Putting CRM in Context

In today's tech-driven world we have seen rapid adoption of collaboration software to augment and add value to existing CRM investments. Emails flood our inboxes, schedulers track our lives, and mobile devices keep us in-the-know at all times. More sophisticated collaboration tools offer virtual team collaboration, content management systems, and real-time communications. Despite the strong embrace of collaboration technology, however, we continue to wrestle with fundamental issues like how to share information and the best way to find and communicate with team members. Having a truly collaborative CRM system requires three things:
  • A central location for all company information, with the ability to share that information with customers, partners, and colleagues;
  • Multiple ways to communicate the information, without needing to click to a different screen or start up a new application;
  • Secure accessibility from anywhere, including our desktops, mobile phones, and, of course, the Web. A CRM system that meets these requirements will deliver significant business benefits. It will help sales teams attain higher sales percentages by giving them access to best practices, lessons learned, and the tools to collaborate as effectively on the road as in the office. It will help marketers target prospects more effectively and deliver higher quality leads to sales. It will improve customer service by providing contact center agents with detailed customer knowledge and real-time conferencing tools for instant troubleshooting support. And it will raise customer satisfaction as customer requests are answered faster and more accurately. Can a CRM system achieve all these things today? With the right collaboration tools at the right integration points, the answer is yes. Collaborate in context The problem today is that most collaboration tools are standalone applications that are not in the "context" of customer-centric processes. Users wishing to collaborate on a project or urgent customer issue are often forced to "alt-tab" between applications and cut and paste data into an email or document. Consequently, the intended cocollaborators only receive snapshots of data from a particular point in time, without a way to access or augment the most up to date information. These snapshots could even be inadvertently copied, forwarded, or otherwise intercepted through less secure transmission channels. Contextual collaboration provides CRM teams with the ability to seamlessly track and share information in the context of a particular business process or application, whether it is sales, marketing, or service. This minimizes the number of clicks and entry points, and enhances the ability to locate key people and information in real time. A sales scenario: the RFP response Let's take a closer look at a common sales scenario. An account manager learns from his customer that they will be soliciting responses to an RFP in a few days. A couple days later, the RFP is sent to the account manager and appears in his email inbox. In most cases, managing an RFP response today is an inefficient process due to the use of disparate tools. Information is scattered across disconnected repositories, and the burden is on the end users to personally follow threads and manage the emails and attachments related to the RFP. Using a structured collaborative environment, a team leader can provide group management of all the content and communication occurring around the process to ensure that all relevant information is taken into account when responding to the RFP. In the world of context and structured collaboration, the account manager creates a structured environment for his team to share content and communicate effectively around the RFP response. We'll call this environment a team collaboration space, a virtual workspace that is fully integrated with the CRM system, its application data, and common collaboration tools such as a shared library, meeting scheduler, Web conferencing, and discussion forums. Within the team's shared library, the account manager uploads the new RFP document and incorporates helpful documents, including best practices from previous sales deals, a template for the RFP response, and a detailed customer profile. Some of these documents may already be available via a reusable sales-RFP template shared throughout the sales force. Others may be available directly from the CRM application, with links from the library to real-time data. Throughout the RFP response process, members use the team collaboration space to discuss key issues, manage tasks, and schedule meetings around the RFP. A single copy of the RFP response document is shared via the library and managed with version-control and approval workflows. As the final deadline approaches, the account manager makes sure all tasks are marked complete, sends the document out for a final review, and forwards the completed RFP response to the customer. As the RFP life cycle draws to an end, the team collaboration space continues to offer value to CRM teams by providing a history of thoughts, discussions, and documents integral to the creation of the RFP response. By archiving a snapshot of the CRM data and the collaborative content around that data, teams can later return to the team collaboration space to retrace their steps, gather best practices for other teams, or work on improving the RFP collaboration process. Other teams can also benefit from the archived team collaboration space. Marketing, for example, can research which sales pitches were beneficial and incorporate them into future campaigns. With all teams relying on the same centralized data to make decisions, we can achieve a greater understanding of the customer and increase overall customer satisfaction. Putting it all together The RFP response scenario illustrates how a simple sales activity attains greater value by incorporating a structured, contextual environment around it. The same formula--central information management, secure access control, and the means to collaborate anywhere, anytime--can be used with any CRM business process to build team effectiveness and customer satisfaction. About the Author Karin Alvarez is a senior product manager for Oracle Collaboration Suite, focusing on Collaboration Suite developer relations, organizing product requirements, and helping drive future product directions. Prior to joining Oracle Collaboration Suite, Karin worked in both product management and development for Oracle Application Server. Karin holds an MA and a BA in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She can be contacted at karin.alvarez@oracle.com
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