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Perhaps the most powerful arrow in most companies’ ERP quiver is the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, intended for everything from prospecting to processing orders to managing warranties and service calls. It’s that last area that presents an often-overlooked opportunity for building strong relationships. Sitting home waiting for the repairman, who always seems to show up twenty minutes after the service window has closed, is a mythical component of modern culture, a staple of sitcom plots and stand up comedians’ routines. As Americans, we hate it. And, today, customers are quick to do something about it, taking to social media to share their opinions with thousands and blog your service organization to smithereens.

Want to really manage customer relationships?

Try showing up on time for their next service call. (Part 1)

But did you know your CRM system can (or should) have the solution inside? Today’s best CRM systems have strong appointment scheduling functionality that can actually turn service call performance into a win/win situation with customers and a loyalty building opportunity for you.

Without the right enabling technologies to support appointment scheduling, customers typically have to deal with a prolonged appointment interaction and negotiation process. The negative customer service experience starts the moment they pick up the phone or schedule service online. It’s frustrating.

 You know how it goes. Both your service organization and the customer share the same goal: having a service call scheduled and performed successfully. However, each party may define “successfully” differently. The customer prefers to wait for the shortest possible period of time and wants a narrow time slot – for example, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The service organization, however, would like to set wider appointment windows for maximum flexibility – for example, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, if the time slot is too wide, the customer may decide to run a few short errands during the appointed time window instead of staying home for the whole period. As a result, your service technician may arrive when the customer is not at home, which will result in the need for a repeat visit and drive up your operational costs.
By leveraging the latest technologies to optimize scheduling and enable real-time interactions and negotiations with customers, you can turn service calls into positive experiences that cement relationships and build loyalty.  The best outcomes occur when both parties find a way to share control during the appointment scheduling process, which is what your CRM system should enable. Each party can consider the other’s limitations and avoid negotiation steps that would force the other to an unreasonable commitment. It is not realistic, for example, to expect a service organization to commit to a 10-minute appointment slot. Neither is it fair to expect a customer to stay at home for any number of full days until it becomes convenient for the service organization to show up.

What if the organization and the customer could mutually agree upon an appointment slot through online/email collaboration? What if both parties could work together to make sure that each side can meet its commitments, so the mutual goal – successful service execution – can be achieved?

Continued in Part 2

How One IT Shop Cut Costs With the Cloud

precise-150.jpgIn the space of a year Precise, Software, a midsized provider of application management technologies based in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, Israel completely transformed its IT infrastructure to virtualization and cloud software, saving more than $2 million of its annual IT costs. This reduction came through cutting half of their IT staff and closely examining a variety of other technologies.


Precise completed a soup to nuts transformation to the cloud in 2009. The process was faster and less hassle than its IT director could have predicted. How did they do it? There were no expensive consultants, no special sauce, and they went about the process by using common cloud vendors and careful cost analysis.

  • Choose your cloud tech carefully. Precise used a common collection of cloud apps, including Gmail, Salesforce,, Marketo, and Drupal. The idea was to streamline sales and back office operations and integrate CRM and email in the cloud.
  • Virtualize everywhere. Precise cut its server spending by a third, to $400,000 annually, by virtualizing its servers.
  • Rapidly migrate ERP and CRM It took Precise three days to deploy Salesforce and, and fully integrate them. This included a mere five hours to migrate all the company's data into both products.
  • Get off Microsoft servers. It took them another five days to migrate from Exchange Server and SharePoint to Google Mail/Google Sites. Employees can still access Office desktop applications in addition to Google docs.
  • More fiber. Precise moved to AT&T Fiber networks and is saving $8000 monthly in WAN costs.
  • Analyze your mobile minutes and be smarter about paying for them. Precise had a monthly mobile bill of $12,000 which they slashed in half through using AT&T and Verizon minute pooling programs. Simultaneously switched from Blackberry to iPhone, saving $150K a year on licenses and data charges.
  • Replaced landline telecom with VoIP and reduced bills from $14,000/month to $1500/month.

Your field sales force depends on their smartphones more than any other device—specifically laptop computers—to stay in touch and up to date, manage their time, access the Internet and collaborate with colleagues. If they can’t also use it to tap into the full functionality of your CRM system, they’re not going to be as productive as they might be. Here are some additional shortcomings that a non-mobile capable CRM presents your road warriors: lack of real-time visibility in the field and from the field; lack of ability to share documents with colleagues and managers;  lack of ability to see the latest status or profile on a customer or prospect moments before walking into a meeting with them and a lack of visibility into other systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP)

CRM Software

Is your CRM bad for sales? Time to go mobile. (Part Two)

Lack of ability to share documents. By relying on traditional customer relationship software, field sales reps may be unable to access documents such as historical e-mail threads, proposals, contracts, or other important information that can help them prepare for meetings and improve their chances of closing a sale. Not having this information at his or her fingertips means a sales rep must take time to contact someone back at the office who does have access to documents and can provide the information. Mobile CRM enables sales reps to access and share the documents they need, such as contracts, while in the field. The rep can e-mail a contract to the prospect while in the prospect’s office, and then have the contract printed and signed on the spot, closing the sale with maximum efficiency.

Lack of access to latest updates. Sales reps need to be able to get up-to-the minute information just before they step into a customer’s office. If the customer has just placed an order with tele sales, or complained about a late or incomplete order with inside sales, the field rep needs to know this. That enables he or she to address the issues up front and get on with the original purpose of the sales call. With mobile CRM, sales reps can review timely and accurate data about the interaction history of each client with a single click, adding insight to all client meetings. The end result: the sales rep saves time while making a good impression and increasing the chances of making a sale—and additional sales. And, the progress of a customer’s case can be tracked much more easily and accurately with a mobile CRM system.

Lack of visibility into other ERP modules. CRM isn’t the only system a field sales rep needs to have access to. Not having access to ERP modules such as warehouse management systems prevents them from seeing real-time inventory. That means reps can only estimate how soon a product will be shipped and arrive at the customer’s door. Being unaware of sudden depletions in stock means that salespeople may provide customers with inaccurate estimates of delivery time. Mobile access means reps can provide accurate and timely answers to client questions about inventory, shipping, account status, and more.
Continued in Part Three.

Remember the original rationale for investing in CRM? It just made sense to employ the latest technology to streamline and automate the most important process in any enterprise: selling and servicing customers. Today, it just makes sense to bring your CRM system up to date with current technology and add robust support for mobile devices, the smartphones your field sales force depend on for their first line of communications and info gathering.

CRM software

Is your CRM bad for sales? Time to go mobile. (Part Three)

Field sales reps relying on old laptop technology are completely dependent upon finding wireless Internet access if they need to send an e-mail to a client, respond to requests or to set up meetings. Even with wireless laptop access, salespeople may not be able to provide instant quotes or estimates or other information if the laptop data hasn’t recently synchronized with data on the main CRM system.

Road warriors who don’t have complete access to the corporate ERP system can’t adequately respond to and resolve client problems or complaints. The rep may not even be aware that the client has complained or expressed concern about, for example, a shipment or invoice. Resolution time is delayed—as well as potential further sales—until the sales rep can access the necessary resources to respond to the customer’s top of mind issues.

Sales reps need client information prior to meetings with clients not only to appear knowledgeable and develop a well-aimed pitch. But without access to that client info, including a history of purchases and problems, the salesperson will be hard-pressed to create the intimacy that is required to keep customers. And keeping customers you already have is less costly than trying to find new customers.

Mobile CRM systems deployed on smartphone can improve communication between sales reps and customers by allowing sales reps to contact clients or prospects via e-mail, text message, or even fax, depending on the information being relayed and the customer’s preferences. But primarily, it’s the 24/7 availability and accessibility of mobile CRM that allows sales reps to stay in touch with and respond to clients.

Access to up-to-date CRM info on a smartphone allows sales reps to get what they need to deal with customer complaints. From asking managers for permission to give discounts, to accessing information about policies for returning goods or providing reasons that field service wasn’t done as promised, mobile CRM applications help sales reps soothe frustrated customers. Customers expect instant resolution of their issues, and are all too happy to switch to a competitor if that doesn’t happen.

Field reps need better access to accurate client info.  With a mobile device, sales reps can show up to meetings with clients, with all client data one click away—helping the meeting to go smoothly from the salesperson’s perspective. But that’s only half of the situation—a salesperson’s ability to access client data also helps create trusting relationships with customers, leading to more sales and higher customer satisfaction.

One thing we know about technology is that it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Smartphones are hereto stay, and will only become more powerful and more ubiquitous.

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