Get smart – CRM Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Most businesses are wired with back-end software — the guts of the operation. Designed to manage accounting, operations and other administrative functions, these systems don’t address the most vital part of any business: customers.

“The front end is a whole different dynamic,” says Sassan S. Hejazi, director of technology solutions for Kreischer Miller in Philadelphia.

Customers demand information on products and services. Sales and marketing teams need a way to track progress with prospects. And all businesses benefit from truly knowing their customers. The solution is CRM (customer relationship management) systems.

“The basis of CRM is to capture information about our customers and their inquiries, and the process starts before a person is even a customer,” Hejazi says. “CRM systems can help businesses make better decisions and become more competitive and efficient.”

Smart Business asked Hejazi to discuss CRM basics and critical success factors for implementing a system.

When did companies begin to adopt CRM systems?

The evolution of CRM began with call centers. Then we developed catalogs, so customers could fill out paper forms and mail in orders. Next we started faxing forms. After that, businesses put their catalogs online. Now, companies want to get to know customers beyond the transaction. They are interested in what Web pages customers search before they make a purchase and their buying history.

CRM makes us more educated about what our customers want and need, and it connects sales and marketing teams to customer activity. Right now, CRM is one of the fastest-growing software sectors in the business application market.

How does information from CRM systems feed a sales and marketing team?

CRM starts before someone is a customer.

When a lead shows interest, it becomes a prospect. With the right selling strategy, this prospect will turn into a customer.

As sales personnel go through different stages to convert new customers, they want to engage prospects with promotions, coupons or enticements to move them up the sales funnel. CRM systems help sales teams keep track of prospects and their responses to marketing promotions and campaigns. Once a prospect is a customer, CRM software captures information to help sales teams with suggestive selling.

Is CRM like having inside information on all your customers?

When customers buy products and services off the Web, companies can collect information about who purchases their products. If you go to a department store, the retailer wouldn’t know you were there unless you bought something. The retailer will get your information if you use one of its credit cards, but otherwise, the salesperson will not have details about past purchases.

With Web commerce, we know how long customers look at each Web page and who they are. We can capture this for market research so we can launch a targeted sales and marketing campaign.

How do CRM systems benefit customers?

We try to help the customers help themselves. With CRM systems, they have capabilities to review products and services. They also have social networking capabilities, which allows customers to find out what other people say through blogs or MySpace. We, as customers, want self-service capabilities. We want to take a look at our accounts, download information about products and services, and even order these online.

How do business owners find the right fit?

Ask yourself some questions about your sales and marketing process. What is your sales setup? Do you have inside and outside reps? How is your marketing team structured? What processes do you have in place now, and how do you manage them?

Also, take into consideration your industry. What trends do you notice in regard to sales and marketing technology? Finally, what do you think your customers want — what would make purchasing your product or service more convenient?

What are critical success factors for any CRM system?

Strong top-management support. They must be involved in the process and champion the project. Research shows that, when there is a lack of top-management support, failure risks are much higher.

Next, you need buy-in from the sales team. Also, you should seek feedback from key customers early on. Don’t assume what they want.

You always want your sales team to connect with customers. CRM systems provide companies with the capability to anticipate customers’ needs and deliver them in the most efficient way possible.

SASSAN S. HEJAZI is director of technology solutions for Kreischer Miller. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or shejazi@kmco.com.