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Do You Remember All the Cool Things Your CRM App Can Do?

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
Aug 3, 2012 5:00 AM PT

If you mention a certain brand of lower-priced, assemble-it-yourself furniture of Scandinavian heritage, you stand a pretty good chance of getting a response that dwells at some length on how hard it is to put it together. I've never felt that way -- in reality, I actually like putting stuff together. Thus, I am often summoned by friends when they're flummoxed by an item of furniture that boasts an umlaut in its name.

Do You Remember All the Cool Things Your CRM App Can Do?

It's not that I'm good at it -- I've just learned to follow the directions. Part of this is to stick to the sequence laid out in the instructions. Go from step A to step B, and you'll be fine. Jump from A to D, and things will go awry. And, once you've finished the steps in the proper sequence, your bookshelf is done (generally).

Is It Done Yet?

If only CRM were as simple. CRM is never really finished. During the process of getting started, there are some straightforward steps every business must take to get a system in place; then, frequently, features are brought into play that address pain points.

That's the way it should work -- but it shouldn't stop there. As new pain points are identified -- and new opportunities are discovered -- use of CRM features should expand. Unfortunately, though, CRM is often treated like an IT project, not as a business project. When that happens, features that weren't front-of-mind during the implementation phase have a hard time making it off the back burner. That's a wasted investment.

Although features of all types go unused, there are some that are so basic that they should be called out. If you aren't using these features you should be -- but don't feel bad, because many CRM users aren't.

1. Reporting on your own CRM usage

Although you buy CRM in part to understand and analyze data, very few customers take the time to quantify how their own CRM system is used -- even though most CRM applications allow you to analyze the usage of the application, understand who's using it, how much time is spent with it, and the number of reports you run during specified periods of time.

That insight is incredibly useful -- it tells you how well CRM is being adopted by the workforce and can identify areas within the business where adoption is failing. It can also indicate which features of CRM are being used and for what functions.

Typically, understanding of how the CRM application is being used and what could be done to make it better comes through anecdotal evidence -- a complaint from sales, an assertion from a sales manager, or a pronouncement from IT. Instead of basing decisions on anecdotes -- up to and including a decision to replace the CRM application -- it's a smarter bet to look at the usage data and get a picture of what's really going on.

2. Understanding Workflow

This is often one of the selling points of a CRM system, but when it comes to actually using it, many organizations have yet to get into the -- er, flow.

Workflow involves the standardization of processes; it's a visual way to understand how activities -- both from the business and from the customer -- move through selling, service or marketing activities.

Workflow allows you to establish this movement as a prompted part of the way a business works. For example, in an insurance company, the workflow might be constructed so that an inside salesperson would be required to look at a prospect's social profile and build suggested quotes before picking up the phone and talking to the customer.

In essence, workflow enforces the use of technology tools -- and helps derive the maximum return on investment from them.

The problem here is that setting up workflow properly means you have to first understand your business's process. That's not a trivial thing -- it involves real thought and work that may not seem core to your business.

It also requires that you keep your eye on the workflow ball as CRM is rolled out. The usual approach is to roll out workflow a little here and a little there; that's useful in addressing pain points but it misses the bigger opportunity to link all the company's processes in a coherent and repeatable manner.

3. Schedules, Calendars and Meetings

It seems shocking that sales people wouldn't take advantage of the scheduling features of the CRM applications they use daily, but frequently fully functioned CRM is used as a simple contact manager without additional productivity features coming into use. That's a waste of investment -- and a loss of increased sales productivity.

This stems from a couple of things. First, users need to be trained in how to use these aspects of their CRM applications; they should not be expected to realize the valued of these features through osmosis.

They need to be taught to use these features, to sync their Outlook calendars and Gmail accounts, and so on. Second, managers need to expect users to employ the calendaring and meeting functions -- not only do they make life easier for the salesperson, but they give managers increased visibility into what sales people are doing.

So why aren't these features used from the get-go? Because sales people don't see scheduling as a problem. Before CRM, they were doing reasonably well with managing their calendars through older, more manual methods. Their shortfall in productivity was invisible because they had no alternative to compare it with -- but with CRM in place, that comparison can be made.

It Was There All Along

These are the tip of the iceberg, There are other features that deal with more specific business needs, and these too should be understood and examined. They represent arrows in your quiver that you can draw when the need arises.

Not realizing you have these capabilities is like carrying arrows you don't know how to shoot: they're dead weight. Remember, you've already paid for them -- and it may come to pass that you had the right tool to solve a problem but never realized it.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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