In the past, CRM served a simple purpose inside your enterprise: It kept track of your customers, their addresses and their orders. Now, though, there’s far more that comes under the CRM umbrella, from connecting with your customers through social media to being able to instantly transmit customer data to a call center agent when customers call in for help.
That’s why it’s a good idea to regularly take a close look at your CRM infrastructure: With all the new functionality available in CRM tools today, you need to determine if your existing system is still meeting the needs of your business and customers.
But while your CRM applications and all of your data is critical, the real analysis has to start with the customer relationship strategy inside your enterprise, says Mary Wardley, an analyst with IDC. Without knowing what you want, where you’ve been and where you are going, it will to be hard to reach your goals, she says.
“One of my main tenets regarding CRM as a discipline is that you have to have a CRM strategy inside your organization, regardless of whether you even have CRM applications ” Wardley says. “No matter what kind of company you are you, you must have a customer relationship management strategy because that is your customer service strategy.”
With a CRM strategy in place, you can then bring CRM applications into the discussion to ensure that they support your strategy and help you meet corporate goals, from sales to revenue to market share.
One key to remember, according to Wardley, is that your go-to-market strategy changes and evolves frequently, sometimes daily, depending on your business and the competitive landscape. This always-changing data can help your enterprise ultimately make the right decisions about how your CRM systems are working and what needs to be updated, reworked or replaced.
Among the questions to ask:
*Are there features or capabilities that users are clamoring for?
*Is an upgrade enough to add those needed features?
*Can you add modules to your existing CRM systems to expand your capabilities?
*What’s the correct strategy for your business?
*Are there any must-have features today that weren’t available when you originally deployed your system?
*How can you decide if you should now integrate some of those new features?
The answers, Wardley says, will depend on your customers’ and your business’s needs as well as your long-term customer service strategy.
Remember that the changes you are contemplating don’t mean that your CRM system has failed your enterprise, only that new features may raise your CRM strategy to the next level.
“It stands to reason that when you deployed a specific CRM application you chose the application that best supported your go-to-market strategy at that time,” she says. “Today, in this business environment, CRM is different.”
For instance, today’s CRM systems address social media, which Wardley notes didn’t exist 10 years ago, when most companies began implementing CRM systems.
So how do you know when your system needs a facelift and how do you determine if it’s going to be a small or large operation?
That’s where your analysis of how your existing CRM system stacks up to business and customer needs comes in. Wardley also recommends asking whether your CRM upgrade is something you can accomplish through simple add-ons or whether it will require a major overhaul.
For example, does your CRM system need what Wardley calls a “lunchtime facelift?”? That is, do you have antiquated systems with capabilities that you like, but that may need to be updated through some add-ons, such as social media analytics or the ability to add in data such as a customer’s Twitter handle? If so, perhaps those may be changes you can make without major rebuilding efforts.
“Or are you finding more fundamental requirements that your system doesn’t have that means it needs a complete replacement?” Wardley asks.
One huge factor in your decision-making will be the age of your CRM infrastructure. “Obviously, the older the system, the less likely that it will be able to accept deep integration with new systems, particularly with cloud technologies,” she says.
If you have an antiquated system and you want to have a multichannel strategy, with call center capabilities, online customer service chat, mobile capabilities and social media input, it will likely make things tougher.
What’s more, you might not be able to add available modules for mobile and social media features because they are reliant on IP-based technologies that are likely not in your older CRM applications, says Wardley. If that’s the case, then you certainly won’t be able to move forward with what you have, she adds.
One of Wardley’s recent clients found another related conundrum: They learned that their CRM customizations done long ago wouldn’t work with other data gleaned from customer loyalty card data. That meant that the combined data couldn’t all be brought up on a call center agent’s screen when a customer called. The problem was again that new CRM applications don’t always like to work well with older customized apps.
“There’s so much that’s contingent on integration,” she says. “If you bought a software package in 1999 and you’re trying to deploy a new application today, are they going to work together? Over time it gets more arduous and less likely that you can maintain that application or find the skilled workers who can do it. And even if you do, it keeps costing you money.”
Todd R. Weiss covers Enterprise Applications, SaaS, CRM, and Cloud Computing for CIO.com. Follow Todd on Twitter @TechManTalking. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Todd at email@example.com You can also join Todd in the “CIO Forum” group on LinkedIn.com to talk with CIOs and IT managers about the things that keep them up at night.