Sunday Business Post Article December 2016

Connected 2017



CRM has changed dramatically in recent years to suit a changing market, but not every business is aware of the possibilities it presents

Most people we speak to fall into two groups,” said Gary Cullen, sales and marketing manager at Provident CRM. “The first aren’t aware really of what CRM can do for them. They tend to make decisions based on price, and opt for products which fit right now but might not allow the business to grow later.”

According to Daniel Heck, senior director of marketing, EMEA, at SugarCRM: “There is a myth across industries that all the leading CRM providers are the same and it doesn’t really matter who you choose — this is simply not the case.

“There are so many differentiators for CRM providers. You can compare and contrast the big players in the industry on deployment flexibility, the level of customisation their CRM solution can provide, how complex and unpredictable pricing structures are, and the attention received from a provider to solely focus on helping you as a business to build extraordinary customer relationships. These are just a few points it is important for a business to consider.”

Heck advised businesses researching new CRM systems to consider the future, as well as the present. “Choosing the wrong CRM can be costly. A business who selects poorly could see plummeting levels of customer service, expensive quotes with additional monthly fees, and a lack of attention and drive from their CRM provider to address any of the issues.”

Look for a CRM provider with whom you can see yourself establishing a lasting relationship, who will in turn provide you with the tools to build lasting customer relationships for your own business.

“When looking for a CRM provider, all businesses should seek one who works with them as a trusted partner . . . This approach will ultimately create the best environment for a business to flourish, and is one we truly believe in at SugarCRM,” Heck said.

Communication in the early stages is key — one of the crucial things businesses need to understand is that if you choose the right CRM it can fundamentally help your business, speeding things up, enhancing customer relationships and making use of data from the past. Choose wrong, however, and it might fail to scale and slow you down.

According to Cullen: “Sometimes we lose out because a lower-cost system is more attractive. But sometimes we have to point out that there are unseen benefits they might have skipped over. In terms of return on investment, a new system is obviously a big investment, but it’s a core business tool. It will change how your employees interact with your customers. It’s not just an initial cost and a level of effort required, which will have a services price attached. There are efficiency gains to consider.”

These might include the ability to measure the efficiency of processes, to produce reports instantly and to automate tasks, saving time and driving efficiency. You’ll be able to pinpoint process which work best and emphasise them and improve them. Upselling and cross-selling become far easier when you already know what customers like, and have worked to foster a better relationship with them, improving the likelihood of return business, too. “Yes, there’s an initial cost attached,” said Cullen, “but it’s more than just a tool for managing customers.”

CRM has dramatically improved in the last five to ten years, so much that some experts dispute whether it should even be called ‘CRM’ anymore. “CRM’s name is getting old,” said Peter Grogan, CRM practice lead at Storm Technology. “It almost needs a revamp at this stage. It no longer stands on its own — CRM needs to be integrated with other systems and processes to be brought alive.”

“For too long people have looked at CRM as a niche product which people put in to deal with sales, or marketing, but actually it’s something much broader,” said Grogan.

“It’s about the customer life cycle, right from the stage where they’re an opportunity, to managing their service as a customer, to creating and managing further opportunities. And through that engagement, you can capture data from customers and hold it in your system.”

Look for CRM which can unlock the value in your data, putting it to use while gathering more. “You have the frequency with which they’ve contacted you, what they’ve said, and you then can build in processes which enhance their interactions with you. Customer satisfaction is great, but customer loyalty is far more valuable,” he said.

Cullen remarked on how the industry is beset with buzzwords and trends, which most of the time simply serve to confuse clients: “For a while it was ‘mobile’, then it moved on to ‘social CRM’. Now people just call it CRM. We’ve dropped the ‘social’, because that’s just what people expect from their systems now. It should be there by default.”

As in nearly every industry, technology has improved and moved traditional CRM forward, offering answers and solving what were traditionally the biggest problems in the field, like duplication, integration, storage and processing power. Now it’s about asking more from your CRM. Grogan said:

“The issues businesses today face are different to those they faced five or ten years ago. Especially in the last five years, people have started looking for more Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The whole idea of cloud has caught on, where before people hesitated to get involved.”

Cloud can open up a world of possibility for businesses, streamlining and speeding up systems. But it can come with its problems — have businesses been slow to embrace cloud-based CRM, due to risks of hacking, and new data regulation?

Heck said: “The ever-growing threat of cyber security also offers up a challenge. Keeping customer data secure is now paramount and a continuous process. A company’s reputation is lost far more quickly than it’s gained. Every week we see new hacking scandals hit the headlines, and stories of customers understandably worried about their personal data being compromised. Today’s fraudsters are increasingly sophisticated and able to infiltrate complex data security networks.”

In this case, ensuring you opt for a high-quality CRM is part of your security strategy. The best providers will take your security very seriously: “It is the responsibility of all CRM providers to deploy the most robust, secure infrastructure which protects businesses and their customers from data breaches. In a hyper-competitive market, failure to do this can see providers lose business quickly and see their own reputation impacted.”

Similarly, the data you use to improve customer relationships is inevitably subject to laws, and ever-changing regulations. Having the right partners can made this easier.

Grogan said: “I think the regulation around data is changing all the time, and we do have to keep up to date with it. You can’t just sit back and blindly use and reuse old data. It needs to abide by the framework provided, which changes all the time. But having a partner, like Storm, to do that with makes it significantly easier.”

Some customers remain apprehensive about cloud use. “There are certain verticals, mainly when we do work in the UK, where they have a preference for on-site over cloud,” said Cullen, “but that’s predominantly in regulated industries, areas like health and financial. But with other customers, they’ve often made that step already using a private cloud, with the likes of Amazon or Microsoft Azure or Sugar on Demand. Most companies are relatively comfortable using that kind of technology.”

Larger businesses might run on a large number of legacy systems, which are more difficult to integrate with new systems, but even then a provider like Sugar allows you to go with on-site storage if you prefer. “We run on a single-tenant architecture so each customer gets their own private cloud. Even if you go in the cloud, we put your system by itself. But I’d say the majority opt for their systems to be hosted in the cloud, unless it’s highly sensitive data or is regulated by the government.”

Ultimately, however, the advantages of ‘going cloud’ far outweigh the risks for most businesses. “The realisation now is that you can’t wait any longer; you have to get involved,” said Grogan. “And that’s what I think CRM needs to address; integrating newer systems with older ones, and recognising the value in the data you’ve built up over the last ten years, or however long you’ve been around.”

The new CRM is sophisticated, with a far-reaching impact on businesses which put it to use. But starting out can be overwhelming. Grogan said of Storm: “We do a lot of work evangelising and doing pre-engagement work with our customers to show them what CRM can do, using workshops and demonstrations. That really opens up their eyes to what’s possible. Then we can start an implementation to fit them — sometimes it’s not something big that lasts for months on end. Sometimes it’s only something small. Storm are great at tailoring projects to suit the individual.”

Cullen also spoke of ‘top-tier’ bespoke CRM: “‘Top tier’ means having everything customised to your own company, being able to instantly run reports and plan out workflows so that the system is automated and driving both the users and the customers along. Most of the top tier have that, and it’s a big differentiator.” He also took care, however, to highlight the importance of covering the basics: “It also needs to cover the three pillars of CRM; sales, marketing and support.”

Senior sales manager at Sage, Oisin Geraghty, highlighted the importance of buy-in at every level of the business. Senior managers need to understand how the CRM works, and what it is capable of.

“You only get out of it what you put in, to be honest. Senior management need to be on board for it to be a worthwhile investment. They can’t just stand by and overlook the spreadsheets. When you want to see reports and dashboards you’re using the CRM system. And that only — you’re not using any outside project. That’s probably the biggest advice I can give a sales manager — use the system completely, without going between different products, to get the most out of it.”

As market leader in Ireland and the UK, Sage has 14,000 customers using its CRM product — the company prides itself on the seamless integration of their products. “What people are looking for is a 360 view, from lead to invoice,” said Geraghty. “From prospect phase in, you can see what’s working, then it turns from marketing into account management. The account can be managed in terms of project management as well as from a finance perspective.”

Adaptability is another trait to look for. Geraghty said: “Sage integrates with other products, so if you’re using Sage 200 or X3, it’s fully dovetailed in. There’s no need to invoice with other products. That’s the advantage with working with such a big brand. We’re one of the very few people out there who cater to every aspect of your business. We don’t use any third-party products. It fits into Sage 200 for example, as a module. You can buy just one basic platform, or buy different modules depending on your business.”

If you’re looking even further into the future, know what dramatic change in how CRM works is not far off on the horizon: the next state of CRM will rely on AI and machine intelligence, creating a richer, faster experience for both business and customers.

“What’s interesting about this topic is how up until now CRM has been a knowledge repository for a business,” said Cullen. “We put a certain amount of information in, and we can search that and get back reports, from a limited pool. It’s information that’s just within the business, around the customers. The benefit of adding an ‘intelligence layer’ is that the one-to-one relationship between you and your data is opened up; for every piece of information you put into a system, the system can add a huge amount of additional intelligence.”

Even one single piece of information given by a customer — say, their email address — can generate further details gleaned from the APIs of every social media platform, pulling information on their personal preferences, connections and habits. “All this can be instantly collated on screen. That’s beginning to appear now, and is very soon going to be regarded as normal. We’re expecting that Sugar CRM will have it by the end of the year or the start of next year.”

Building on this, CRM systems will also be able to make decisions for you, or at the least advise on what’s the best decision.

“Based on previous behaviours, we can optimise it to make a recommendation for the next step when interacting with the customer,” said Cullen. This might depend on small details — the machine will learn that they’re away on holiday next week, for example, and will know not to schedule an appointment. Or it might be more sophisticated, relying on their history of preferences.

These new systems will connect with pre-existing ones, integrating with even legacy software and hardware. “Currently when we can go to a data repository and see information from other systems — we can review it temporarily while interacting with the customer. But we’re going to see a massive extension of that. It’ll get to know the customer better, the more they interact, and will start to provide insights which were never achievable before. The big data movement is about to become part of everyday business; it’ll be the norm by the end of next year,” Cullen said.

But for now, what should potential customers look for? “We talk about the shiny stuff, and it does set us apart, and everyone is interested in it but no one is really jumping in yet. People want to manage their data better and make sure their customers have a really good experience. We still sell, we support, we market. The core pillars of CRM haven’t changed. It comes down to other differentiating factors — it’s very competitive at the moment,” said Cullen.

That said, there are key tenets which set apart providers like Provident CRM, European elite partners for SugarCRM. “We have a set price, called PurePrice, where there are no hidden costs and we’ll never force you into an upgrade. You pay a single price and you get every technology on the platform. And we don’t restrict the customer — they can use Microsoft, Linux, Apple, whatever suits them. If you run on-site, then you get full access to the source code for the tool.”

Heck puts success down to a provider’s ability to evolve alongside their users. “Now, customers expect a solution that is not just fit for purpose today but one which will evolve with the business and excel in the business environment of tomorrow. We at SugarCRM know we are agile, alert and responsive enough to deliver this solution to businesses.”

Citing a reader survey by PCMag, which found SugarCRM rated as best in class, Heck said: “This is a great endorsement for us but we want more, we won’t stop innovating or working with our customers to understand the needs of their business. There will be no resting on laurels, only an unshakable drive to continue to deliver a holistic view of how our customers can balance people, processes and systems to build extraordinary customer relationships.”

And sometimes it’s about asking the obvious questions: what is the customer experience with your brand like? Is it enjoyable, to buy from your website? Is it enjoyable? Re-evaluating your CRM is an opportunity to also re-evaluate your customer’s experience.

Cullen said: “Sometimes we spend too much time focusing on what we need to do to win the deal, when really we need to focus on what we need to do to gain the customer’s trust, first and foremost. When people turn the process around and look at things from the customer’s perspective, sometimes they find they’re actually offering terrible service when they thought what they were offering was great. A lot of can seem obvious, but it takes someone pointing the problems out.”

What everyone agreed on was that customers are different now, and the CRM which fails to evolve, to cater to them, is missing a valuable opportunity.

Of Provident CRM, Cullen said: “It’s about admitting that the way people buy has changed, and the traditional sales model will no longer cut it . . . Internally we process opportunities, so that when you buy, you buy in a totally different way. We’re actually misaligned with the traditional sales approach. You get to see things from the customer’s perspective, allowing them to get all the information they need at the appropriate time. Most of the time people focus on sales, but we bring in all the other details. It really adds to the experience.”

Heck agreed, saying: “Customers today are now more knowledgeable and connected than ever before, they use an array of different digital channels to contact companies with questions and complaints. They expect the same level of service from their banks as they do their shops, restaurants and couriers.

“No longer do customers discriminate, they form their expectations through comparing and contrasting brands — irrespective of the industry.”

This might mean the service provided by a bank is compared to that of Amazon, or Deliveroo, or Uber. “The complex business environment mixed with the growth of the empowered consumer has created a milieu where a one-size-fits-all, ‘off-the-shelf’ solution doesn’t deliver what’s needed. No one wants to be seen as the common denominator anymore, so a solution built for this purpose is simply built to fail,” Heck said.

Customers use social media, blogs and other sites to gather information before they buy, and the new CRM can take this into consideration. Grogan mentioned clients with multiple retail outlets, who can bring previously siloed customer interaction data together to build a more thorough profile.

“Customers are coming to us now looking to bring all that data together, to integrate data-catchers in order to do something meaningful with their data. That can be transformative, using data to analyse their customer’s need and enhance your relationship with them,” said Grogan.

Today’s CRM is about more than just ‘Customer Relationship Management’; it’s about improving a business as a whole.