Cloudy Horizons for Business Applications
In case you missed it, the cloud is taking over the CRM industry by storm. According to Gartner, the worldwide market for software-as-a-service (SaaS) is forecast to hit $7.5 billion this year (a 17.7 percent increase from last year), and will total $14 billion by 2013.
We're all familiar with CRM vendors such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite, SAP, and Oracle. But there are other complementary cloud tools that forward-thinking organizations are using, such as:
- Cloud content management services to store and share collateral with prospects, partners and customers
- Digital signature services that close deals faster by keeping contract signing online
- Virtual PBX phone systems that add automation and reduce costs associated with the contact center
- Email marketing automation solutions that increase demand generation and optimize lead management
- Online billing and accounting tools that simplify managing finances as well as automate the invoice process
- Virtual meeting services that facilitate product demos and interactive conversations
If you're not catching my drift, I'll spell it out for you: The tipping point for the cloud is finally here. Partly due to the recent economic downturn, the cloud is pushing its way from no-man's-land to man on the street. Thomas Friedman recently coined this unique point in time as the Great Inflection meets the Great Recession, meaning we're at a crossroads where affordable technologies that change the way we work are in-line with today's cost-conscious business.
SaaS products are much more affordable, scalable, require minimal implementation and training, and above all, manage themselves — meaning there's no updates to install. Cloud services also have the benefit of being easy to use as they're often developed with the end user in mind. The best part is the fact that the cloud is becoming more ubiquitous, so companies now have the pick of the litter and can implement best-of-breed services from as many vendors as they want.
This also begs the question: Won't multiple SaaS solutions silo my information in one place or another? Breathe easy because most web-based services are focused on the next step in the SaaS evolution: connected clouds.
With connected clouds, all the online services you use at your organization are integrated and communicating with each other. The inherent nature of cloud computing's open standards and APIs (application programming interfaces) makes this work in a way that's not possible with server-based solutions. APIs allow cloud service providers to use pre-built integrations, or functional connections, in other cloud services.
For example, a digital signature company can incorporate its service in a CRM suite, or a cloud content management platform can be incorporated into an online accounting product. These pre-built integrations typically do not need the involvement of a company's IT staff, create big cost-savings and deepen end-user value across multiple mission-critical applications. Think about it: by moving your employees and all the applications they use into the cloud and then connecting them all, you obviate the need for traditional server systems that demand time and maintenance from your IT staff.
Let's put this concept to life. Take the Copy Machine Shop which sells, well, copy machines. They've deployed a cloud content management system across the entire company where each department manages all of its relevant files. The phone is ringing off the hook, but because the Copy Machine Shop has an IP PBX that's connected to a CRM system, it's no sweat. By integrating these cloud services, the sales team knows who is calling, their current status in the sales cycle, and who talked to them last, before picking up the phone. And, if it's a new customer, they can instantly start a new record and port their contact information to the CRM system with the click of a mouse.
Since so many calls are coming in, the sales team spends most of its time on the CRM system. But because it's integrated with the cloud content management platform, marketing can add and organize product overviews, sell sheets and demo videos that sales can instantly access and share with customers and prospects. Even the finance team is in sync — the online accounting-and-billing software is connected to the cloud content management and CRM systems, providing easy, quick, and streamlined access to a customer record as well as the invoices associated with them.
By connecting the cloud services your organization uses, not only can your employees get to whatever they need to from wherever they are (usually all that's required is a web browser and an Internet connection), but they can also do more, faster, by accessing everything through a single online location. And in the end, that means increasing efficiency, closing more deals, and keeping your employees and customers happy.
About the Author
Jim Herbold (email@example.com) is vice president of sales at Box.net, a leading cloud content management system that makes it simple for businesses to access, manage, and share all of their content online. With 15 years of experience in sales and operations, Herbold is responsible for managing the sales and product development of Box.net's business and enterprise editions.
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