Keeping CRM Implementation Simple

Not too long ago, advice to keep a CRM implementation simple would have focused around due diligence for the application (you never buy a complex product unless absolutely necessary). It would have focused on negotiating the best deal with a systems integrator (these costs can add up quickly unless the contract specifies otherwise). Most of all, it would have focused on a clear needs assessment driving the application (buying too many bells and whistles when they aren’t necessary is a sure path to overly complicated implementation and a frustrated user base).

That was then, though. The new generation of CRM software is built on platforms that are almost effortlessly customizable. In other words, keeping CRM simple is no longer the challenge it once was.

“CRM applications are definitely getting easier to implement,” Sheryl Kingstone, analyst with the Yankee Group told CRM Buyer. “A lot of vendors have created applications that allow users access to ‘codeless customization.’ It has begun to sink in that users want to be able to easily build a line of business workflow that can be picked up and used immediately.”

Another Benefit of Web 2.0

Consider it another benefit of Web 2.0 technology, which for the most part is valued for its collaborative functionality among external users. These same Web 2.0 concepts, though, are being applied in the CRM space, albeit internally, to build better processes.

“It is still important for organizations to be able to wrap CRM around their business,” Richard Smith, vice president and CRM practice director at Green Beacon Solutions, told CRM Buyer. “However, what they are doing is not focusing on the contact management piece or organization piece — they have mastered that already. Now they are looking at the business workflow and asking how they can replicate that process with their customers.”

If this sounds familiar — mapping business processes that reach across functional lines to serve customers — that is because it is. What is different, Smith said, is that now companies can do this with a few simple configurations in their applications, instead of an expensive customization. In the past, companies would have to capture what that process was — which meant a lot of manual work — and then integrate the interface to give access to clients or partners, he said.

New business intelligence tools are helping immensely as well, he continued. For instance, a company could always easily identify who were its best sales reps. Using business intelligence technology, though, it can then look back at the series of steps or activities that were necessary to close a particular deal and then extrapolate from that how, or if, those steps should be replicated in the future. Then that information is shared internally.

Workflows can be built to implement that process to a wider group of people, analyzing and testing it further along the way.

“The new tech tools supporting CRM these days make it possible to do all this as a configuration exercise — not a customization as it would have been a few years ago,” Smith said.

Collaborating on Product Development

Indeed, some CRM vendors are incorporating these concepts into their own internal processes such as product development. Vendors are collaborating ever more closely with development communities and customers to deliver to market products that conform closely with their needs. Again, this was always the goal of software vendors. New technologies, though, are making the once complex and years-long development process akin to a codeless customization.

Consider Chordiant Software, which about a year ago launched its developer collaboration network Chordiant Mesh. Members include not only developers but consumer companies in the healthcare, insurance, banking and telecommunications industries.

Chordiant Mesh itself is a set of customized collaboration mini-applications built on top of a wiki-based platform. Features include project navigation, project description, discussion forums, product documentation, issue tracking, product roadmaps, source code management, downloads, blogs/news, membership management, asset and artifact management and project status.

The driver behind the community’s launch was the struggle by its customers to meet rapidly changing developments in the market, Greg Biggers, senior product manager at Chordiant, told CRM Buyer.

“It put a lot of pressure on our product and solutions development cycle,” he said, “especially when it took 18 months for a development cycle. We wanted to reinvent product development to be a continuous conversation.”

Mesh not only gave customers input into the process as it was happening but also access to the product even as it was under development. “It gave tremendous transparency to customers about the road map, bugs that were in early versions, the planning process, etc. — information that our customers craved.”

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