engaged in a targeted and relevant conversation about how to solve his specific business challenges and urgent needs, not just receive a generic sales pitch.

Thus, delivering timely and easy access to intelligence about the target buyer became a CRM imperative. This need for greater intelligence is not limited to salespeople; it is a key tenet upon which to build any successful CRM application for sales, marketing, or customer service — indeed, professionals in all of these arenas need to "get smarter" in their interactions with prospects and customers.

It's important to look at what kind of intelligence is missing from the fingertips of a CRM user, and what the need for that intelligence actually looks like. The goldmine is the preponderance of business and executive intelligence flourishing in social networks and social media, adding to the existing body of information available through online news sources and traditional data providers. The challenge was going beyond mere access to static data to develop the monitoring of the Web and discovering and delivering relevant business events, people-to-people connections, and other forms of "social intelligence." At the same time, we needed to tackle the quantity-versus-quality problem by effectively filtering large quantities of information and delivering it natively within CRM platforms.

2.   Easy Adoption

For CRM to become the ubiquitous platform of productivity — the environment in which customer service, marketing, and sales professionals truly live and breathe — it needs to deliver this intelligence at the point of need: within the workflow. Congruently, if any CRM application is going to succeed, it needs to be developed to integrate directly into this workflow.

From the sales perspective, this means having account, contact, lead, and opportunity windows be transformed from out-of-date activity-tracking and -recording zones into trusted and real-time insights to initiate or accelerate any sales opportunity.

Adoption — and especially its barriers — should be a key concern when developing a CRM application. Really examine who your end user is, what she needs, and, most important, where and when she needs it within her CRM workflow. Even visually integrating it right into her dashboard with little need for extra mouse-clicks or windows makes a huge difference. Customer intelligence delivered within the account summary will drive sales productivity, but this applies to any CRM function, from revenue and lead conversion analytics to online community management.

So where will your application deliver the greatest productivity?

3.   Easy Deployment

The most successful paradigm involves viewing CRM as sort of a loom upon which to weave an infinite number of capabilities, delivered via cloud computing in the form of plug-in applications. Without applications making it a comprehensive platform, CRM is likened to two sticks of wood. But the apps have to be just as easy to deploy as they are to use, both for the sales management personnel and the technology decision-makers. It's one thing to get individuals to adopt a new application, but it's another to make it easy for a supervisor to feel comfortable enough putting it in place for entire teams and departments.

It's critical to make the app as widely available as possible. (A free version may help facilitate adoption and distribution.) This promotes "bottom-up" adoption, which in turn drives "top-down" implementation. But even without universal availability, the single most important principle for an application is that it require as little effort as possible for decision-makers to deploy into what may be very expensive systemwide CRM platforms. (On top of that, the application should also be seamless, customizable, and most applicable to that organization.)

It's a tall order for an application intended to be used by anyone and everyone, but it's the point we've reached in business process, CRM usage, and cloud computing. And it's not just doable — it's amazingly possible.


About the Author

Umberto Milletti (umberto@insideview.com) is the founder and chief executive officer of InsideView, the pioneering sales intelligence application for CRM. In early 2008, InsideView launched its award-winning product, SalesView, and has since partnered with leaders such as Oracle, Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and Microsoft to bring relevant and complete information to the sales force for maximum sales productivity. Prior to founding InsideView, Milletti was cofounder of DigitalThink, where he designed and built one of the first multitenant software-as-a-service platforms to deliver and track learning for millions of adults, and led the company to a successful initial public offering, $60 million in annual revenues, and ultimately its sale to Convergys in 2004.


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For the rest of the August 2010 issue of CRM magazine — revealing the winners of the 2010 CRM Market Awards — please click here.

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