Get the Full Picture

One of the main reasons businesses implement a CRM system is to gain a complete, 360-degree view of their customers. However, large enterprises in particular often have difficulty achieving this goal. Many organizations grapple with how best to provide a holistic view of all the activities of an enterprise customer and how to implement a one-stop shop for analytics and actionable data. In part, this stems from the fact that enterprises usually need something more complex than an out-of-the-box CRM account screen.

The enormous size of customer databases and customer communications, as well as a lack of rigid methodology to ensure data quality, often get in the way of obtaining a holistic view for a large company. Often, a simple CRM system will not provide the necessary tools to harness this vast amount of information. Thus some level of complex customization, along with a little creativity, is typically required for large enterprises to achieve this coveted 360-degree view of customers.

Based on my experience with enterprise implementations, I can conclude that while all implementations are extremely different, they have one thing in common: complexity. In order to ease the implementation process, I recommend the following four technical best practices:

Configuring Account Hierarchy

When implementing CRM, discussions often center on how to design account hierarchy. Account hierarchy is an important first step to achieving a holistic view of customers because of the need to understand the structure of your customer's entire organization, its subsidiaries, its organizational chart, and the various divisions/business units in play. There are two primary ways to design account hierarchy:

1) Create one account record for every physical location within your customer's organization (e.g., XCorp—Oil—New York).

2) Create consolidated enterprise account records, where all the data is merged into one location (e.g., all contacts/opportunities).

Generally, the first option is a better bet due to the functionality limitations of CRM, including granular configuration and interactions with contacts.

Optimizing Data Presentation

After you've configured the account hierarchy, you can begin to provide better visibility into customer data. How this view is achieved differs for operational and strategic users.

Operational users can improve data visibility by creating a home page widget that provides direct links to prefiltered reports based on whatever criteria are most relevant. Instead of searching through the system, being confused by a complicated report generation screen, and hunting through 5,000 reports in a cluttered system, users will be able to see the daily reports they need right on their home pages, grouped by leads, customers, deals, and performance.

Additionally, operational users can implement a similar widget on the account screen with direct links to prefiltered opportunity reports, such as "Won for Account,""Open for Account," "Activities 30 Days," etc. This widget puts actionable data just a click away.

Since strategic users require a more holistic view of activities, some level of complex customization is required. For example, enterprises should implement standard dashboards (e.g., Top 10 Strategic Accounts) to be emailed to management where possible. However, due to the granular nature of accounts, dashboards are not generally sufficient.

Tagging accounts with "Ultimate Parent" attributes to allow for simplified reporting can also improve visibility into customer data. This tagging system allows the enterprise to group opportunity data. The process can even be automated.

Building Mashups

Another popular option is to build mashups and provide them on the account screens without users having to click to another screen or window, also known as inline. These mashups can aggregate data from the CRM system as well as from external systems. Using mashups is one of the best ways to allow management to visualize data from multiple systems without having multiple log-ins or screens.

To obtain a quick snapshot of activities, aggregate data into the summary field on the account. This can generally be done via ETL transformations and custom code, although some out-of-the-box fields, such as Salesforce Roll-Up Summary Fields, can also be used.

Finally, business intelligence (BI) systems are the ultimate solution for providing complex data analytics, but they require an investment in hardware and software and often resources to link all data together and visualize it properly.

Putting the Focus on Users

In providing a 360-degree view of customers, it is imperative to focus on your users. While there are many options available for providing a detailed overview of the true customer environment, the most important thing to remember is that you have multiple types of users with varying needs. Make sure not to forget the core users of the tool: the sales and marketing staff. If the sales users are happy, data will be of a higher quality and the reports required for management will be easier to generate.

By focusing on these four points—account hierarchy, data presentation, mashups, and core users—enterprises can be well on their way to achieving a complete, 360-degree view of customers. Although achieving this holistic view does require some customization, the end results are well worth the efforts.

Tanner Shamrock is a technical architect at Cloud Sherpas, where he manages complex CRM deployments as part of the Technical Architect Forum. He is a certified Salesforce.com Technical Architect. He has more than 10 years of CRM experience and has helped some of the largest companies in the world adopt, manage, and enhance their CRM.

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