Out of the Database and Into Business Processes

CRM software, like any other corporate application, has value only to the extent it is actually used by its intended audience. While sales of CRM software and services are expected to generate more than $36 billion in worldwide revenue in 2006 according to IDC, Gartner estimates that only one of 3 three sales professionals who have access to a CRM app will actually adopt it. The problem is that current CRM apps are time consuming and don't capture information in an easily digested format. With more than $36 billion at stake, businesses need solutions that help their sales teams drive value out of their CRM investments. Emerging technology that visually maps customer information is addressing these two barriers head on and driving adoption rates. Mapping technology reaches into CRM systems and extracts key data points to present them in a dynamic, visual, and highly interactive format. When visually mapped, information once hidden inside CRM applications becomes pragmatic, actionable information and can shorten sales cycles. Visualization and Interaction: The Org Chart CRM systems, as they exist today, are perfectly suited for storing and managing customer data and many allow users to generate various customer reports. But few allow the user to take information out of the database structure and use it to accelerate the sales motion. Take, for example, some of the most important information a sales professional can have about a target account--the people involved in the decision-making process. In most CRM systems contact information is displayed on one screen, support cases in another, the particular opportunity at play on a third, and the account on a fourth. If there is an organizational chart available, it usually shows who reports to whom, but little else. While this helps users understand the customer's formal organizational structure, it doesn't help them grasp that company's social network. A more visual, interactive approach takes the contact information out of an org chart and brings it to life using visual icons, graphic elements, and key words to describe all the ways in which the contacts are related to the sale and to each other. For example, the economic decision-maker might have a dollar sign next to his name. Key influencers might be shaded green, while those yet to be contacted are shaded white. These visual cues enable the sales rep or his manager to see at a glance who the primary players are and can demonstrate relationships between each on one screen: Person A went to business school with Person B or Person C plays softball with Person D. Visual interfaces enable users to quickly add this information by connecting two contacts with a graphic line, or by assigning the same school logo or softball bat to each contact. Linear Versus Visual Approaches to CRM
Some of the highest quality customer data occurs during conversations between customers and salespeople and again linear text windows are not able to efficiently capture this interaction. Visualization technology resolves this problem by eliminating the step needed to fit conversations into a relentlessly linear interface. Using one model users can map information using a radial interface. The user starts with a central topic, "Conversation with Customer X," in the center of the document--and captures the details as radiating notes from this center. The really interesting--perhaps even transformative--step comes when it's time to turn these conversation notes into data. Visualization software enables the user to simply attach smart visual icons to each piece of information, saving the user significant time by synthesizing the icon-filled visual map with the CRM system. The process of entering high quality, timely data becomes an afterthought--a quick, easy-to-accomplish step done from one document instead of flipping from screen to screen inside the CRM system. CRM's ROI With such high financial stakes, companies that have or are considering purchasing CRM systems must pay attention to adoption rates. Of course, adoption alone does not immediately translate into more sales. But a company's first step in optimizing its sales force is to smooth the way to widespread adoption of its CRM system of choice. Sales professionals must be able to see on an immediate and practical level how CRM will help them. By putting a kind of intelligent, visual layer above its CRM system, the company helps its sales force interact quickly and flexibly with customer information. By improving their ability to put the information to use to shorten sales cycles and close more sales, visualization improves users' perception of CRM systems and boosts adoption rates. About the Author Chris Holmes is vice president of business strategy and corporate development for MindJet. Please visit www.mindjet.com
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